Sep. 20, 2007

The judge was decent, butů

by Donald Hall

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Poem: "The judge was decent, but..." by Donald Hall, from The Old Life. © Houghton Mifflin Company, 1996. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

The judge was decent, but...

     The judge was decent, but
judge's chambers were judge's chambers,
     yellow and municipal
in downtown Ann Arbor. My kids
     were dear and anxious.
Jane's brother and sister-in-law, mother,
     and father stood up
with us for the rapid legality
     we followed with lobster
and champagne at the Gandy Dancer.
     Depressed the next
morning, I knew it was a mistake. I was
     wrong. We remarried
five years later in New Hampshire, joyful
     in a wooden church,
     a Saturday afternoon in April,
     only Jack Jensen our
     friend and minister with us, saying
the prayer book's words
among lilies and wine in holy shadow.


     It didn't matter that
I had toasted the Queen at Oxford
     while Jane crayoned
into her Coronation Coloring Book.
     Married in the spring,
we flew to London in September, ate
     pub lunches, visited
friends in Cambridge, and found a Maltese
     restaurant in Kensington.
We learned how to love each other
     by loving together
good things wholly outside each other.
     We took the advice of my
dear depressed and heartsick Aunt Liz,
     who wrote us at our flat
in Bloomsbury: "Have fun while you can."

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of the poet Donald Hall, (books by this author) born in New Haven, Connecticut (1928) who spent summers on his grandfather's farm in New Hampshire, listening to his grandfather recite poems like "Casey at the Bat" as he milked his Holsteins. Hall moved back to that farm in 1975 with his wife, Jane Kenyon, and they lived there for 20 years until her death from leukemia. His book Without (1998) is about taking care of his wife, and the second part about living without her.

His collection White Apples and the Taste of Stone: Selected Poems 1946–2006 came out last year.

Donald Hall said, "I try every day to write great poetry — as I tried when I was 14. ... What else is there to do?"

It's the birthday of Upton Sinclair, (books by this author) born in Baltimore (1878), who as a young socialist in Chicago set out to expose the exploitation of meatpacking workers. He spent seven weeks around the stockyards doing research and wrote The Jungle (1906), in which he described the lives of meatpackers, their horrific working conditions, surrounded by rats, losing their fingers. The book was a sensation, and Sinclair hoped it would lead to new federal worker protections. Instead, Congress enacted legislation to protect the meat for consumers.

It's the birthday of Maxwell Perkins, born in New York City (1884), who made his name as a young editor at Scribner's when he bought the first novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald, This Side of Paradise, which came out in 1920. Perkins was a hard-working mild-mannered man who was never heard to use profanity, but he edited some tough-talking, hard-drinking writers, including Ring Lardner and Ernest Hemingway and Thomas Wolfe. Wolfe and Perkins had a difficult relationship. Wolfe's manuscript for his novel Of Time and the River was more than 3,000 pages long when Wolfe turned it in, and he kept adding to it. He did not like the changes Perkins wanted to make and often screamed obscenities at Perkins while they were working together. But in the end, Wolfe dedicated the novel to Perkins, calling him "a great editor and a brave and honest man."

When Maxwell Perkins died, he still had a pile of manuscripts next to his bed.

It's the birthday of Stevie Smith, (books by this author) in Hull, Yorkshire, England (1902), a novelist and also a writer of light verse about dark subjects, such as her poem Not Waving but Drowning, with the lines "Nobody heard him, the dead man, / But still he lay moaning; / I was much further out than you thought / And not waving but drowning."

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




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