The Dean of Typewriters

Every writer likes to have a special space in which to write.  I like to write in the basement, in the dark, on a laptop, halfway reclined in my papasan chair.  Some people write in the woods.  Some like a noisy cafe, full of characters worth stealing.  Some like a special kind of paper or pen.

This Christmas I tried to give Megan a special space, in the form of an antique typewriter–a 1942 Portable Royal de Luxe, to be exact. Meg’s an old soul, with a taste for the simpler, finer things (she likes to write by hand in a leather-bound journal, for example), so it seems like a good fit.  I did a lot of research, trying to figure out which machines the great poets of the past century have written on.  There are lots of famous stories.  The Catholic priest who refused to give Anne Sexton her last rites instead told her, “God is in your typewriter.”  But what brand was it?  I still don’t know, but whatever it was, it must have been durable.

I quick Google search turns up myTypewriter.com, which lists the machines that dozens of great works were written on.  Royal seems to top the unofficial tally in my head, and as far as typewriters go, that company has certainly been the most innovate, developing feature after feature that other brands soon copy.  John Ashbery still writes on a Royal Aristocrat.  Joan Didion on a Royal KMM.  Ernest Hemingway wrote standing up at his Royal, which he kept on a bookshelf.

So I was leaning toward a Royal, and then I found the perfect one on eBay.  This 1942 Royal de Luxe was made just months before the war shut down its production plant.  On most machines, many of the small components of the carriage are chrome-plated, but on this one it’s straight-steel–a symbol of the era’s shifting necessities.  I know this because the seller, Dean, is one of the most enthusiastic people I’ve ever done business with.  He refurbishes these machines seemingly just for the love of it, and his product descriptions are the most detailed I’ve seen. It’s clear that the typewriters are his babies, and in communicating him, I almost got the feeling I was being interviewed to become an adoptive parent.  The typewriter arrived in perfect condition, tripled-packed, with the original instructions, and a letter typed by Dean on the machine itself. It looked new, but for the faint smell of oil and the unmistakable must of age.

I still don’t know if the present was a success–writing on a typewriter is vastly different than writing on a computer keyboard.  There’s a nice romanticism to it, and you have to love the sound of the keys pounding against paper, but you do lose a certain amound of functionality.  Either way, though, I just had to give a recommendation to Dean–it sounds like I’m in love with the typewriter, and that’s his enthusiasm rubbing off.  If any of you are looking for this kind of old fashioned writing experience, buy your vintage machine from him, and you won’t be disappointed.

Now I’m curious how others write, and I don’t think it’s a question I’ve asked on here before.  What your preference?  Pen and paper?  Typewriter echoing in the woods?  Laptop at Starbucks?  Drop me a note and let me know.

November Notes

Apparently American Fractal is available on Amazon.com!  I had no idea.  Click this link to preorder at 32% off the cover price.  I always see authors saying you should buy the book from one particular vendor instead of another, but I don’t know if there’s a best way to buy this book — just buy it somewhere.

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Also, I’ve heard word that there’s some sort of mailer flying around the USPS delivery chain, so if you asked to get the flyer, or if I took the liberty, check your mail box.

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In far more frustrating news, I’m having trouble with the Rattle website again. The blog’s database is connecting very slowly, and often timing out.  The tech guy says I have inefficent scripts, but I don’t even know what that means, let alone how to fix it.  I’m trying a few things.  Everything on there is so basic, and there’s so much extra space on that host account that I can’t believe that’s what the problem really is.  I’m hoping it’s some glitch that they’re going to fix but don’t want to admit to.  In the meantime, I go a little more bald, and pray it’s not hackers again.

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Speaking of servers and the like, I moved this blog to a new server last week, and I remembered to save everything except for my “Blogroll” links.  So if you’re reading this, and you have a blog, I’d like to link to you.  Comment below and I’ll add you.  When I have a moment free I’m going to add back everyone I can think of.

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For anyone who really wants to be a stalker, all of our wedding photos are now on this page.  The slideshow takes awhile to load, as there are almost 200 pictures in the gallery, and I can’t see how it’s worth it to anyone but friends and family, but there you go.

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If I ever get Rattle‘s blog server functioning again, there’s going to be some great daily content added over the next couple months.  Many of the poets from last summer’s issue have already sent me audio of them reading their work to include, and most of the 30 or so visual poems are going to go online, too.  I also plan on adding clips of the actual audio from Alan’s interviews, starting with Marvin Bell’s.  So if you have any ideas about what’s going on with the server, help!

