Dec. 28, 2000

The Men

by Michael Chitwood

Broadcast date: THURSDAY, 28 December 2000

Poem: "The Men," by Michael Chitwood, from The Weave Room (The University of Chicago Press)

The Men

They'll show you how to milk a mouse.
They'll see if your ears have any gristle in them.
They'd stop in a burning house
to talk about striped bass.
When the lies get serious
they'll take out a knife
and sharpen a stick to nothing.
What they don't say
would fill a book.
You can read it in their shoulders,
in the way their hands find their pockets.
See, they're writing their scripture now,
With one finger,
in the salt that's been spilled
on the tables in the canteen.

In 1973 on this date, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's book The Gulag Archipelagoa gigantic, 260,000-word history of Stalinist repression and torture in the Soviet prison camp system—was published, in Russian, in Paris. The book is based on the experiences of 227 former prison camp inmates interviewed by Solzhenitsyn, who had himself been imprisoned and exiled for 8 years (1945-53). After the book came out, Solzhenitsyn was arrested, accused of treason, and exiled. The following year he collected the Nobel Prize for Literature he'd been awarded four years earlier.

It's the birthday of novelist Charles Portis, born in El Dorado, Arkansas (1933). He was a journalist, working for papers in Memphis and Little Rock, after which he served as London correspondent for the International Herald Tribune (1960-64). He quit journalism cold one day and moved back to Arkansas and lived for 6 months in a fishing shack while writing his first novel, Norwood (1966). It was followed 2 years later by his big hit, True Grit (1968), which was made into a movie starring John Wayne as Rooster Cogburn. In the years since he has produced many other books, including The Dog of the South (1979), Masters of Atlantis (1985), and Gringos (1991).

It's the birthday of novelist Manuel Puig, born in General, Argentina (1932)—best known for his novel The Kiss of the Spider Woman (1976). He grew up in rural Argentina where he learned English by watching American movies.

"There are many people who live in the sticks and have no means. They are soaking in machismo, in a hostile environment. What do they do? They have no choice. The movies provided them, as they did me, an alternative. They help you not go crazy. You see another way of life. It doesn't matter that the way of life shown by Hollywood was phony. It helped you hope."

It's the birthday of novelist Simon Raven, born in Leicester, England (1927). His satiric style has frequently been compared to Graham Greene, Evelyn Waugh and Anthony Powell. Raven is best known for his 10-volume cycle of novels, Alms for Oblivion, which covers the English upper middle class since World War Two, the years 1945-1973, carrying on the same characters from book to book. Some of these characters also appear in Raven's more recent 7-volume series The First-Born.

"In short, what is destroying the quality of the novel, just as it is destroying the quality of life itself, is egalitarian dogma; for the chief fascination of novels, as of life, lies in the perception and the celebration of human inequalities."

It's the birthday of silent film director , born F(riedrich) W(ilhelm) Murnauin Bielefeld, Germany (1888). He went to Hollywood and directed two highly regarded silent films: Sunrise (1927; it won 3 of the first-ever Oscars) and the much-praised South Seas documentary Tabu (1931). The film was a great commercial success. But a week before it premiered, Murnau was killed in a car crash at the age of 42.

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®




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