Saturday

Jul. 31, 2004

The Monks of St. John's File in for Prayer

by Kilian McDonnell

SATURDAY, 31 JULY, 2004
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Poem: "The Monks of St. John's File in for Prayer," by Kilian McDonnell, from Swift, Lord, You Are Not. © St. John's University Press. Reprinted with permission.

The Monks of St. John's File in for Prayer

In we shuffle, hooded amplitudes,
scapulared brooms, a stray earring, skin-heads
and flowing locks, blind in one eye,
hooked-nosed, handsome as a prince
(and knows it), a five-thumbed organist,
an acolyte who sings in quarter tones,
one slightly swollen keeper of the bees,
the carpenter minus a finger here and there,
our pre-senile writing deathless verse,
a stranded sailor, a Cassian scholar,
the artist suffering the visually
illiterate and indignities unnamed,
two determined liturgists. In a word,
eager purity and weary virtue.
Last of all, the Lord Abbot, early old
(shepherding the saints is like herding cats).
These chariots and steeds of Israel
make a black progress into church.
A rumble of monks bows low and offers praise
to the High God of Gods who is faithful forever.


Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of J(oanne) K(athleen) Rowling, born in Chipping Sodbury, England (1966). Her readers know today as Harry Potter's birthday. On Harry Potter's eleventh birthday, he learns that he is a wizard, and is officially invited to leave his Muggle aunt and uncle and attend the special Hogwarts school for wizards.

As a child, Rowling was short and stocky and wore very thick glasses, just like Harry Potter. She says she was very bossy, very bookish and terrible at school. When Rowling started writing Harry Potter, she was unemployed and divorced and living on public assistance in a tiny Edinburgh apartment with her infant daughter. She wrote during her daughter's naps, at a table in a café. She couldn't afford even a used typewriter. Then the Scottish Arts Council gave her a grant to finish the book. She did, and in the U.S. it was called Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (1998). It was a dramatic overnight success. She was instantly famous and Harry Potter became a household name. She experienced a level of fame usually reserved for politicians and rock stars. On book tours, she spoke at big sporting venues, with images of her face projected on big screens behind her. At age thirty-five she was the highest-earning woman in Britain, netting more than thirty million dollars in 2000.

Rowling has had the plots mapped out for a series of seven Harry Potter books since 1995. There's a book for each year that Harry spends at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. She said, "I want to finish these seven books and look back and think that whatever happened—however much this hurricane whirled around me—I stayed true to what I wanted to write. This is my Holy Grail: that when I finish writing book seven, I can say—hand on heart—I didn't change a thing. I wrote the story I meant to write."

Rowling released Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix on June 21 last year. Within an hour, Barnes and Noble, the largest bookseller in the country, had sold 286,000 copies. That's eighty books per second. By the end of the day the book had sold five million copies total.

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