Oct. 22, 2007

Nancy Drew

by Ron Koertge

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Poem: "Nancy Drew" by Ron Koertge, from Fever. © Red Hen Press. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Nancy Drew

Merely pretty, she made up for it with vim.
And she got to say things like, "But, gosh,
what if these plans should fall into the wrong
hands?" And it was pretty clear she didn't mean
plans for a party or a trip to the museum, but
something involving espionage and a Nazi or two.

In fact, the handsome exchange student turns
out to be a Fascist sympathizer. When he snatches
Nancy along with some blueprints, she knows he
has something more sinister in mind than kissing
with his mouth open.

Locked in the pantry of an abandoned farm house,
Nancy makes a radio out of a shoelace and a muffin.
Pretty soon the police show up, and everything's
hunky dory.

Nancy accepts their thanks, but she's subdued.
It's not like her to fall for a cad. Even as she plans
a short vacation to sort out her emotions she knows
there will be a suspicious waiter, a woman in a green
off the shoulder dress, and her very jittery husband.

Very well. But no more handsome boys like the last one:
the part in his hair that was sheer propulsion, that way
he had of lifting his eyes to hers over the custard,
those feelings that made her not want to be brave
confident and daring, polite, sensitive and caring.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of the true-crime writer Ann Rule, (books by this author) born Ann Stackhouse in Lowell, Michigan (1935), who wanted to be a police officer. But she had bad eyesight, so she started writing about criminals instead. In 1975, she signed a contract to write a book about a series of unsolved murders of women in the Seattle area, and when the police announced the main suspect, she was horrified to realize she knew the man, a charming law student named Ted Bundy. She'd volunteered with him at a suicide hotline center, and he'd often walked her to her car. She couldn't believe that he was the killer of more than 35 women, and when she saw the evidence, she became physically ill. She eventually uncovered the fact that all of his victims resembled his ex-fiancée, who had rejected him. Rule took just 90 days to write her book The Stranger Beside Me (1980), which became one of the best-selling true crime books ever written.

It's the birthday of the novelist who just won the Nobel Prize Doris Lessing, (books by this author) born in Kermanshah, Persia, which is now Iran (1919). Her father moved the family to Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), where he hoped to start a tobacco farm and prospect for gold. They lived in a mud and thatch house, sleeping under mosquito net, and her father's plans to make it rich didn't pan out. He would often stand outside their home shouting that everyone in Africa was mad. Lessing would fall asleep at night to the sound of her mother playing Chopin on their piano, mixed with the thudding of the drums from the village down the hill.

She married a civil servant when she was 19 and became a housewife and mother, giving tea parties and cleaning all the time. But underneath it all, she said, "I thought, what am I doing in this awful country." She began seeking out new friends who talked about politics and read serious books, and for the first time in her life she felt inspired by something. She said, "It was absolute bliss to be able to talk about ideas."

So she decided to be a writer, got divorced, and moved to London after World War II. She was an unemployed single mother, but she didn't worry too much about publishing anything. She said, "I had sticking power, which is just as important as literary talent. ... There are such things as writing animals. I simply have to write." Her first novel, The Grass is Singing, came out in 1950, about a white woman in Southern Rhodesia who has an affair with her African house servant.

But the book that made Lessing famous was The Golden Notebook (1962), about a writer named Anna who keeps four separate writing notebooks: one for her memories, one for her political life, one for her fiction, and one for her thoughts. The novel consists of sections of each of these notebooks interwoven with each other. When it came out in 1962, feminists called it as a masterpiece, because it included so many details of a woman's life that had never been written about so openly before. Doris Lessing said, "The fact is, I don't live anywhere. I never have since I left that first house."

It's the birthday of novelist and poet Ivan Bunin, (books by this author) born near Voronezh, Russia (1870), who got a job as a statistician for the Russian government, traveling around the countryside, observing the changing conditions of rural life. Russian writers had written for years about the lives of peasants as more simple and beautiful than the lives of the middle class. But Bunin saw how bleak and violent their lives were, and he wrote a series of short stories about landowners and peasants who are equally selfish and vindictive and violent, all of them longing for the past. Bunin fled the Russian Revolution in 1920, hopping the very last boat to leave Odessa for Paris that year. He won the Nobel Prize in 1933, but his books were banned in his home country and it became a crime to even mention his name in the press. His work was extremely difficult to translate, because much of his fiction reads like poetry. But there have been two new translations of his short stories in the last few years. Sunstroke: Selected Stories came out in 2002, and The Elagin Affair and Other Stories came out in 2005. Ivan Bunin wrote, "If I had no arms or legs, if I could only sit behind the gate at a shop and look at the setting sun, I would be happy."

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




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