Feb. 3, 2007

I Am Rose

by Gertrude Stein

Jack + Judy

by Doreen Fitzgerald

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Poem: "Jack + Judy" by Doreen Fitzgerald, from Cake: Selected Poems. © The Ester Republic Press. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Jack + Judy

She was stuck on him like a three-cent stamp
on a postcard showing a roadside diner
shaped like a hat;
stuck like a stool on a chrome stem
waiting to swivel a customer,
or the naked thigh on a summer day
clinging to the vinyl seat.

He could read her like a two-bit cook
reads a scribbled order
jammed on a spike,
fluttering under the greasy fan;
like egg on a fork between the tines,
or a hot beef sandwich between the teeth.

Together, they're waiting on the night,
halfway between Peoria and Baton Rouge,
where the word OPEN, in red block letters,
hangs under the words, EAT HERE,
spelled out in perfect blue.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of the artist and illustrator Norman Rockwell, (books by this author) born in New York City (1894). He loved drawing from an early age, and studied at the National Academy of Design. He wanted to go into the advertising business, but he had a hard time drawing beautiful women. He said, "No matter how much I tried to make them look sexy, they always ended up looking ... like somebody's mother." So he focused on the Boy Scout magazine, Boy's Life, and went on to paint covers for The Saturday Evening Post.

Norman Rockwell said, "The commonplaces of America are to me the richest subjects in art. Boys battling flies on vacant lots; little girls playing jacks on the front steps; old men plodding home at twilight."

It's the birthday of the novelist and short-story writer Richard Yates, (books by this author) born in Yonkers, New York (1926). He was a writer whose work influenced many other writers, but he never sold many copies of his own books. He spent his life struggling to pay the bills with teaching jobs, trying to find time to write.

When he died in 1992, few of his books were still in print. But a group of writers, including Richard Ford, Michael Chabon, and Kurt Vonnegut, began to champion his work, and they brought many of his novels back into print, including Revolutionary Road (1961) and The Easter Parade (1976). They also published The Collected Stories of Richard Yates (2001), which became a minor best-seller.

It's the birthday of the novelist James A. Michener, (books by this author) born in Doylestown, Pennsylvania (1907). His parents abandoned him when he was a very young boy, and he was adopted by a poor young widow named Mabel Michener. He joined the Navy during World War II. It was in a Quonset hut that he began writing his first book, Tales of the South Pacific, which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1948. It was turned into the Broadway musical South Pacific, and the proceeds from the musical let him devote his life to writing.

He went on to write a series of big historical novels, most of them about places, including Hawaii (1959), Chesapeake (1978), Texas (1985) and Alaska (1988). He filled his books with historical and geographical details. His books sold more than 75 million copies, but even though he made a great deal of money, he lived an extremely frugal life, and gave most of his money away. Over his lifetime, he donated 117 million dollars to various institutions, including the University of Texas.

It's the birthday of the avant-garde novelist and poet Gertrude Stein, (books by this author) born in Allegheny, Pennsylvania (1874). She was one of the early students at Radcliffe College, the sister school to Harvard University, and her favorite professor was the psychologist William James. He taught her that language often tricks us into thinking in particular ways and along particular lines. As a way of breaking free of language, he suggested she try something called automatic writing: a method of writing down as quickly as she could whatever came into her head. She loved it, and used it as one of her writing methods for the rest of her life.

In one of her first novels, The Making of Americans, she started out writing about an American family, but because she wanted to incorporate everything that had led up to the life of this family, her novel grew into a 900-page history of the entire human race. She finished it in 1908, but it took her 17 more years to get it published.

Stein's first book to attract attention was Tender Buttons (1914), a book-length prose poem based on her automatic writing. Her most popular book was the one she wrote about herself from the point of view of her lover, Alice B. Toklas, called The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas (1933).

Gertrude Stein wrote:

I am Rose my eyes are blue
I am Rose and who are you?
I am Rose and when I sing
I am Rose like anything.

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




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