Dec. 11, 2001

Older Love

by Jim Harrison

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Poem: "Older Love," by Jim Harrison from Selected and New Poems (Copper Canyon Press).

Older Love

His wife has asthma
so he only smokes outdoors
or late at night with head
and shoulders well into
the fireplace, the mesquite and oak
heat bright against his face.
Does it replace the heat
that has wandered from love
back into the natural world?
But then the shadow passion casts
is much longer than passion,
stretching with effort from year to year.
Outside tonight hard wind and sleet
from three bald mountains,
and on the hearth before his face
the ashes we'll all become,
soft as the back of a woman's knee.

It's the birthday of British novelist Charles Palliser, born in Holyoke, Massachusetts (1947). He established his reputation with his first novel The Quincunx (1989), an intricately plotted story, set in pre-Victorian England, about the attempts of a young man to recover his rightful inheritance.

It's the birthday of poet and novelist Jim Harrison, born in Grayling, Michigan (1937). He was known mostly as a poet before the publication of his best-selling novel, Legends of the Fall in 1977. He's published nine collections of poetry, beginning with Plain Song in 1965. He still lives in northern Michigan, near where he was born. He says: "It's where I feel the best in the world, and it's the only place I've ever been able to write."

It's the birthday of novelist Thomas McGuane, born in Wyandotte, Michigan (1939). He earned a reputation as a latter-day Hemingway with novels like The Sporting Club (1969), The Bushwhacked Piano (1971) and Nobody's Angel (1982).

It's the birthday of poet and short-story writer Grace Paley, born in New York City (1922). She was the daughter of Russian immigrants to New York, and grew up in a household where both Russian and Yiddish were spoken. She developed an ear for language and conversation, and filled her short stories with the sounds of New Yorkers talking. Her first collection of stories was The Little Disturbances of Man (1959), followed by Enormous Changes at the Last Minute (1974). Most of her stories avoid plot in favor of conversation. In a story called "A Conversation with My Father," a dying father asks his daughter, who is a writer, to write a story with a plot. He says, "I would like you to write a simple story just once more . . . the kind deMaupassant wrote, or Chekhov, the kind you used to write." The daughter tells him that she avoids plot because, she says, "It takes all hope away. Everyone real or invented deserves the open destiny of life."

It's the birthday of Russian novelist Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, born in Kislovodsk, Russia (1918). He was a captain of the artillery in the Soviet Army during WWII, but in 1945 he was arrested for writing a letter critical of Joseph Stalin. He spent eight years in prisons and forced labor camps. His first book, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich (1962), described a typical day in a Stalinist labor camp. The manuscript of his most famous novel, The Gulag Archipelago (1973), was seized by the KGB and blocked from publication in the Soviet Union. The novel was eventually published in Paris, and the author was arrested and charged with treason. He was exiled from the Soviet Union in February 1973, and in December was awarded the Nobel Prize. For almost 20 years he lived in seclusion in Vermont before returning to Russia in 1994. He said: "A great writer is, so to speak, a second government in his country. And for that reason, no regime has ever loved great writers, only minor ones."

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