Tuesday

Jan. 1, 2002

Ecstasy

by Hayden Carruth

TUESDAY, 1 JANUARY 2002
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Poem: "Ecstasy," by Hayden Carruth from Scrambled Eggs & Whiskey (Copper Canyon Press).

Ecstasy

For years it was in sex and I thought
this was the most of it
            so brief
                    a moment
or two of transport out of oneself
                    or
in music which lasted longer and filled me
with the exquisite wrenching agony
of the blues
        and now it is equally
transitory and obscure as I sit in my broken
chair that the cats have shredded
by the stove on a winter night with wind and snow
howling outside and I imagine
the whole world at peace
                at peace
and everyone comfortable and warm
the great pain assuaged
                    a moment
of the most shining and singular sensual gratification.

On this day in 1660, British writer Samuel Pepys began his famous diary, a 10-year, day-by-day account of his life that became one of the most important chronicles of the Great Fire of London in 1666, the British Restoration, and the Bubonic Plague that struck London in 1665, killing more than 100,000 people. In the diary's first, brief entry, he wrote about the clothes he wore that day, the sermon he'd heard that morning, and other trivial details:

I staid at home the whole afternoon, looking over my accounts, then went with my wife to my father's, and in going observed the great posts which the City workmen set up at the Conduit in Fleet-street.

Pepys wrote the whole diary in code, presumably to protect the secrecy of some of its more banal details about Pepys' personal life—and the work wasn't deciphered until the nineteenth century.

It's the birthday of J.D. (Jerome David) Salinger, born in New York in 1919 to a Jewish father and an Irish Catholic mother. He established his place in literary history with a single novel, The Catcher in the Rye, published in 1951, for which he insisted that the cover be unadorned and that his picture be absent from the dust-jacket.

It's the birthday of biographer Catherine Drinker Bowen, born in Haverford, Pennsylvania in 1897. Known for her deep and detailed historical research, she wrote biographies of Francis Bacon, Benjamin Franklin, Oliver Wendell Holmes and John Adams among others.

It's the birthday of writer Edward Morgan Forster, born in London 1879. He was a member of the literary Bloomsbury set, a Bohemian group of which also included his friend Virginia Woolf and economist John Maynard Keynes. Four of his five most important novels were published before WWI, including his first, Where Angels Fear to Tread, as well as The Longest Journey, A Room with a View, and Howard's End. He then spent the next couple of years traveling through India, and during WWI he served with the International Red Cross in Egypt—his experiences and travels in those years influenced his fifth and best-known novel, A Passage to India.

And it's the birthday of photographer Alfred Stieglitz, born in Hoboken, New Jersey, in 1864. Stieglitz studied mechanical engineering at a university in Berlin, and in the 1880s he took advantage of his location: He traveled through Europe taking photographs. That work led to a prize in a British photographic competition when he was 24, and then he returned to New York, where he lived for the rest of his life. He opened several galleries, the most famous of which was called 291—it was there that Stieglitz staged the first American exhibitions of works by Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, and Paul Cezanne. And it was also there that Stieglitz introduced the public to the work of American painter Georgia O'Keefe, whom he later married. In 1902, soon after arriving in New York, he founded a quarterly magazine called Camera Work, and he edited it for 15 years, highlighting new, avant-garde achievements in photography and introducing vanguard artists.

(Instapaper)

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