Saturday

Feb. 2, 2002

February 8

by David Lehman

SATURDAY, 2 FEBRUARY 2002
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Poem: "February 8," by David Lehman from The Daily Mirror: A Journal in Poetry (Scribner Poetry).

February 8

There are two kinds
of love songs:
"You're marvelous"
and "I'm heartbroken."
We live in the era
of the premature memoir
but I refuse to confess
or complain and when
you call I start singing
"Too Marvelous for Words"
instead of saying hello.
I'm not out of control.
I just flirt with everybody
because I love her.
The three of us
made a very disarming pair.

Today is Groundhog Day, a tradition brought to America by the German immigrants known as the Pennsylvania Dutch. Groundhog Day grew out of two stories, the first being that you could predict the arrival of springtime by spotting when hibernating animals emerged from their dens. The second story was the tradition of Candlemas Day, a time when priests would bless candles and distribute them for the second half of winter. According to an old English rhyme: "If Candlemas be fair and bright, Winter has another flight. If Candlemas brings cloud and rain, Winter will not come again."

It's the birthday of writer, director and producer Jane Wagner, born in Morristown, Tennessee (1935). She wrote sketch comedy for Lily Tomlin, co-writing and co-producing three comedy albums for Tomlin, as well as six television specials, for which she won three Emmys and a Writers Guild Award. Her most popular work, however, is the 1985 play she wrote for Tomlin, The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe, which earned the distinction of being the first play in twenty years to appear on the New York Times bestseller list.

It's the birthday of poet and children's author Judith Viorst, born in Newark, New Jersey (1931). In 1991, when her youngest son went off to college, Viorst went back to school as well, enrolling in the Washington Psychoanalytic Institute. As a result of her studies, she wrote her bestseller, Necessary Losses, which explores the painful separations we all go through in life.

It's the birthday of poet and novelist James Dickey, born in Atlanta, Georgia (1923). In 1970, Dickey wrote Deliverance, the novel that would make him most famous. It was the story of four Atlanta suburbanites on a back-to-nature canoe trip that turns into a terrifying test of survival.

It's the birthday of writer and philosopher Ayn Rand, born in St. Petersburg, Russia (1905), who decided to make her career as a writer at the age of nine. In 1925, Rand obtained a visa to visit relatives in the United States, which she extended and went off to Hollywood to pursue a career. She managed to get a job as an extra in films, and then as a script reader. She sold a few screenplays and a stage play, but in 1936, her autobiographical novel, We the Living, was published to mediocre reviews. Shortly thereafter, she began writing The Fountainhead, which was published in 1943 and which established her as one of the most popular and controversial authors of the twentieth century. Rand's last major work of fiction was Atlas Shrugged (1957).

It's the birthday of writer James (Augustine Aloysius) Joyce, born in Rathgar, Ireland (1882), whose small body of work had a tremendous influence on the evolution of the modern novel. Joyce was educated in Jesuit schools in Dublin, where he excelled in philosophy and languages. As a student, he learned Norwegian so that he could read the plays of Henrik Ibsen in their original language. His first published work was a volume of thirty-six poems called Chamber Music (1907), but he is best known for his prose works. In 1914, his collection of short stories, Dubliners, was published. Each of its fifteen stories depicts some aspect of life in the city, with which he had a love/hate relationship. He once wrote to a friend, "I always write about Dublin, because if I can get to the heart of Dublin, I can get to the heart of all the cities of the world. In the particular is contained the universal." Joyce continued to write about Dublin for the rest of his life, even though he lived abroad for most of it. In 1916, he published A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, a semi-autobiographical coming-of-age novel. This was followed by Ulysses (1922), published in Paris because it was banned in England, patterned on Homer's Odyssey. The action in the book, written in stream-of-consciousness, follows three characters, Stephen Dedalus, Leopold Bloom, and his wife Molly, during the course of one single day, June 16, 1904. Immediately following the publication of Ulysses, Joyce began his next book, which would take him seventeen years to complete. Finnegan's Wake was published in 1939; it has no discernable plot, and is often difficult to read. He died two years later in Zurich

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