An Evening In: archy and mehitabel

There was a time in the Seventies, I’m told, when this next book was quite the thing. For some reason it has fallen vastly out of favour but I have two copies – one for me and one for lending – and I’m sure I shall soon bring it back into vogue.

archy and mehitabel by Don Marquis is the story of a cockroach with the soul of a human poet who writes nightly poems and maxims and stories of his life on Don Marquis’ typewriter. He lives in an apartment in New York with the cat Mehitabel who may or may not have been Cleopatra once and the cad Freddy, a rat who was once a punk poet and is jealous of Archy’s talent. To some extent Archy’s travailles are the standard difficulties of any struggling artist; he is misunderstood and under-appreciated and just getting heard takes Herculean effort. He cannot use capitals or anything that requires the shift button, making his writing not too many steps removed from a stream of consciousness. There is a poetical practicality to Archy’s philosophy that puts the book somewhere between poetry and prose, and makes the reading of it a pleasure.

A battered book is a good book.

This is a light, cheerful read, one you can probably finish in a sitting or two. I recommend a dram of whisky with it, to be sipped slowly between sections. Since Archy first appeared in 1916 in Don Marquis’ daily column and archy and mehitabel was published in 1927 I should really be recommending some prohibition-era cocktails in teapots, but if you wish to retain the use of your eyes I recommend branded spirits. In Archy’s own words,

lots of people can make

their own whisky but

can t drink it

 and because the best advocate of Archy’s works will always be himself, here’s another maxim to get you through Sunday:

every cloud

has its silver

lining but it is

sometimes a little

difficult to get it to

the mint

Book: Don Marquis, archy and mehitabel

Pair with: a short measure of decent whisky


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