Retronyms, Open Books: A Poem Emporium

Is “retrotech” a retronym?

Found myself with an exceedingly rare day off to do nothing in particular yesterday –I have no actual memory of the last time this occurred– and wandered around in the Wallingford neighborhood of Seattle, where I soon came across a storefront with three standard-sized typewriters in the window.

Open Books: A Poem Emporium is, from what I am told by the intertubes, one of just two poetry-only bookstores in the United States. It is a charmingly spartan, white-walled space, with a bench in the middle. I chatted with the owners about their typewriters for a minute (“People see the typewriters in the window, and they are always bringing them to us”). They had a Royal, I believe, maybe two– an Underwood 5, I think? Oh, I am useless with identifying standard typewriters.

I’m no poetry buff. Who is? I have fewer excuses than most, having been a literature major as an undergraduate. Nonetheless, I grabbed a Spanish poetry anthology (poetry is actually better than prose for learning a language, excepting the fact that the translated stanzas rarely make sense) and a small volume of Rilke poems and essays, “Rilke on Love and Other Difficulties.” Turns out that Rilke was one profound son of a gun. Might even quote him in my upcoming best-woman speech at a forthcoming summer wedding.

Of course, your intellectual credentials on the matter of poetry are, unlike mine, worth discussion, and thus you plan to share them in the comments. I in fact sense that you spend a fair bit of time sipping absinthe on your fainting couch, and knocking back all the poetic greats in your spare time. Please share those poets that you recommend, and then make haste to buy future poetry volumes from Open Books.


  1. See, now only you could take a random stroll and come upon a store with typewriters in the window!

    I enjoy poetry, but I’m no high-falutin’ verse-quotin’ type. (Though I can recite portions of The Canterbury Tales in its original Middle English.)

    My poetry taste, like most everything else, is eclectic. I like Poe, Herrick, Lowell (James R. and Amy, but not Robert), Chaucer, e e cummings, Sandberg, and trickles of Dylan Thomas.

    I will confess right here that I cannot stand T.S. Eliot. Yes, there are lines of diamond brilliance, but he was a pretentious snob and every time I read a poem of his I want to travel back in time and hit him over the head with his own book.

  2. To belabor a point: why doesn’t Las Vegas have anything like that? I have never once strolled by any place that has ever had a typewriter in the window.

    My jealousy is so profound I am thinking of conferring proper noun status upon it. I might just name my jealousy Bob.

  3. Jeez, Olivander–give TSE a break. Pretentious snob? Maybe you should read his essays instead of his poetry. Or maybe read the Four Quartets and leave the rest.

    Anyone who doesn’t like poetry should read: Mark Strand (The Continuous Life), Charles Simic (The World Doesn’t End), Carl Dennis (Practical Gods or Ranking the Wishes), Wendell Berry (when he’s not preaching–“The Country of Marriage”), Mary Oliver (American Primitive)….

    There’s a lot of great stuff that is bound to appeal. The only chore is finding it amidst the Susan Polis Schultz and Rod McKuen schmaltz. Here is just a hint:

  4. I’m far too much of a culture slob to have ever gotten into poetry, except some of these. Sorry.

  5. Anonymous

    Hmmm! Poetry? It’s been a while but top of the list would be Shakespeare’s sonnets and Poe. Both are best read out loud. John Donne and Alexander Pope for quiet times. Robert Service just for fun. Some Tennyson. Paul Simon lyrics, especially some of the early ones.

    I used to be able to read Beowulf in Old English (the alliteration and rhythms are addictive when you get them right) but I wouldn’t try it now.


    PS: Olivander is correct about T.S. Eliot.

  6. I love poetry, all kinds and periods. Right now I’m working on the collected poems of Donald Justice. And don’t get me started on Rilke! His “Letters to a Young Poet” are very wise counsel from an older, established writer to a young, aspiring one. Great even if you aren’t literarily inclined. As for quotes to use at a wedding, he once said, “A good marriage is that in which each appoints the other guardian of his solitude.” I don’t think one can beat that.

  7. I don’t live in Seattle, but I have actually been in that very bookstore (have some friends in the neighborhood). Can’t allow myself to buy books in bookstores anymore, though, because horrible expensive accidents happen that way, and I already have books.

    By coinkidink, I find not so far over the hills in these parts I wrote at on My life as a poet, insert blush here (my html is not acceptable, must learn more, fail better).

    There is the Poetry Foundation, fronting for the academic end of the poetry universe, and there is the whole range of stuff in a network type continuum past open mike spoken word readings on through folk rock music verse over to rap and hip-hip. All poetry. And lest we forget, Edward Lear (the old man with the runcible spoon).

    Retronyms is good. I have been using retrocomputing for getting on decades now.

    Thanks for such an interesting blog.

  8. Nup

    I need my poetry set to music. So really, I would have to say Bob Dylan is my favorite poet.

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  10. Man, I love Letters to a Young Poet! I used a line or two for my senior quotes for the high school yearbook.

    Poets – right now I’m particularly partial to Lowell – all three for me, Ezra Pound (including the cantos), Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Seamus Heaney, Seamus Heaney!, Derek Walcott (his poem honoring Obama was so much better than the inaugration poet’s), TS Eliot. Nothing obscure for me unfortunately – I know little about poetry!

    Incidentally, this has nothing to do with poetry, but since I mentioned Robert Lowell I might as well add that I’m excited about Jean Stafford right now too…

    I wish I had a poetry-only bookstore in my neighborhood – perhaps that would introduce me to new poets! My local bookstores have very few things I haven’t read on the poetry front (which says something about how lacking their selection is more than how well-read I am). Perhaps I should visit a library this weekend.

  11. Erin

    Apropos of nothing, I thought you might be interested in this link on typewriter ribbon tins-

    I enjoy your blog, even though I don’t collect vintage typewriters.

  12. Oddfellows cafe, newly opened branch of Linda’s in Capitol Hill, has a typewriter as a sort of mascot. They have one on their business cards.