Thursday, 26 May 2016

Pen vs. pencil

Anthony Wilson's recent blog post about the virtues of the pencil reminded me of Larkin's fondness for a 2B, as Anthony himself mentioned, while also chiming with my own tastes. Both pens and pencils are far superior to a keyboard in my mind, especially for poetry. Like Anthony, I love the tactile experience of writing. However, my choice is a pen instead of a pencil.

I do understand that only a pencil allows you to make notes in the margin of a page without defacing it forever, but then I've never been keen on physically altering books. Their magic really does take me over with reverence for the object, no matter how pompous that may sound. In other words, this potential benefit of a pencil over a pen doesn't do it for me.

However, the key benefit for me of a pen is that the destruction of a draft is far more difficult than via the delete key or a rubber. In a moment of frustration or rage, a keyboard or a pencil would enable me to get rid of text forever far too easily, thus cutting me off from a way back. Without the evidence that's left behind by the ink of a pen, how could I retrace my steps through the creation of a poem and salvage a turn of phrase or realise where I'd taken a wrong turn? I often even return to drafts of a second or third attempt while tussling with the sixth or seventh version of a poem.

In summary, a pen always wins out over a pencil when I'm writing poetry. A keyboard, meanwhile, comes a very distant third. What about you?


  1. Pen, then eventually keyboard, but more often than not, pen first! Then there's a vague period of taking away a typed draft and writing it out in pen to feel if it works. Pencil only in emergency.Interesting post!

    1. Hi Maria,

      Thanks for your comment. Yes, I also move to the keyboard once I'm happy with a draft. That's the point at which I file the poem till I fall out of love with it. I then tend to go back to my notebook when I rework the poem again a few weeks later.

  2. Dear Matthew

    We've been offline in Holland for a fortnight. I usually write my poems with a Bic biro in a Tesco's notebook. Using a pencil to record poems is a bit too much like writing on water for my taste.

    Best wishes from Simon R. Gladdish

  3. I love nibs that have pencil-like feedback. Fountain pens are personal in ways pencils can't be-- far more variables. It takes time to find the pen that suits composition. Or pens. The process is rewarding in its aspect of self-knowledge and pen-knowledge too. I use pens to poet haiku on Twitter.

    1. Hi Tom,

      Thanks for commenting. Yes, I also like a pen that rasps across the paper. That physical connection is crucial, isn't it?

  4. Write to me in pencil.
    Sketch an outline,
    hatch in shadow,
    keep it close and warm.

    Change my mind
    in silver whispers,
    lead on paper. Start
    an almost silent storm.

    Written wishing this PC were an HB.

    1. Hi Alex,

      Thanks for commwenting and gifting us a poem!