Monday

May 8, 2006

Science

by Jim Harrison

MONDAY, 8 MAY, 2006
Listen (RealAudio) | How to listen

Poem: "Science" by Jim Harrison from Saving Daylight. © Copper Canyon Press. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Science

It was one of those mornings utterly distorted by the night's dreams.
Why go to court to change my name to Gaspar de la Nuit in order to
avoid thinking of myself as a silly, fat old man? At midmorning I
looked at the dogs as possibilities for something different in my life.
I was dogsitting both daughters' dogs plus our own: Lily, Grace, Pearl,
Harry, Rose and Mary. I shook the biscuit box and they assembled in
the living room on a very cold windy morning when no one wanted
to go outside except for a quick pee and a bark at the mailman. I sang,
"He's got the whole world in his hands," as they waited for their snack.
Harry was embarrassed and furtive and tried to leave the room but I
called him back. I tried, "Yes, we have no bananas, we have no bananas
today," and Lily, the largest of the dogs, became angry at the others
who looked away intimidated. I tried something religious, "The Old
Rugged Cross," to no particular response except that Mary leapt up
at the biscuit box in irritation. I realized decisively that dogs don't care
about music and religion and thus have written up this report. This
scarcely makes me the Father of the A-bomb, I thought as I flung the
contents of the full box of biscuits around the room with the dogs
scrambling wildly on the hard maple floor. Let there be happy chaos.


Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of Edmund Wilson, (books by this author), born in Red Bank, New Jersey (1895). He is generally considered the greatest American man of letters of the twentieth century, though he published almost all of his work in popular magazines. He never took a teaching position and rarely gave lectures.

He went to communist Russia and learned both Russian and German to write about the history of socialism in his book To the Finland Station (1940). He wrote about Russian poetry, Haitian literature, the Hebrew language, the Dead Sea Scrolls and the literature produced during the American Civil War.

Wilson introduced Americans to writers like James Joyce, Marcel Proust and Vladimir Nabokov. He almost single-handedly resurrected the reputation of the novelist Henry James, who had been forgotten for years. He championed new writers like Ernest Hemingway, and it was Wilson who persuaded American readers that F. Scott Fitzgerald had been a genius, and that The Great Gatsby was an American classic.


Today is believed to be the birthday of the legendary bluesman Robert Johnson, born in Hazlehurst, Mississippi (1911). We know very little about his life. The only reason we know for sure he existed is that in 1937 he recorded twenty-nine of his songs over the course of two recording sessions. He had two photographs taken of himself around the same time. Those were the only recordings he made and the only photographs taken of him in his lifetime, and he died the following year, at the age of 27.

But before he'd even died, people began to spread the rumor that Robert Johnson had met the devil one night at the crossroads of two highways and sold his soul in exchange for his skill at the guitar.


It's the birthday of Gary Snyder, (books by this author), born in San Francisco (1930). He started out as one of the Beat writers of the 1950s. In 1956 he left the San Francisco Beat scene and went to Japan. He spent most of the next twelve years in a monastery, studying Buddhism.

Gary Snyder said, "As a poet I hold the most archaic values on earth. They go back to the Neolithic: the fertility of the soil, the magic of animals, the power-vision in solitude, the terrifying initiation and rebirth, the love and ecstasy of the dance, the common work of the tribe."


It's the birthday of novelist Thomas Pynchon, (books by this author), born in Glen Cove, Long Island (1937). Over the course of his career, he became a kind of mythical figure. People said that he lived on the run, giving out false names wherever he went. Some claimed he had joined a band of Mexican rebel fighters.

Then, in the late 1990s, an article in New York magazine revealed that he lived in New York City with his wife and son. He wasn't hiding out in an underground bunker. He just wasn't seeking publicity.


Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®

 









«

»

  • “Writers end up writing stories—or rather, stories' shadows—and they're grateful if they can, but it is not enough. Nothing the writer can do is ever enough” —Joy Williams
  • “I want to live other lives. I've never quite believed that one chance is all I get. Writing is my way of making other chances.” —Anne Tyler
  • “Writing is a performance, like singing an aria or dancing a jig” —Stephen Greenblatt
  • “All good writing is swimming under water and holding your breath.” —F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • “Good writing is always about things that are important to you, things that are scary to you, things that eat you up.” —John Edgar Wideman
  • “In certain ways writing is a form of prayer.” —Denise Levertov
  • “Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia.” —E.L. Doctorow
  • “Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” —E.L. Doctorow
  • “Let's face it, writing is hell.” —William Styron
  • “A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.” —Thomas Mann
  • “Writing is 90 percent procrastination: reading magazines, eating cereal out of the box, watching infomercials.” —Paul Rudnick
  • “Writing is a failure. Writing is not only useless, it's spoiled paper.” —Padget Powell
  • “Writing is very hard work and knowing what you're doing the whole time.” —Shelby Foote
  • “I think all writing is a disease. You can't stop it.” —William Carlos Williams
  • “Writing is like getting married. One should never commit oneself until one is amazed at one's luck.” —Iris Murdoch
  • “The less conscious one is of being ‘a writer,’ the better the writing.” —Pico Iyer
  • “Writing is…that oddest of anomalies: an intimate letter to a stranger.” —Pico Iyer
  • “Writing is my dharma.” —Raja Rao
  • “Writing is a combination of intangible creative fantasy and appallingly hard work.” —Anthony Powell
  • “I think writing is, by definition, an optimistic act.” —Michael Cunningham
The Writer's Almanac on Facebook


The Writer's Almanac on Twitter

Subscribe to our daily newsletter for poems, prose and literary history every morning
An interview with Sharon Olds at The Writer's Almanac Bookshelf
Current Faves - Learn more about poets featured frequently on the show
O, What a Luxury

Although he has edited several anthologies of his favorite poems, O, What a Luxury: Verses Lyrical, Vulgar, Pathetic & Profound forges a new path for Garrison Keillor, as a poet of light verse. Purchase O, What a Luxury »