May 13, 2007


by Louis Simpson

SUNDAY, 13 MAY, 2007
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Poem: "Graduation" by Louis Simpson, from The Owner of the House: New Collected Poems 1940-2001. © BOA Editions, Ltd., 2003. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)


My ex-wife comes over
and invites me to sit

with them. I say okay.
There are a lot of speeches,

all saying much the same,
about the new generation,

the future belongs to them.
They're lining up for it,

walking onto the stage.
There she is, our Meredith.

The sound of two hands clapping
is mine. If there's one thing I know

it's when something is over and
done with, and it's time to go.

Literary and Historical Notes:

Today is Mother's Day, the day on which we celebrate the women who brought us into the world. The holiday was the idea of a woman named Anna Jarvis, a schoolteacher who had lived with her mother for most of her life. After her mother died, she got the idea to set aside one day a year for the celebration of mothers. She chose the second Sunday in May because that was when her own mother had died. The first Mother's Day celebration was held at Anna Jarvis's church on May 10, 1908, and at the end of the service Anna Jarvis gave each mother a carnation, because carnations had been her mother's favorite flowers. The idea for the holiday spread across the country, and then the U.S. Congress made it official in 1914.

Many writers have depended upon their mothers for inspiration, as well as survival.

Flannery O'Connor moved in with her mother after she was diagnosed with lupus, and she wrote many of her most famous short stories sitting on her mother's front porch.

Gustave Flaubert moved in with his mother after traveling around the Middle East with his wealthy friends. They had suggested that he try to write something about middle class society, and it was his mother's provincial life in the suburbs that helped provide the background for his novel Madame Bovary.

Hunter S. Thompson moved in with his mother after he'd been fired from one job for kicking the candy machine and after he'd quit another job because he didn't want to write about bowling. Living with his mother gave him the freedom to be a freelancer, and it was a freelance article about the Hell's Angels motorcycle gang that made his career.

When the novelist William Maxwell was 10 years old, his mother caught influenza during the epidemic in 1918 and she died. Maxwell wrote, "It happened too suddenly, with no warning, and we none of us could believe it or bear it ... the beautiful, imaginative, protected world of my childhood swept away." He later said that every book he wrote was an attempt to capture that experience. He was once asked in an interview what he would say to his mother if he could talk to her. He replied, "I would say, 'Here are these beautiful books that I made for you.'"

The playwright George Bernard Shaw followed his mother to London when he was 20, hoping to make something of himself. His aunt got him a job at the Edison Telephone Company, but he eventually quit the job to write. His mother supported him with her job as a music teacher. It took 10 years before he began to make a living as a critic and then began to produce the plays that made his name as a writer. He lived with his mother all that time, and she never complained about supporting him. He later said, "My mother worked for my living instead of preaching that it was my duty to work for hers; therefore take off your hat to her and blush."

Mark Twain said, "My mother had a great deal of trouble with me, but I think she enjoyed it."

It's the birthday of novelist and travel writer Bruce Chatwin, (books by this author) born in Sheffield, Yorkshire, England (1940). He made his name with the book In Patagonia (1977).

It's the birthday of novelist Daphne du Maurier, (books by this author) born in London (1907). She spent most of her adult life in Cornwall, known for its stormy, unpredictable weather, and she set many of her books there, including her most famous novel, Rebecca (1938).

It's the birthday of novelist Armistead Maupin, (books by this author) born Armistead Jones in Washington, D.C. (1944). He's famous for his Tales of the City series, which evolved from a regular column he wrote for the San Francisco Chronicle, beginning in 1976. The novels focus on a group of gay and straight characters who share a boarding house in San Francisco.

It's the birthday of one half of the Gilbert and Sullivan opera-writing team, Arthur Seymour Sullivan, born in London in 1842. He wrote the music for Trial by Jury (1875), The Mikado (1885), and The Pirates of Penzance (1879), along with many other operettas.

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