Pressrun.net has a new look today. The typeface is different. It reminds me of typewriters.
I love smartphones, tablets, laptops, but typewriters were my first love. Not smooth, electric typewriters but the manual variety. Such as the one George Orwell is working on in this photo. With a cigarette in his mouth, fingers on the keyboard, the author of the essay, Books vs Cigarettes, looks utterly engrossed.
Typewriters were not distracting like internet-enabled computers, tablets and smartphones. You had to focus on what you were writing. There was no built-in dictionary to alert you to typos and bad grammar. There was no delete key to erase any flaw. Any mistake you made you had to strike out or whiten out. The only other option was to tear up the sheet of paper and start again.
It could be a chore, but writers loved their typewriters.
Billy Collins fondly remembered his noisy typewriter in a poem. David Malouf celebrated the clatter in Typewriter Music. Robert William Service described the pain and pleasure of composing a poem on a typewriter.
Here are three poems on typewriters. Let’s begin with a poet I love: Billy Collins.
By Billy Collins
My old typewriter used to make so much noise
I had to put a cushion of newspaper
beneath it late at night
so as not to wake the whole house.
Even if I closed the study door
and typed a few words at a time —
the best way to work anyway —
the clatter of keys was still so loud
That the grey and yellow bird
would wince in its cage.
Some nights I could even see the moon
frowning down through the winter trees.
That was twenty years ago,
yet as I write this with my soft lead pencil
I can still hear that distinctive sound
like small arms fire across a border,
one burst after another
as my wife turned in her sleep.
I was a single monkey
trying to type the opening lines of my Hamlet,
often doing nothing more
than ironing pieces of paper in the platen
then wrinkling them into balls
to flick into the wicker basket.
Still, at least I was making noise,
adding to the great secretarial din,
that chorus of clacking and bells,
thousands of desks receding into the past.
And that was more than can be said
for the mute rooms of furniture,
the speechless salt and pepper shakers,
and the tall silent hedges surrounding the house.
Such deep silence on those nights —
just the sound of my typing
and a few stars singing a song their mother
sang when they were mere babies in the sky.
By David Malouf
Hinged grasshopper legs kick
quick off the mark. So
spritely. They set
the mood, the mode, the call
to light-fingered highjinks.
A meadow dance
on the keyboard,
in breathless out-of-bounds
flight and giddy joyflight without
stint. The fingerpads
have it. Brailling through
etudes of alphabets, their chirp and clatter
the morning to soundbites,
each rifleshot hammerstroke another notch
in the silence.
By Robert William Service
I used to think a pot of ink
Held magic in its fluid,
And I would ply a pen when I
Was hoary a a Druid;
But as I scratch my silver thatch
My battered old Corona
Calls out to me as plaintively
As dying Desdemona.
“For old time’s sake give me a break:
To you I’ve been as loyal
As ever could an Underwood,
Or Remington or Royal.
The globe we’ve spanned together and
Two million words, maybe,
For you I’ve tapped – it’s time you rapped
A rhyme or two for me.
“I’ve seen you sit and smoke and spit
With expletives profane,
Then tear with rage the virgin page
I tendered you in vain.
I’ve watched you glare in dull despair
Through hours of brooding thought,
Then with a shout bang gaily out
The ‘word unique’ you sought.
“I’ve heard you groan and grunt and moan
That rhyme’s a wretched fetter;
That after all you’re just a small
You’d balance me upon your knee
Like any lady friend,
Then with a sigh you’d lay me by
For weeks and weeks on end.
“I’ve known when you were mighty blue
And hammered me till dawn,
Dire poverty! But I would be
The last thing you would pawn.
Days debt-accurst! Then at its worst
The sky, behold, would clear;
A poem sold, the garret cold
Would leap to light and cheer.
“You’ve toted me by shore and sea
From Mexico to Maine;
From Old Cathay to Mandalay,
From Samarkand to Spain.
You’ve thumped me in the battle’s din
And pounded me in peace;
By air and land you’ve lugged me and
Your shabby old valise.
“But now my keys no more with ease
To your two fingers yield;
With years of use my joints are loose,
With wear of flood and field.
And even you are slipping too:
You’re puffy, stiff and grey:
Old Sport, we’re done, our race is run –
Why not call it a day?”
Why not? You’ve been, poor old machine!
My tried and faithful friend.
With fingertip your keys I’ll flip
Serenely to the end.
For even though you’re stiff and slow,
No other will I buy.
And though each word be wan and blurred
I’ll tap you till I die.