The Annotated
Archy and Mehitabel

by Don Marquis
Edited with Notes and Introduction
by Michael Sims

    

 

From William Grimes's review in the New York Times:

"Michael Sims has put together a broad sampling of the poems and dispatches allegedly written by a cockroach named Archy for Don Marquis's column, 'The Sun Dial.' Archy first made his appearance in 1916. Jumping headfirst on a typewriter keyboard after hours, he banged out short notes, poems, strange rants and little tales of life in the office after hours, when the lights went out and assorted insects gathered round for a bit of conversation. Sometimes Mehitabel, an alley cat claiming to be the reincarnation of Cleopatra, appeared on the scene to spin her own tales of life and love on the streets. Their world is as inviting to me as Jane Austen's Hampshire. Marquis and his little friend breathed the same rarefied comic air as Krazy Kat and W.C. Fields. Newspaper humor does not usually age well. The great columnists of the 1920s and '30s, giants like O.O. McIntyre and Franklin P. Adams, are period curiosities today, but Archy stands tall, a wickedly funny, philosophical wiseguy with a brilliant command of pungent American slang....Mr. Sims annotates lightly, explaining topical references. His main textual contribution is putting Archy's columns in proper chronological order and using the original newspaper versions."

From Maria Browning's review in the Nashville Scene:

"It's a fearful time in America. War is raging overseas. Anti-immigrant sentiment is growing at home, fueled by ethnic hatred. In the name of protecting the country from internal enemies, the government is eroding civil liberties. A lingering fin de siecle anxiety has people seeking certainty in religion of all stripes, from Bible-thumping fundamentalism to a new spiritualism that promises channeled wisdom from extraterrestrials and chats with the dead. It all sounds eerily familiar, but the year is not 2006. It's 1916, when Don Marquis, a popular columnist for New York's Evening Sun newspaper, spotted a manic cockroach scuttling around his typewriter and began to do a little channeling of his own....Now Penguin Classics has marked their 90th anniversary with The Annotated Archy and Mehitabel, which features the verses in chronological order, as they first appeared in The Evening Sun. (Marquis did a bit of rewriting and time shifting in the later published collections.) Editor Michael Sims... provides that publishing rarity, an interesting and readable introduction, along with extensive notes that explain the poems' historical context....Archy's plight is tragic. He is a beaten-down Everyman and at the same time an existential philosopher with an intellect that can't help shredding every comforting illusion. He's fully awake to his own powerlessness, and he has a very modern sense of the inescapable absurdity of life."