Friday

Nov. 24, 2006

The Summer You Learned to Swim

by Michael Simms

FRIDAY, 24 NOVEMBER, 2006
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Poem: "The Summer You Learned to Swim" by Michael Simms, from The Happiness of Animals. © Monkey Sea Editions. Reprinted with permission.

The Summer You Learned to Swim

                       for Lea

The summer you learned to swim
was the summer I learned to be at peace with myself.
In May you were afraid to put your face in the water
But by August, I was standing in the pool once more
when you dove in, then retreated to the wall saying
You forgot to say Sugar! So I said Come on Sugar, you can do it
and you pushed off and swam to me and held on
laughing, your hair stuck to your cheeks—
you hiccupped with joy and swam off again.

And I dove in too, trying new things.
I tried not giving advice. I tried waking early to pray. I tried
not rising in anger. Watching you I grew stronger—
your courage washed away my fear.

All day I worked hard thinking of you.
In the evening I walked the long hill home.
You were at the top, waving your small arms,
pittering down the slope to me and I lifted you high
so high to the moon. That summer all the world
was soul and water, light glancing off peaks.
You learned the turtle, the cannonball, the froggy, and the flutter
And I learned to stand and wait for you to swim to me.


Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of the publisher and editor of The Little Review magazine, Margaret Anderson, born in Indianapolis, Indiana (1886). She grew up in the small town of Columbus, Indiana, but early on she decided that she didn't fit into small-town life at all. So she moved to Chicago, which was the artistic capital of the Midwest at the time. In order to create a circle of artistic friends, she decided to start a magazine devoted to the avant-garde. She said that her plan was to fill the magazine with "the best conversation the world has to offer."

She called her magazine The Little Review, and the first issue came out in March 1914. The magazine had a motto printed on the cover that said, "A Magazine of the Arts, Making No Compromise with the Public Taste." In 1918, the poet Ezra Pound showed Anderson the manuscript for a new novel called Ulysses by a man named James Joyce. When she read it, she wrote to Pound, "This is the most beautiful thing we'll ever have! We'll print it if it's the last effort of our lives." It took three years to serialize the whole novel, during which four complete issues of the magazine were confiscated and burned by the U.S. Post Office.

She was eventually convicted of obscenity charges for printing the novel. At the trial, the judge wouldn't let the offending material be read in her presence, because she was a woman, even though she had published it. But she said that the worst part of the experience was just the fact that all those issues of her magazine had been burned. She said, "The care we had taken to preserve Joyce's text intact. ... The addressing, wrapping, stamping, mailing; the excitement of anticipating the world's response to the literary masterpiece of our generation ... and then a notice from the Post Office: BURNED."

She kept publishing The Little Review after that, but the issues appeared less and less frequently. Her last issue came out in 1929.

Margaret Anderson said, "I believe in the unsubmissive, the unfaltering, the unassailable, the irresistible, the unbelievable—in other words, in an art of life."


It's the birthday of the novelist Laurence Sterne, (books by this author) born in Clonmel, Ireland (1713). He was a preacher before he became a writer. He supported himself and his wife by doing double duty in two different parishes, as well as substitute preaching at a third parish. He did all this preaching in spite of the fact that he was skeptical about the existence of God.

He knew he wanted to try writing fiction, but his friends kept telling him to put it off until he got promoted to higher office. He finally decided he couldn't wait any more, and began to write what became one of the most revolutionary novels in English literature: The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman (1760), a fictional autobiography in which the narrator is unable to tell his own story, constantly being side-tracked by various absurd digressions on all sorts of subjects, questioning perceived ideas in ethics, theology, philosophy, sex, and politics. The book is also filled with black pages, excerpts of obscure theological debates, and a graphic representation of its own plotline.

Sterne participated in all the details of Tristram Shandy's marketing campaign, even specifying the dimensions of the book to make sure it could fit into a gentleman's coat pocket. His efforts paid off and the book made him famous. His novel went on to influence many writers of the 20th century, including James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, and Samuel Beckett. Italo Calvino said, "[Sterne] was the undoubted progenitor of all the avant-garde novels of our century."


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

 









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