Another Curvy Mid-Century Pleasure

Do you think, dear reader, you might absorb two mid-century pleasures in the space of a week? Do try. It’s a good antidote to all that Halloween candy.

And for your reading pleasure, here’s a poem written by a man quite clearly in need of a curvy, mid-century something or other, poor thing:

Theodore Roethke
I have known the inexorable sadness of pencils,
Neat in their boxes, dolor of pad and paper weight,
All the misery of manilla folders and mucilage,
Desolation in immaculate public places,
Lonely reception room, lavatory, switchboard,
The unalterable pathos of basin and pitcher,
Ritual of multigraph, paper-clip, comma,
Endless duplication of lives and objects.
And I have seen dust from the walls of institutions,
Finer than flour, alive, more dangerous than silica,
Sift, almost invisible, through long afternoons of tedium,
Dropping a fine film on nails and delicate eyebrows,
Glazing the pale hair, the duplicate grey standard faces.


20 thoughts on “Another Curvy Mid-Century Pleasure

  1. THAT pencil sharpener is a thing of beauty, especially the different hole sizes. Reminds me of my dad’s curvy, black 38 Pontiac (which he had until 1949, when the Ford of that year arrived) that I used to deliver Sunday morning papers from, standing on the running board, as he drove me around the block for my first months when I was still not sure I wanted to get up in the dark and ride my bike alone with a basket full of papers that weighed more than I did.

  2. What a lovely chunky machine. I love things like these to be real machines. Slightly reminiscent of a 19th century machine gun.

    And I like the poem. Are you sure it wasn’t written by Dilbert?

  3. As someone who adores office supplies, I never thought they could be written about with such sadness. The poem seems like the perfect ode to horrible, boring, meaningless, endless office jobs. I love the line “All the misery of manilla folders and mucilage” — mucilage is such a depressing word anyway. I used to like to eat it when I was a kid until I was told it was made from melted-down horses. I don’t think that was quite accurate, but that’s how I remember it. Why did it taste and smell sweet? Do they still make it, with those funny, rubbery tops to which little crisp chunks and flakes of dried mucilage stuck and blocked the slit?

  4. That pencil-sharpener made me come over all unnecessary. I feel quite flustered now!

    When I was rib-high my Ma used to take me to WH Smiths, a veritable statonery emporium. I used to get so excited by the event that in the end she got into the routine of taking me to the public loos before taking me into Smiths.

    I worked for them for a while as an adult, in their purchasing department. Think pig. Think clover.

    I know of few sights more beautiful in the world, giving a greater sense of zen-like calm excitement, than a row of coloured pencils in a box.

    Thank you Bloglily. You have brightened my morning.


  5. Even more beautiful to me was the mechanism inside those wonderful pencil sharpeners. Those “duplicate grey standard faces” have been replaced by media promoted duplicate blonde stick-insects and by duplicate half-shaved blonde six-packs. We seem to have a speciel (no, not a typo) need for uniformity. Then again, I could just be jealous because I am out of time. I’m off to haunt an antiques shop for some therapy.

  6. I love those old pencil sharpeners– the look of them as well as the action. I remember whirring the handle so fast that I expected the whole thing to smoke, then pulling out the pencil– so sharp I could go to war with it.

    Edwinek– comparing Roethke to Dilbert? Funny and weirdly apt!

  7. Pingback: Halloween thoughts « Archies Archive

  8. What an amazing poem! Thanks so much for sharing.

    And oh yes, those beautiful, klunky pencil sharpeners, and the funny noises they would make when you tried to sharpen your writing instrument. And the agony of trying to sharpen a tiny nub of a pencil! I was a bitterly shy kid, and so walking up in front of the class (because the sharpener was always close to the teacher’s desk) was always a sweaty, gut-wrenching experience for me. And it seemed to me that I used the sharpener more often than other kids, due to my obsessive drawing habits during class. That beast, how it did mock me!

  9. Good choice. It’s a lovely poem, and so appropriate for an office worker staring at the office stationary at the desk.

  10. It is beautiful, that pencil sharpener. And I too love pencils and all stationery. However, my love for these things has been totally eclipsed by my love for my new Apple laptop. Don’t ask me what model it is, but it’s white, rounded, sleek, sophisticated and clever. I aspire to its gorgeousness.

  11. I remember that very model – it’s taken me straight back to infant school, Mrs Valardi and sharpening pencils. I remember it as so big and solid. It felt like if you push hard enough and turn fast enough, it could just swallow up the whole pencil in a trice like a log into a wood chipper. Mrs Valardi seemed very old but probably wasn’t much older than I am now. I loved sharpening pencils. I loved infant, school, actually. Read every book in the building, then they had to send out for more. Or at least, that’s the way my parents told it.

  12. Who’d have guessed that for so many of us the pencil sharpener would turn out to be the madeleine of our childhoods? I’ve so enjoyed reading all these memories. And the comments on Roethke. And the tales of stationery supplies (and laptops) we have loved and struggled with.

  13. BL fine fine choice of poem.

    I like the sharpener you posted. I can see it situated in several of my childhood classrooms. Like some office supply tabernacle it was always located on hallowed ground. Shift many years forward: nothing beats my Staedtler. Thank you again!

  14. Pingback: Another Modernist Masterpiece « BlogLily

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