Saturday, 4 June 2016

Ink Addict

Gerry Cambridge discusses how his twin obsessions—fountain pens and poetry—come together:
I am not really a collector. I like to use all my pens. But I love associations—connections that increase the significance of a pen, even if only for me. Poetry is, after all, partly the art of seeing connections—the root of metaphor. One of my pens, a woodgrain-finish Onoto, was made in 1930. I bought it partly because in that year my mother was born. Another pen I bought in America, after giving a talk there on Richard Wilbur—who had been sitting, unexpectedly, in the audience. That pen had been made in 1947: the year Wilbur’s first book of poems, The Beautiful Changes, was published. Some years ago I was writing an essay about an acutely psychological poem of Robert Frost’s, ‘The Exposed Nest’. I was drafting the essay with a 1910 Waterman ‘eyedropper’—so called because you fill its barrel with ink from an eyedropper. I realised with a start that the pen had been made not long before Frost’s poem was written.

Such seemingly insignificant connections are a source of considerable satisfaction if you spend much of your life, as I do, head-down in the wordy thickets. As a vocation, poetry is perhaps unusually liable to obscurity, ignominy and penury. Anything a poet can do to make the hands-on, messy element of writing more entertaining, colourful and, well, personal, is a gift.

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