Jan. 13, 2007

Relearning Winter

by Mark Svenvold

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Poem: "Relearning Winter" by Mark Svenvold from Soul Data. © University of North Texas Press. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Relearning Winter

Hello Winter, hello flanneled
blanket of clouds, clouds
fueled by more clouds, hello again.

Hello afternoons,
off to the west, that silver
of sunset, rust-colored
and gone too soon.

And night (I admit to a short memory)
you climb back in with chilly fingers
and clocks, and there is no refusal:
ice cracks the water main, the garden hose
stiffens, the bladed leaves of the rhododendron
shine in the fog of a huge moon.

And rain, street lacquer,
oily puddles and spinning rubber,
mist of angels on the head of a pin,

and snow, upside-down cake of clouds,
white, freon scent, you build
even as you empty the world of texture —
hello to this new relief,
this new solitude now upon us,
upon which we feed.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of the novelist Jay McInerney, (books by this author) born in Hartford, Connecticut (1955). His father was an international sales executive with the Scott Paper Company, and he had to move around a lot, so young Jay grew up in a series of cities around the world, including London, Vancouver, and Pittsfield, Massachusetts. He attended 18 elementary schools before he finally started high school.

After college, he wound up in New York City, where he worked for Random House and got involved in the glamorous nightlife of fashion parties and dance clubs. Then, one day, one of his co-workers introduced him to the writer Raymond Carver, and Carver told him that if he ever wanted to be a writer he had to get out of the city and away from all the parties so that he would be able to think, and that's what he did. He moved to Syracuse, New York, and in six weeks he wrote his first novel Bright Lights, Big City (1983), loosely based on the glamorous New York lifestyle he'd just given up, and that book made him famous.

It's the birthday of the novelist Horatio Alger Jr., (books by this author) born in Chelsea, Massachusetts (1832). He was one of the most influential writers in American history. He wrote more than a hundred novels, almost every single one of which tells the same story: a young boy, living in poverty, manages to find success and happiness by working hard and never giving up. But even though Alger's books were all the same, and none was a literary masterpiece, they were read by thousands of young Americans all across the country in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It has been argued that Horatio Alger, more than any other person, was responsible for creating the idea of the American Dream.

For more than a hundred years after his death, almost nothing was known about the life of Alger, because when he died, his sister destroyed all of his personal papers. It's only been recently that scholars have been able to uncover the bare bones of Alger's life. He was the son of a Unitarian minister. He studied literature at Harvard, and then went into the ministry. But 15 months after his ordination, he was expelled from his parish for apparently molesting boys in his congregation. He wrote a poem at the time that suggests he considered suicide, but instead he decided to devote the rest of his life to improving the lives of the poor.

So Alger moved to New York City, and got involved in helping the homeless street kids who worked as bootblacks and newsboys. And he wrote his first book about one of those street kids. It was called Ragged Dick; or, Street Life in New York with the Boot-Blacks (1868), and it was a huge success.

Many of the successful men of the early 20th century claimed that they had been inspired by reading Horatio Alger books when they were kids. Groucho Marx once said, "Horatio Alger's books conveyed a powerful message to me and many of my young friends — that if you worked hard at your trade, the big chance would eventually come. As a child I didn't regard it as a myth, and as an old man I think of it as the story of my life."

It's the birthday of short-story writer Lorrie Moore, (books by this author) born in Glens Falls, New York (1957). She's the author of the short-story collections Like Life (1990) and Birds of America (1998).

It's the birthday of the novelist Edmund White, (books by this author) born in Cincinnati, Ohio (1940). He wrote five novels about contemporary homosexual life, but he couldn't get any of them published. So finally he wrote Forgetting Elena (1973), about a man who wakes up after a party and can't remember who he is. It was the first novel White had written that didn't mention homosexuality, and it got great reviews. The writer Vladimir Nabokov called it the best new novel he'd read in years.

But even though White had had his first success with a novel that didn't address his own sexuality, he decided that if he was going to be a writer, he wanted to write about his own experiences, and so he set out to become the foremost gay novelist in America. His third novel, A Boy's Own Story (1982), was the first gay coming-of-age novel in America, and it became a best-seller in the United States and England.

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




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