Dec. 23, 1999
Poem: "Winter Poem" by Robert Bly from Eating the Honey of Words: New and Selected Poems published by Harper Flamingo.
Itís the birthday of poet Robert (Elwood) Bly, born in Madison, Minnesota (1926). His 1990 best seller, Iron John: A Book About Men, draws from myth, folklore, and Jungian psychology to deal with male grief and the father-son bond. His many collections of poetry include The Light Around the Body (1968National Book Award), Sleepers Joining Hands (1973), and Eating the Honey of Words (1999).
Itís the birthday of novelist Calder Willingham, Jr., born in Atlanta (1922), the son of a hotel manager. Growing up in and around hotels influenced two of his novels, Geraldine Bradshaw (1950) and Reach to the Stars (1951), which both have the same hero, a bellhop named Dick Davenport, who seeks truth but finds the world full of lies. His most enthusiastically reviewed novel was also his first End as a Man (1947), about the degrading life of cadets attending a southern military academy much like The Citadel, which he himself attended (1940-41). In addition to his 10 novels, he wrote screenplays: Paths of Glory (1957, written with Stanley Kubrick and Tim Thompson), One-Eyed Jacks (1961), The Graduate (1967, with Buck Henry), and Little Big Man (1972). He died in 1995.
On this day in 1912, an excerpt of Remembrance of Things Past, by Marcel Proust, was rejected by the magazine La Nouvelle Revue Francaise [lah noo-VEL ruh-VOO frawh-SEZ]. Proust ruefully commented: "I felt I had come into my own, but my own received me not." Swannís Way, volume 1 of his huge projected novel, was refused by two publishers before Proust brought it out at his own expense (1913).
Itís the birthday of teacher and writer Norman MacLean, born in Clarinda, Iowa (1902). After a lifetime of teaching college English, he retired and wrote A River Runs Through It and Other Stories (1976), 2 novellas and a short story, about growing up in Montana, logging, mule-skinning, and, most vitally, fly-fishing. The opening paragraph of A River Runs Through It: "In our family, there was no clear line between religion and fly-fishing. We lived at the junction of great trout rivers in western Montana, and our father was a Presbyterian minister and a fly fisherman who tied his own flies and taught others. He told us about Christís disciples being fishermen, and we were left to assume, as my brother and I did, that all first-class fishermen on the Sea of Galilee were fly fishermen."
Itís the birthday of novelist Giuseppe di Lampedusa [juh-SEP-ee dee lahm-peh-DOO- sah], born in Palermo, Sicily (1896). As the duke of Palma and prince of Lampedusa, he was ideally suited to writing a definitive novel on the breakdown of the Old Order in Sicily. He served as an artillery officer in World War One, was captured and imprisoned in Hungary, but escaped and returned, on foot, to Italy. He had hoped to become a diplomat after the war, but had a nervous collapse and retreated to a life of private study, reading in several languages and discussing literature with a circle of friends. In his late fifties he wrote his one novel, Il Gattopardo [eel GAH-toh PAR-doh] (The Leopard). Rejected by publishers during his own lifetime, the novel was rapturously received when it came out the year after his deaththen was scorned by the Italian literary establishment, who finally, grudgingly, had to accept it as a masterpiece.
Itís the birthday of Imagist poet and editor Harriet Monroe, born in Chicago (1860). A shy child, she avoided family strife by withdrawing to her fatherís big library. Although she was Protestant, for her health she spent her 18th year in a Washington, D.C. convent, which she found highly stimulating. Her youthful taste was shaped by a Sister Pauline, whom she always credited with igniting her interest in literature. Once back in Chicago, Harriet wrote poetry and worked as an art and drama critic. At 50, during a trip around the world, the idea for the great project of her liferunning a magazine for poetscame to her. She returned to Chicago, raised funds and began publishing Poetry: A Magazine of Verse, in 1912. It brought out the work of Vachel Lindsay, Carl Sandburg, Robert Frost, and Ezra Pound, then living in London, whom Monroe hired as her foreign correspondent. An early champion of T.S. Eliot, she published "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" in 1915. She also published W.B. Yeats, James Joyce, and Imagist poets Marianne Moore, Wallace Stevensand herself. Her magazine still comes out every month in Chicago.
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