Aug. 2, 2002
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Poem: "Fear," by Raymond Carver from All of Us (Vintage).
Fear of seeing a police car pull into the drive.
Fear of falling asleep at night.
Fear of not falling asleep.
Fear of the past rising up.
Fear of the present taking flight.
Fear of the telephone that rings in the dead of night.
Fear of electrical storms.
Fear of the cleaning woman who has a spot on her cheek!
Fear of dogs I've been told won't bite.
Fear of anxiety!
Fear of having to identify the body of a dead friend.
Fear of running out of money.
Fear of having too much, though people will not believe this.
Fear of psychological profiles.
Fear of being late and fear of arriving before anyone else.
Fear of my children's handwriting on envelopes.
Fear they'll die before I do, and I'll feel guilty.
Fear of having to live with my mother in her old age, and mine.
Fear of confusion.
Fear this day will end on an unhappy note.
Fear of waking up to find you gone.
Fear of not loving and fear of not loving enough.
Fear that what I love will prove lethal to those I love.
Fear of death.
Fear of living too long.
Fear of death.
I've said that.
It's the birthday of Bei Dao, born in Beijing (1949). He's probably the best-known Chinese poet in the West. He went to school in Beijing until the Cultural Revolution began and he was sent south to work on a construction crew. He was relieved, since he wasn't any good at math or science and he didn't want to go to school anymore anyway. In the country workers were allowed one day off every two weeks. He used his day off to meet with a group of friends who read literature and wrote poetry, which they had to do in utter secrecy. The possibility of being spied on meant they had to develop a kind of sixth sense about people. When Mao died, the political atmosphere became more open for a while, and he and his friends started a literary magazine in Beijing. It had a thousand paid subscribers, who sent their forms in to various secret addresses before the government shut the journal down. He invented what amounted to a new poetry, a free verse full of dreamy images and ambiguous grammar that was well-suited for political criticism. The Tienamin protestors acknowledged him as one of the inspirations for their revolutionary movement. He went into exile in 1989. He lives in Ann Arbor, and published a book of poems called Forms of Distance in 1994.
It's the birthday of James Baldwin, born in New York City (1924). When his novel Go Tell it on the Mountain (1953) was published, and his essay collections appeared in the late fifties and early sixties-Notes of a Native Son (1955), Nobody Knows My Name (1961), and The Fire Next Time (1963)-he became the best-known African-American writer in the country. When his agent first read Giovanni's Room (1956), he advised Baldwin to burn it. When he submitted it to Knopf, Baldwin remembered, "I was told that I shouldn't have written it. I was told to bear in mind that I was a young Negro writer with a certain audience and I wasn't supposed to alienate that audience. And if I published the book, it would wreck my career. They wouldn't publish the book, they said, as a favor to me."
On this day in 1988, Raymond
Carver died. He was fifty, and he had lung cancer. He said that he had
lived most of his life as "bad Raymond," drinking hard and losing
jobs, and then lived the final eleven years of his life as "good Raymond,"
not drinking, writing successful short stories, and winning awards. It was "good
Raymond" who fell in love and traveled all over the world with the poet
Tess Gallagher; when it was clear he wasn't going to get better, they married
each other, and then went to Alaska to go fishing. He died two months later.
The last story Carver wrote before his death described the last night of Anton
Chekhov before his death.
Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®