Good Times

I should have mentioned this earlier, but I’m the featured poet this week (or maybe last week at this point) in Santa Cruz’s indy web weekly, The Good Times.  Browsing around, it’s a nice publication, and makes me wish I lived in Santa Cruz.  Of the five poems, a few are already available on this website, and a few are appearing online for the first time.  Click here to check it out (and leave me a comment so I feel cool).

A Request for Interview Requests (plus 2 notes)

We’ve have some unfortunate scheduling issues in the last few months, and have had to postpone a few planned interviews, so as soon as this winter’s conversations with Robert Pinsky and Natasha Trethewey come out, we’re tapped. With the way the production schedule works, I really need to arrange interviews with at least two poets this fall — three would be nice, as I like to keep someone in reserve.

Here’s a list of the poets we’ve interviewed so far:

Robert Pinsky * Natasha Trethewey * Marvin Bell * Bob Hicok * Tess Gallagher * Arthur Sze * Marc Kelly Smith * Patricia Smith * Jane Hirshfield * Jack Kornfield * Hayden Carruth * Mark Jarman * Gregory Orr * Denise Duhamel * Alan Shapiro * David St. John * Sam Hamill * Deena Metzgar * Naomi Shihab Nye * Li-Young Lee * Colette Inez * Maxine Kumin * Robert Creeley * Gerald Stern * Lucille Clifton * Charles Simic * Mark Doty * Sharon Olds * Stephen Dobyns * C.K. Williams * Billy Collins * Jack Grapes * Simon Ortiz * Anne Waldman * Edward Hirsch * Diane Wakoski * James Ragan * Luis Rodriguez * Daniel Berrigan * Philip Levine * Dorianne Laux * Virginia Hamilton Adair

Damn, that’s a pretty impressive list… But everyone on there is out, so who would we look up next? Special consideration given to African-American poets for next summer’s issue, and Formalists for Dec. 2009. You are our readership — who would you like to read more about?

Remember that our “conversations” are less formal, more personal than most of the interviews that others publish, so this is a chance to get to know your favorite poets on a more intimate level.

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Two of my own poems are featured in Cutthroat’s summer issue, which is available as a free PDF download. Visit the site to check them out — they’re both slender little lyrics, lots of sonic stuff going on; one’s political, the other’s metapoetic.

I haven’t had a chance to read the issue yet (I haven’t had a chance to do anything lately), but I’ve really enjoyed past issues, and I really like the people that run it. We keep getting stuck next to each other at boring book festivals, and Will and Pam are good company.

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Bill Knott has further descended into wherever it is he’s going, and lately he’s been posting collages made from rejections slips. It was interesting to see that Rattle made the list (twice), a few years before my tenure began.

I’m not quite sure what Knott’s point is, whether it’s a gesture born of frustration or commiseration — if you’ve been following his blog, you know it could go either way. But regardless of his intent, it’s a great lesson for those new to submitting. Knott is a very successful poet, by any measure save perhaps his own — his books have come from all my favorite small presses, capped by FSG in 2004. And still, look at how these rejections pile up.

Sundry Strings

I’ve been feeling a little overwhelmed this week (a hundred emails and bucket of envelopes every day will do that to you), so while there are plenty of things I’ve wanted to post about — including our new Poet Laureate, who I love even though I think it’s about damn time for Marvin Bell to get the nod — I just haven’t had the energy.

One of the things I wanted to talk about was the reading the other night, which reminded me that there is no such thing as poetry — there are only poetries, and just because we all string our lines on a page and read melodramatically, that doesn’t mean we’re all pursuing the same beast.

Another thing is the poetic gimmick and one of my favorite books from ’07, Matthea Harvey’s Modern Life.

Another thing is a really short essay by Tony Hoagland on poetic obsession, and man how I wish I still had one.

And there are other things, too, but my to-do list for today includes reading the 92 submissions that have piled up in the email “possibilities” queue, which means something like 380 poems that are worth paying attention to.  So for now, one reminder, and a neat note.

Reminder:  The deadline for the 2008 Rattle Poetry Prize is two weeks from today.  So if you’re sitting on your hands trying to decide what to send, the clock is ticking, my friend.  August 1st is a postmark deadline, but it’s not like April 15th, and the post offices aren’t going to stay open till midnight just for us.  Maybe next year.

Neat Note:  One of our poems became a meme last weekend, running through a few social networking sites, so that in the space of 72 hours more than 18,000 people read Brett Myhren’s “Telemarketer“.  Judging by the comments, most weren’t self-ascribed “poetry fans,” but were moved nonetheless.  It’s a deceptively simple poem, speaking to a whole host of hard-to-describe emotions we all feel as we hunt for intimacy in the new world.  Who says there isn’t a place for poetry within it?