Friday, 30 August 2013

The Pen of Seamus Heaney


by Seamus Heaney (1939-2013)

Between my finger and my thumb

The squat pen rests; snug as a gun.

Under my window, a clean rasping sound

When the spade sinks into gravelly ground:
My father, digging. I look down.

Till his straining rump among the flowerbeds

Bends low, comes up twenty years away
Stooping in rhythm through potato drills
Where he was digging.


By God, the old man could handle a spade.

Just like his old man.


The cold smell of potato mould, the squelch and slap

Of soggy peat, the curt cuts of an edge
Through living roots awaken in my head.
But I've no spade to follow men like them.

Between my finger and my thumb

The squat pen rests.
I'll dig with it.

From Death of a Naturalist (1996)

"Digging" was Seamus Heaney's first poem in his first major collection. He was born in a rural family of Northern Ireland and was a Catholic republican although he avoided becoming a spokesman for the Troubles. He never forgot where he came from. "He was a translator, broadcaster and prose writer of distinction, but his poetry was his most remarkable achievement for its range, its consistent quality and its impact on readers," reads The Guardian obituary today. 

Heaney won the Nobel prize in Literature in 1995. The first edition of the Death of a Naturalist Heaney contributed to an auction in aid of the writers' charity Pen and he wrote in pencil above the poem "At a Potato Digging" that the critic "Anthony Thwaite once described me (to my face) as 'laureate of the root vegetable'". 

Friday, 23 August 2013

Stationery Store Series: R.S.V.P. in Berlin

Tucked away in a little street off Berlin's Rosenthaler Strasse, RSVP is what one may call a stationery boutique. It is nestled in the less shiny part of the German metropolis - there are no grand architectural gestures here, no gleaming structures. On a warm August afternoon there is a quiet charm on the fading buildings, the bicycles leaning against the walls, the old Vespa, the graffiti, the quirky independent shops and small cafés. 

RSVP (the abbreviation of "Répondez S'ils Vous Plait" added at the bottom of invitation cards) was founded in Berlin Mitte in 2001 and has been featured in many publications as one of Berlin's coolest shops. Its interior, no bigger than a good-size bedroom, is taken up almost entirely by two wooden shelving units where paper goods from around the world are carefully displayed complete with simple white paper labels detailing their species and origin: O'Check from Korea, Cuaderno from Spain, Mead from the USA, Carta Pura from Germany, Hartovasilion from Greece, Punktum from Istanbul, Serrote from Portugal, and of course Rhodia and the ubiquitous Moleskines. 

There is ample empty shelve space, a sparsity which gives the paper goods displayed an air 
of exclusivity. Stationery as art. No suffocating stacking of spiral pads, sellotapes, staplers and glues here, no eye-watering polychromy of commercial stationery, school supplies and tacky gifts. Serenity reigns supreme in this stationery shop. The notebooks are sourced, the cards hand-printed, the labels curated, the writing utensils placed where they should be.

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The selection of office supplies is also sparse with the species of sharpeners represented by a single Möbius and Ruppert specimen, while the writing instruments on display are Kaweco, Koh-I-Noor and Palomino pencils complete with replacement erasers. The curved wooden shelving around the till area is wonderfully graced with delightful labels and envelopes. 

It is almost unthinkable to leave without having purchased something, not only because of the desire to see such places continuing to thrive but because of the impossibility of resisting such a well-curated collection.

RSVP has an online home too. 

Papier in Mitte
Mulackstr. 14
10119 Berlin
Mon-Thu 12 to 7pm
Fri and Sat 12 to 8 pm

Thursday, 15 August 2013

Vintage Sheaffer Skrip Blue Black ink resurrected

Legend has it that the inventor of Sheaffer’s Skrip ink conducted his experiments in his bedroom-turned-lab in Fort Madison, Iowa. These ink blots have now been painted over but the old Skrip bottles are still around. Sheaffer started producing Skrip in the 1920s or 30s and it still does today, albeit with a changed formula. This old Skrip bottle has got the distinctive blue and yellow label and the integrated inkwell.  It is probably from the 1950s I would guess and contains some remnants of dried ink. With a bit of water Sheaffer Skrip Blue-Black was resurrected. There is a moment where the ink is briefly blue - blink, and it has turned to black.

More ink resurrection here, here and here.

Thursday, 8 August 2013

John Bond Crystal Palace Pen Nib

Perhaps John Bond wanted to rub on his pen nib something of the glory of the 
glass structure that was erected in London's Hyde Park in 1851 to house the Great Exhibition. Macniven & Cameron have named their steel pens after the popular Sir Walter Scot's Waverley novel and the legendary Flying Scotsman locomotive and Brandauer called his The Lancet after the prestigious medical journal. So why not engrave the name Crystal Palace on your nib? After all the glass structure had amazed visitors with the sheer amount of cast plate glass and represented the achievements of new technology. 
The pen nib came together with a small bottle of marking ink and instructions. 

I speculate that it must have been first produced in the 1850s.
It writes like a dream.
Excellent flex and smooth writing even after years in oblivion. 
Palimpsest used it with J. Herbin's Anniversary Ink and was entirely satisfied with the results.
The name's Bond. John Bond.

Thursday, 1 August 2013

Haruki Murakami Mont Blanc and Pencils

The writing instruments mentioned in Haruki Murakami's The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle are an extension of the characters' personalities. The mysterious and impeccable Kumiko, the protagonist's wife, could not use anything else than a Mont Blanc fountain pen. Her powerful brother owns one too. Some of their dark essence has seeped into the mysterious mark on the protagonist Toru Okada's cheekbone. The mark is a colour not dissimilar to ink:

its bluish colour was close to black, like the blue-black Mont Blanc ink that Kumiko always used.

May Kasahara, the teenage girl who despite her nihilist and amoral veneer, is more real and grounded than the other characters uses pencils:

I've got a dozen pencils, all sharpened and laid out in a row. They're brand-new. I just bought them at the stationery store - especially for writing to you (not that I'm trying to make you feel grateful or anything: just sharpened, brand-new pencils are really nice, don't you think?).

Descending into a surreal dream world where nothing is as it seems the protagonist Toru Okada is only armed with a ballpoint pen (not a Mont Blanc):

I thrust my hands into my pockets and found there, along with my wallet and change and handkerchief, a small ballpoint pen. I pulled the pen out and drew a line on my hand to make sure it had ink. I could use this to mark the walls as I followed the waiter. Then I could follow the marks back to the room. It should work.

I have just started to read Marukami's IQ84 and was wondering if he is fond of Mont Blancs for in the first pages here it is again:

All he needed to satisfy him was his Mont Blanc pen, his blue ink, and standard manuscript sheets, each page lined with four hundred empty squares read to accept four hundred characters.