Feb. 4, 2004
Poem: "After Love," by Maxine Kumin, from Selected Poems (W.W. Norton).
Afterward, the compromise.
Bodies resume their boundaries
These legs, for instance, mine.
Your arms take you back in.
Spoons of our fingers, lips
admit their ownership.
The bedding yawns, a door
blows aimlessly ajar
and overhead, a plane
singsongs coming down.
Nothing is changed, except
there was a moment when
the wolf, the mongering wolf
who stands outside the self
lay lightly down, and slept.
Literary and Historical Notes:
It's the birthday of writer Stewart O'Nan, born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (1961). He worked for years as an aerospace engineer, and when he came home from his work every day he would go down to his basement and write. He learned to write by copying out sentences from writers like James Joyce and F. Scott Fitzgerald and Franz Kafka, and then trying to break them down into their component parts. He wrote some short stories and the drafts of two novels, but he wasn't satisfied with them.
Then, one summer, he got a job doing research on the writer John Gardner. He sifted through boxes of Gardner's drafts and revisions, and it was then that he realized how much work went into writing fiction. He later said, "It was not brilliance or facility that was necessary, but the determination to bear and even enjoy the dull process of wading into one's own bad prose again, one more time, and then once again, with the utmost concentration and taste, looking for opportunities to mine deeper."
In 1994, he published his first novel, Snow Angels, about a murder in a small town in western Pennsylvania.
It's the birthday of fiction writer Robert Coover, born in Charles City, Iowa (1932). He's best known for his novel The Public Burning (1977). It's a satire about the execution of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, who were accused of selling atomic secrets to the Soviet Union in the 1950s. Characters in the novel include Betty Crocker, Joe McCarthy, the Marx Brothers and Uncle Sam. Much of the book is narrated by Richard Nixon, who is portrayed as a slightly crazed, power-hungry politician. At one point, Nixon says, "In statesmanship get the formalities right, never mind the moralities-why did I keep forgetting that?" Coover finished The Public Burning in 1975, but his publisher was afraid it was libelous, and it wasn't published for another two and half years. It became an instant bestseller. Coover's most recent novel is The Adventures of Lucky Pierre: Director's Cut (2002).
Coover said, "We need myths to get by. We need story; otherwise the tremendous randomness of experience overwhelms us. Story is what penetrates."
It's the birthday of poet Gavin Ewart, born in London (1916). He published his first collection of poems, Poems and Songs, in 1938, but then he quit writing poetry for almost twenty years. He served in World War II, and when he came back he worked in publishing and advertising. A poetry editor encouraged him to start writing again, and finally, in 1964, he published his second book of poetry, a collection of light verse called Londoners. He went on to publish several more collections before his death in 1995. He once wrote a poem called "The Lover Writes a One-Word Poem." The word was "You!"
It's the birthday of novelist MacKinlay Kantor, born in Webster City, Iowa (1904). He was a prolific writer who produced over 40 books, including historical novels, westerns, crime novels, nonfiction and collections of poetry. Kantor wrote about the Civil War in novels such as The Jaybird (1932), Long Remember (1934), and Arouse and Beware (1936). He first became interested in the war when he was ten years old, after a salesman left some sample pages of a Civil War encyclopedia in his parents' house. He later discovered that his great-grandfather was an officer in the Union Army, and one of his aunts was a friend of Ulysses S. Grant. As a teenager, Kantor marched with the Grand Army of the Republic in Memorial Day parades and became an expert fife player. He spent more than 25 years researching his novel Andersonville (1955), about the Confederate prison camp where 50,000 Union soldiers were held. It won the Pulitzer Prize in 1956.
Kantor's novel Glory for Me (1945), about the lives of three World War II veterans in a small Midwestern town, was the basis for the movie The Best Years of Our Lives, which won nine Academy Awards in 1946.
It's the birthday of theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, born in Breslau, Prussia (1906). His family wasn't religious, and they were shocked when he decided to become a clergyman as a young man. When Hitler began his rise to p1ower in the early '30s, Bonhoeffer was appalled by the complacency of most German Christians. He founded a new church called the "Confessing Church", which actively opposed Hitler's policies. Hitler declared the new church illegal in 1937, and two years later Bonhoeffer fled to the United States. After just a few months, though, he decided it was morally irresponsible to stay in America while there was so much suffering in his home country. He wrote to a friend, "I shall have no right to take part in the restoration of Christian life in Germany after the war unless I share the trials of this time with my people."
When he returned to Germany, he renounced his pacifism and joined a conspiracy to assassinate Hitler. He took a cover job with German Intelligence, which gave him access to classified information, but he was arrested and imprisoned by the Gestapo in 1943. He spent most of his time in prison writing sermons, letters, poetry, and fiction, much of which was published in 1951 in the book Prisoner for God. He developed the idea of "religionless Christianity," arguing that many Christians spend too much time hoping for salvation and not enough time living a life of virtue. He wrote, "To renounce a full life and all its joys in order to escape pain is neither Christian nor human." Bonhoeffer died after two years in prison.
Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®