Margaret Hollingsworth’s Typewriter

David McFadden

copyright ©David W. McFadden 2007

I was eating scrambled egges in the Shamrock Restaurant
and the eggs tasted like Chinese food
so I said to the waitress I’m a person
who likes Chinese food but doesn’t like
my eggs in the morning to taste like chicken fried rice
and she laughed and said it must have been
the green onions and suggested the next time
I come into the Shamrock for breakfast
I specify that I want Canadian green onions
with my scrambled eggs or I’ll get Chinese again

and I said there won’t be another time,
this is it, I’m a widely respected blah blah and blah
and well-regarded in the community too
and shouldn’t have to subject myself
to such bad food. I’m finished, I said.
This used to be my favourite Irish-Chinese restaurant
in the entire West Kootenay
but this is it, I’m never coming back –
and through the kitchen door I could see
the Chinese chef covering his ears with his hands.

And so I went to pay my bill
and this is the really embarrassing part,
this is why I’m writing this poem
by hand, pencil on paper, because Margaret Hollingsworth’s
typewriter has a three-prong plug
and all the outlets in the house are two-prongers
and her adapter is up at the college
and I begged her to let me cut the third prong off
so I could use her typewriter
because I had a simply overwhelming
desire to write this poem and she refused
and I told … oh, never mind all that.

This is the embarrassing part. After complaining
so vociferously about the eggs I went to pay my bill
and discovered I had no money with me
so I had to go home and get my wallet
and bring it back to the restaurant
making myself a liar for having said
this is it, I’m never coming back.
The waitress was very nice about it all.

Is it hard to write poetry?
Yes, I would say it is. For instance
in this poem I didn’t know whether to start
by talking about the scrambled eggs
or the Smith Corona. And I didn’t have
a lot of time to think about it
because I simply had to start the poem,
it was that urgent,
and then you have to torture yourself
wondering if it’s all right to write about
writing in a poem and you keep resolving
never again to write about writing
and you always break your resolve.
It’s as if writing has a will of its own
and wants to be written about
just like Margaret Hollingsworth’s
typewriter.

Notes on the Poem

What in the world is this friendly, affable if somewhat short-tempered character on about in David McFadden's intriguing poem "Margaret Hollingsworth's Typewriter"? This snippet from the judges' citation for McFadden's Griffin Poetry Prize 2008 shortlisted collection Why Are You So Sad? - from which the poem is taken - provides suggestions:

"... [McFadden] lives at ease among the most supernatural of events, and gazes in wonderment at everyday things. As a poet he reminds you to be yourself, to be yourself in the world, and give it a chance to amaze you. While reading his beautiful clear language, you sense that he is a trickster, but you cannot help believing every stanza he writes.”

What happens in the narrator's "former favourite Irish-Chinese restaurant / in the entire West Kootenay" is not necessarily supernatural, but it's certainly and delightfully absurd. His outrage at a misapprehended ingredient in his breakfast is ridiculous and outsized - but then, so is his ostensible regard for this restaurant. Then the waitress cheerfully dismisses his concerns, thank you very much. He further deflates the outrage himself with self-deprecating admissions that he has to return to pay for his supposed last meal at this disappointing establishment because he forgot his wallet (oopsy ... forgetful as well as short-tempered?) and that essentially cancels his firm resolve to never return.

From there, this seeming shaggy dog story strays to complications with the ill-fitting plug on a typewriter and how that supposedly becomes an impediment to writing a poem that urgently demands to be written. And then ... and then ...

"and then you have to torture yourself
wondering if it's all right to write about
writing in a poem and you keep resolving
never again to write about writing
and you always break your resolve."

We already know that the narrator was never going to return to that darned restaurant, and look how that turned out.

Is this just an amble through someone's disjointed thoughts, loosely stitched together with a vague "blah blah and blah" here and a frazzled "oh, never mind all that" there? Or is this friend of Margaret Hollingsworth's (she and McFadden were friends and correspondents outside this quirky poem) and keeper of her typewriter hiding behind his intentionally bumbling, blustering exterior the sharp and perceptive heart and mind of a poetic craftsman?

One Reply to “Margaret Hollingsworth’s Typewriter”

  1. I have yet to develop a taste for what appears to be extracts from a Dick Tracy novel, written down the page instead of across it; and, in that act, by some alchemy transformed into ‘poetry’… While it is manifest that I am in the minority in my distaste for this latest poetic cuisine, and at odds with the poetic fashionistas; this particular dish certainly does nothing to sweeten my palate for it.

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