Sep. 11, 2007
The Summer Day
Poem: "The Summer Day" by Mary Oliver, from House of Light. © Beacon Press, 1992. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)
The Summer Day
Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
Literary and Historical Notes:
On this day in 2001 terrorists flew two planes into Twin Towers in New York City, causing both towers to collapse. In the weeks following the attacks, many writers and other artists wondered how to respond to what had happened.
One of the first groups of writers to take action were the reporters for The New York Times, who began writing portraits of the victims in a special section of the paper called "Portraits of Grief." The journalists involved decided that they would try to write portraits of every victim of the attack whose family they could reach. And they decided that the stories would focus on how the victims lived, not how they died.
The portraits were shorter than the average Times obituary, at about 150 words, and they skipped things like college degrees, jobs held, and names of surviving family members. They just tried to capture some detail or anecdote that would express each person's individuality. There was a firefighter who wore size 15 boots; a pastry chef who could eat as many desserts as she wanted without gaining weight; a man who put toothpaste on his wife's toothbrush when he got up before her; and a grandmother who wore pink rhinestone-studded sunglasses and a metallic gold raincoat.
Ultimately, 143 reporters worked on the project, and they managed to write about 1,910 of the 2,749 victims. They would have written about every victim, but some families didn't want to participate or couldn't be found. The portraits were collected in the book Portraits 9/11/01 (2002).
One of the people who read the "Portraits of Grief" was the singer/songwriter Bruce Springsteen, and he noticed how many of the victims of the attacks had loved his music. So he started calling the spouses of the victims on the telephone to express his condolences. One of the people he called said, "I got through Joe's memorial and a good month and a half on that phone call."
Less than a year later Springsteen released his album The Rising (2002), with songs written in response to the attacks, many of the lyrics based on the stories people told him in those phone calls.
The novelist Don DeLillo has just come out with a novel about the September 11 attacks called Falling Man (2007). When asked why he wanted to write about the attacks, DeLillo said, "They say that journalism is the first draft of history and maybe in a curious way fiction is the final draft. Not because it's more truthful, but because it can enter unknown territory. A writer can work his way into the impact of history on interior lives. He can examine what a character sees, thinks, feels, hears, even what a character dreams."
It's the birthday of a writer who loved New York, William Sydney Porter, (books by this author) who wrote under the name O. Henry, born in Greensboro, North Carolina (1862). He moved to New York City in 1902, and he was overwhelmed by the size and vitality of the city. He said, "I would like to live a lifetime on each street in New York. Every house has a drama in it." He wrote his most famous story, "The Gift of the Magi," in three hours, in the middle of the night, with his editor sleeping on his couch.
It's the birthday of D(avid) H(erbert) Lawrence, (books by this author) born in Eastwood, England (1885). He wrote poetry and plays and literary criticism, but he's best known for his novels Sons and Lovers (1913), Women in Love (1920), and Lady Chatterley's Lover (1928).
He spent most of his adult life struggling against his own government. During World War I, he was suspected of being a German spy, because his wife was German and he opposed the war. British authorities were constantly trailing him and accusing him of sending signals to the Germans with white scarves and night-lights. Most of all, he struggled against censorship. More than almost any other writer at the time, he believed that in order to write about human experience, novelists had to write explicitly about sex. When he published his first important novel, Sons and Lovers (1913), he found that his editor had deleted numerous erotic passages without his permission.
D.H. Lawrence said, "Be still when you have nothing to say; [but] when genuine passion moves you, say what you've got to say, and say it hot."
Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®