Sunday

Jul. 21, 2002

It's the Little Towns I Like

by Thomas Lux

SUNDAY, 21 JULY 2002
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Poem: "It's The Little Towns I Like," by Thomas Lux from New & Selected Poems (Houghton Mifflin).

It's The Little Towns I Like

It's the little towns I like,
with their little mills making ratchets
and stanchions, elastic web,
spindles, you
name it. I like them in New England,
America, particularly-providing
bad jobs good enough to live on, to live in
families even: kindergarten,
church suppers, beach umbrellas….The towns
are real, so fragile in their loneliness
a flood could come along
(and floods have) and cut them in two,
in half. There is no mayor,
the town council's not prepared
for this, three of the four policemen
are stranded on their roofs…and it doesn't stop
raining. The mountain
is so thick with water, parts of it just slide
down on the heifers-soggy, suicidal-
in the pastures below. It rains, it rains
in these towns and, because
there's no other way, your father gets in a rowboat
so he can go to work.


It's the birthday of poet, short story writer, and essayist Tess Gallagher, born in Port Angeles, Washington (1943). Her first volume of poetry, Stepping Outside, was published in 1974. Later collections include Instructions to the Double (1976), Moon Crossing Bridge (1992), and My Black Horse (1995). In 1984, she published Willingly, a collection of poems for and about her third husband, author Raymond Carver.

It's the birthday of cartoonist Garretson Beekman "Garry" Trudeau, born in New York City, New York (1948), who is the famous, but media-shy, creator of the Doonesbury comic strip.

It's the birthday of novelist, poet, and teacher John Gardner, born in Batavia, New York (1933). He began writing fiction in 1966, with The Resurrection, but it wasn't until his third novel, Grendel (1971), the retelling of Beowulf from the viewpoint of the monster, that he began to get recognition as a novelist. His other novels include Nickel Mountain (1973), October Light (1976), and Mickelsson's Ghosts (1982). One of his best-known works was published two years after his death - The Art of Fiction, published in 1984, is still today a standard text for many would-be novelists.

It's the birthday of poet (Harold) Hart Crane, born in Garrettsville, Ohio (1899), whose optimistic, lyrical poems were in direct contrast to the depression and destructiveness of his life. His greatest work came in 1930, with a sixty-page poem called The Bridge. It was an attempt to create an epic myth of the entire American experience, past to present.

It's the birthday of novelist and short story writer Ernest Hemingway, born in Oak Park, Illinois (1899). Hemingway began his writing career as a reporter for the Kansas City Star. He tried to enlist in World War One, but was rejected because of a defective eye. He managed, however, to become a driver for the American Red Cross. He was wounded in Italy and hospitalized in Milan, where he fell in love with a Red Cross nurse. In Europe after the war, he spent his time with other expatriates like F. Scott Fitzgerald and Gertrude Stein, and in 1926 had his first successful novel published. Always one to use his personal experiences as fodder for fiction, The Sun Also Rises (filmed 1957) dealt with a group of aimless expatriates in France and Spain, members of what he called the "lost generation." His next novel was A Farewell to Arms (1929; filmed 1932 and 1957), based on his experiences as a soldier in Italy who falls in love with an English nurse. He wrote about his experiences in the Spanish Civil War in For Whom the Bell Tolls (1940; filmed 1944), which many critics consider his finest novel. He said: "I would stand and look out over the roofs of Paris and think, 'Do not worry. You have always written before and you will write now. All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.'"

It's the birthday of communications pioneer Paul Reuter, born Israel Beer Josaphat in Kassel, Germany (1816). In college, Josaphat began studying the new technology of telegraphy, and was determined to find a way to use it to improve communications throughout the world. He worked to establish a news agency. Finally, in 1858, he convinced the London Times to subscribe to his service and print his news dispatches. Soon his agency, known as Reuters, was used by all the English papers. He built a reputation by reporting exclusive stories, and in 1865, was the first news agency to bring the news of President Lincoln's assassination to England and Europe. In 1883, he sent a memo to his agents, letting them know that the news they transmitted should include "fires, explosions, floods, inundations, railway accidents, destructive storms, earthquakes, shipwrecks attended with loss of life, accidents to war vessels and to mail steamers, street riots of a grave character, disturbances arising from strikes, duels between, and suicides of persons of note, social or political, and murders of a sensational or atrocious character."

In 1861 on this day, The Battle of Bull Run took place at Bull Run Creek, about thirty-five miles south of Washington. It was the first major battle of the War Between the States, and the Northern Army was soundly defeated by twenty-two thousand Confederate troops. It is said that the Northern Army was accompanied by hundreds of sigh-seers, including many congressmen, who had come out to witness the battle equipped with basket lunches and bottles of champagne.


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