Sep. 17, 2007

Perpetuum Mobile: The City

by William Carlos Williams

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Poem: excerpts from "Perpetuum Mobile: The City" by William Carlos Williams from The Collected Poems of William Carlos Williams: Volume I 1909-1939. © New Directions, 1991. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

excerpts from Perpetuum Mobile: The City

—a dream
we dreamed
     we two

of love
     and of

that fused
in the night—

in the distance
the meadows
     by day
     The city
we arrived—

     A dream
a little false
toward which
we stand
     and stare

All at once
     in the east

     All white!
as a flower—

a locust cluster
a shad bush

Over the swamps
     a wild
magnolia bud—
a northern

And so
     we live

At night
     it wakes
On the black

a dream
     toward which
we love—
at night
than a little

We have bred
we have dug
we have figured up
our costs
we have bought
an old rug—

We batter at our

There is no end
     to desire—

Let us break
and go there




whose stars
of matchless
in bright—edged
the moon—




Tearful city
     on a summer's day
the hard grey
in a wall of


Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of Frank O'Connor, (books by this author) who was born Michael O'Donovan in Cork, Ireland (1903). He started writing stories at the age of 12, even though he originally wanted to be an artist. He said, "I was intended by God to be a painter, but I was very poor and pencil and paper were the cheapest. Music was out for that reason as well. Literature is the poor man's art."

He joined the Irish Republican Army while he was still a teenager and fought in the Civil War. He was arrested and imprisoned, got out of prison, got a job at a library, and began writing stories about the war. He made his name with a short story called "Guests of a Nation" (1932), about a group of Irish soldiers who become friends with the British soldiers they are holding hostage, only to learn that those British hostages will be executed.

O'Connor's work was banned in Ireland, so he moved to the United States, where he published many of his short stories in The New Yorker magazine. His readership was mostly American, but he said, "I prefer to write about Ireland and Irish people merely because I know to a syllable how everything in Ireland can be said."

It's the birthday of Hank Williams, (albums by this musician) born in Mount Olive, Alabama (1923). He was a radio star and a successful recording artist, but he kept playing roadhouses — big smoky places where people came to drink beer and dance.

It's the birthday of Robert Brown Parker, (books by this author) born in Springfield, Massachusetts (1932). He created a private eye named Spenser who spends his free time making gourmet food, including "buffalo tenderloin marinated in red wine and garlic served with fiddle head ferns, corn pudding, and red potatoes cooked with bay leaf," and "German sausages with green apples sliced dipped in flour and fried in the sausage fat. Served with coarse rye bread and wild strawberry jam."

The newest Spenser mystery, entitled Now & Then, will come out this October (2007).

Ken Kesey (books by this author) was born on this day in La Junta, Colorado (1935). He was a champion wrestler in high school and voted most likely to succeed. He married his high school sweetheart and almost went to Hollywood to be an actor and then accepted a fellowship in creative writing at Stanford, where, as part of a VA experiment, for $75 a day, which was good money, he became one of the first Americans to be exposed to a new drug called LSD.

The experience changed his life. He became fascinated by the idea of sanity and insanity and who decides and what the boundary is, and he took a job as the night attendant on the psychiatric ward of a hospital, which inspired his novel One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest (1962), the story of a struggle between a powerful nurse named Miss Ratched and a con man named Randle Patrick McMurphy, who feigns insanity to get out of a jail sentence.

Kesey's novel was hailed as a masterpiece, and people predicted a great career for him. But two years later, his novel Sometimes a Great Notion didn't do nearly as well. Kesey got involved in the counterculture, and it was 15 years before he wrote another novel. In 1969, he moved back to his family's farm in Oregon and spent much of the rest of his life raising cattle and sheep and growing blueberries. He joined the local school board and coached wrestling and taught a creative writing class. His last novel was Last Go Round (1994), an old-fashioned Western based on the pulp fiction he'd loved reading when he was a kid. He died in 2001.

Ken Kesey said, "The trouble with super heroes is what to do between phone booths."

It's the birthday of the poet William Carlos Williams, (books by this author) born in Rutherford, New Jersey (1883). He went to medical school and then moved back to Rutherford and opened a doctor's office at his house at number 9 Ridge Road. His clientele was Italian and Polish and German immigrant families. In his spare time, he kept up with all the avant-garde movements in poetry and art, and he wrote many books of his own poetry. He said, "The goal of writing is to keep a beleaguered line of understanding which has movement from breaking down and becoming a hole into which we sink decoratively to rest."

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