I had to wait months to relish this one: the drawband snapped during shipping, and it lay idle as a wounded bear for months. My handyman fashioned one out of twine. The repair was complicated, and involved drilling a new hole for the twine in the drum. After two days, my friend got it going. I was ecstatic: it was the first time I typed with it.
It’s a gorgeous East German machine, and the touch is exceedingly responsive. The keystrokes are silky, inviting a crisp, soft touch. The rimmed glass-topped keys are alluring and spaciously arranged. The pica typeface is neat and has character. I’m sometimes put off by type that is too tidy, too upstanding. Then again, there are instances in which one wants that, such as when typing a final draft.
The biggest surprise was the condition of the platen and feed rollers: both are in excellent shape, and there are barely any marks on the backup sheet. That makes me suspect they were replaced, since most prewar machines have exceedingly hard platens and misshapen rollers. There’s also an overflow of rubber on the left platen ring, which may confirm my hunch.
Note: The poem above is one of a series of cut-ups on authors.
While compiling my last collection, The Elastic Dome, I began a series of poems titled “The Radio Odes” using various cut-up techniques. Some of those surrealist works were included in the book. They were composed by arranging excerpts from feature shows and news reports from a popular broadcasting station. I wrote down the snippets that struck me, rearranged and tweaked them, and added a few lines of my own. Some turned out well; others didn’t pass muster.
I’m turning to cut-ups again, and plan a collection further on. Some are traditional, but the majority have my own spin. My source material at the moment is radio, newspapers, magazines, journal entries and excerpts from correspondence. The ones pictured were mined from a torn photocopied letter, a character sketch and a copy of Mark Twain’s On the Decay of the Art of Lying.
The Third Mind is the title of an out-of-print book by William S. Burroughs and Brion Gysin. It features cut-ups, popularized by Burroughs and Gysin in the ’60s.
This one gave me a hell of a time. The carriage kept sticking halfway, though sometimes it only stalled, piling on letters. I oiled it, cleaned it, shook it (small pieces of rubber came out), pried it with a screwdriver and damn nearly slammed it against the wall. It frustrated me for three weeks.
And then I noticed the frame was loose. I also noticed the carriage wouldn’t advance at all when it was on a typewriter pad. However, it moved when on a flat surface. I put in washers and tightened the front bottom nuts, and now it does quite well. It still hiccups now and then, but I hope that improves with continued use. It’s a beautiful machine, and the pica typeface has lots of character.
Publishing The Elastic Dome, my new poetry collection, was anticlimactic. I got home late in the evening, exhausted: no feelings of exuberance and triumph. I drank merlot, wrote to a friend, and listened to records of Dylan Thomas reading his poetry. In hindsight, that seems fitting: writing is a solitary craft. I also knew there was a lot of work ahead marketing the book. But there was satisfaction in finally putting it behind me.
My last collection, Postcards from the Tattooed Man’s Chest, was published in 2007, and 10 years later I managed this one. The Elastic Dome didn’t take long to compile, though it underwent numerous revisions. I wrote 70 poems poems in six months; only 36 were chosen. It was a furious sprint, and there was an urgency to it. I think that’s partly because I began it shortly after dad died, and working on it helped me pull through, at least temporarily. But it’s not a book about grief: it’s about nothing in particular and everything of importance. I would say the underlying theme is anxiety, and that seems appropriate in an age of anxiety.
I’m still not in a celebratory mood: I feel relief, more than anything. It’s well documented that many artists undergo a sort of depression after completing a project. I don’t feel that yet. Instead, I moved on to other projects: another poetry collection due next year, titled Handlining Telegraphs; a play; a collaboration on rengas (linked verse); and work on my first novel, The Art of Spooks.
In the end, sales aren’t important to most poets: the demand for poetry is slim, and sales are often anemic. What has more value is getting a book in the right hands, someone who may enjoy a poem or two and remember my voice. To quote Dylan Thomas :
“When only the moon rages
And the lovers lie abed
With all their griefs in their arms,
I labor by singing light
Not for ambition or bread
Or the strut and trade of charms
On the ivory stages
But for the common wages
Of their most secret heart.”