Nov. 10, 2007

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Poem: "Toast" by Susan Deborah King, from The One-Breasted Woman. © Holy Cow! Press, 2007. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)


It's worth getting up for.
Just at dawn, on a dead-of-winter walk,
I could smell it wafting from homes
all around the lake as they
emerged from the dark like loaves
from an oven, steaming.
Is there an aroma more divine
than that of bread warming, bread
browning, crisping for the spread
of butter and marmalade, the sprinkling
of sugared cinnamon? Whatever
terrors the night might harbor,
how bad can it get, if hot slices
stack our morning plate, the white
ones patterned with cobalt blue?
It's what in the current vernacular
we'll all eventually be: a pleasant
redolence rising and haloing
a roughed up, frozen expanse –
for such days, we make
not-too-burnt offerings of thanks;
we raise our glasses of juice.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of the man who sparked the Protestant Reformation, Martin Luther, born in Eisleben, Saxony (1483). He was a priest who did not enjoy performing mass, because he was always getting nervous and knocking things over in front of the congregation. But he did enjoy teaching, and instead of giving lectures he often asked his students to explain the scriptures to him.

He didn't have any really radical ideas about theology until 1517, when the Church in Rome began a big push to sell indulgences to raise money for rebuilding St. Paul's Basilica. Luther couldn't believe that the Church in Rome, with all its money, was preying on the fears of poor parishioners to raise funds, and he thought the whole concept of indulgences should be the subject of an academic debate. He wrote up his famous 95 Theses merely as a way of calling for this debate, but the pamphlet was so controversial that people began passing it around and it wound up in the hands of the Church authorities, who asked Luther to recant and accused him of heresy.

At that point, he had only objected to indulgences, but the experience of being attacked by the Church authorities made him question the whole idea of the pope's authority and the Church hierarchy. The more he thought about it, the more he thought that the Bible was the only real authority anyone should pay attention to. The result was that he was excommunicated, he had to go into hiding, and all his writings were officially banned. But that didn't stop him from writing more than 60,000 pages of religious commentary. It's estimated that his published writings made up one-fifth of all the literature published in Germany at the time.

Luther actually didn't take a big part in the creation of a new Christian Church, but he was the first person to produce a complete translation of the Bible from the original Hebrew and Greek into a modern European language. His Bible captured the German vernacular of the era, and it is now cited as the beginning of modern German.

It's the birthday of the poet Vachel Lindsay, (books by this author) born in Springfield, Illinois (1879), who got his first break as a poet when Poetry magazine published his poem "General William Booth Enters into Heaven," and he became one of the leaders of a movement to revive poetry as an oral art form.

It's the birthday of American novelist John Phillips Marquand, (books by this author) born in Wilmington, Delaware (1893), who made his own fortune writing adventure stories about a Japanese special agent named Mr. Moto, but his masterpiece was The Late George Apley (1937), a fictional biography of a New England gentleman, inspired by Marquand's family history. It just came back into print in 2004.

It's the birthday of writer Neil Gaiman, (books by this author) born in Portchester, England (1960), who fell in love with American comics when he was a kid. He said, "[In England], American comics were like postcards from Oz. They had fire hydrants, pizza parlours, and skyscrapers in them. For us fire hydrants and skyscrapers were every bit as strange as super-heroes flying through the air."

He went on to create a comic book character for DC Comics called the Sandman, who can control both dreams and stories. The Sandman was a big success, the first modern comic book series to get a lot of attention from critics. The 75 issues were collected and published in 10 volumes, the first of which was The Sandman: Preludes and Nocturnes (1991). Gaiman has gone on to write dozens of story collections, novels, graphic novels, and children's books. His young-adult novel Coraline was a big best-seller in 2002. His graphic novel The Facts in the Case of the Departure of Miss Finch came out last month.

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