Quill

Ron Silliman’s recent blog for 2 December is inspiring. Ron explains, among other things and interesting anecdotes (such as being bitten by a student over a writing assignment), how writing tools—quill*, pen, typewriter, computer—have affected the writing of poetry over the years, including his own, though his experience doesn’t include the quill as some of you pranksters might think.

Of all the writing tools, say, from quill to pen to machine, it is always fascinating to “see” how the screen has changed and altered the ultimate composition of poems on a page. Beyond the ills and cures of writer’s block, now more than ever we also find that the cure can in many cases be worse than the disease or result in new viral variations such as Writer’s Dyarrhea. That poems can be drafted or written in paper to be later transcribed to the computer screen to be shaped and twisted, perhaps tortured, can also result in a false sense of the malleability of poetic form. Sort of like the cross-examiner who asks the proverbial one question too many. The ease with which form can be altered on a page has been a great advance, but it may ultimately lead to the conclusion that the poem’s visual impact is to be as important as its meaning or inseparable from it. And such may be the case, but I wonder how many poems could be saved by that “Undue” editing button on Word ®. Kinda beats that old eraser on the typewriter or writing in the sand.

Can the poet over-edit his work as a result of the ease with which changes can be made on a computer? This is of particular concern to the Muse. She hardly edits and can’t stand Microsoft ®. An old fashioned but nevertheless Shakespearean interpretation.


* A quill was the hollow, rigid shaft of a bird’s feather. The word “pen” is derived from the Latin name for “feather”—“penna.” Shakespeare and other writers of his day used a variety of quills. If a writer’s pocket lacked jingle, he invested in a goose quill. If he could afford something better, he invested in a swan quill. Writers or artists who needed quills to produce fine lines purchased crow quills. Quills from ducks, eagles, turkeys, hawks and owls also served as “word processors,” producing plays, poems and sometimes revolution. Quills were the writing instruments of choice between 500 A.D. and 1850 A.D. Michael J. Cummings.

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