Inkwell Poetry

I’ve taken to journaling with pen and ink.

I’m not talking a BIC stick; I’m talking wooden shaft, removable nibs, and a cute little inkwell with Jane Austen’s profile on it. (Okay, I admit it, I bought it in a gift shop.)

One morning, partly out of guilt for having used the set so rarely after buying it, I settled with my journal and my pen and ink, and somehow I fell in love with the medium.

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It’s slow. It’s unforgiving. It’s demanding. My usual hurried scrawl is impossible, but no matter how careful I am, my painstaking letters come out wobbly and uneven.

All things considered, I should hate it.

Yet, somehow, it soothes me. It slows me down, lets me think and breathe in between words. The rhythmic pauses to dip my nib in the inkwell force method and movement into what used to be an urgent, rushed process. Finding the precise angle best suited to my nib, like finding the precise angle best suited to my thoughts, takes practice and patience.

I love today’s culture: retro is in, and following fads is out (an irony that can twist your brain into knots if you think about it too long). You can wear anything you want and be in style. New home decor is as easy (and cheap!) as picking up broken windows or discarded bottles while yard sale shopping.

And record players are popular once more, as evidenced by the gleaming Crosley turntable on the coffee table across from me.

In an era when you can fit weeks’ worth of music on a pocket-sized device, why are people returning to a device as inconvenient and limited as a record player? It’s huge. It’s heavy. You have to flip the record over every fifteen minutes or so, and you can only listen to one album at a time—none of the “shuffle all” freedom of, say, an iPod.

So why, I asked myself as I set Simon and Garfunkel spinning, would I rather switch on a record player?

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For the same reason I like to dip a pen in an inkwell: for the authenticity. For the intentionality. For the beauty of the flaws—the fuzzy high notes or spreading ink blotches, the click of the needle when you set it down and the scratch of metal against paper as the ink becomes something new.

I love the inkwell because I dip into it and draw out words that flow to the page in a beautiful, organic way that never occurs when I force thoughts out of the cheap, plastic tube of a ballpoint. I love it because I feel the words forming, sense the effort and time they deserve rather than cramming them out as quickly as my brain can conjure them. Because even more than the words on the page, the process becomes poetry in its own right.

Because when I’ve finished and my wobbly letters straggle like weary soldiers across the page, I know I’ve given away a part of my soul—and then my soul feels not less, but more.

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About Elizabeth Syson

While consuming tea and coffee at an alarming rate, I read and write everything I can and pursue my unnatural love of copyediting. My hobbies include learning new instruments and languages, riding horseback, sketching very badly indeed, and periodically recommitting to doing yoga regularly. View all posts by Elizabeth Syson

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