Dec. 23, 2007

Call It Quits

by Freya Manfred

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Poem: "Call It Quits" by Freya Manfred, from Swimming With A Hundred Year Old Snapping Turtle. © Red Dragonfly Press, 2008. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Call It Quits

If you're not a movie mogul, rock star, or President
if you're not a CEO sitting on a billion in the bank,
no on will answer your e-mails, phone calls or letters.
You'll be helpless, hopeless, too old, too young,
in too much pain, the wrong color, some unacceptable
sex, a non-believer in some religion people kill for.
You could keep struggling to see through everyone's
skin to their slick, writhing guts, including your own.
Or, you could call it quits, and slip into the unknown,
inexhaustible, frothing teeth of the sea that turns us
all to brine, sweet salt of the universe.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It is the birthday of the Father of Egyptology, Jean Francois Champollion, (books by this author) born in Figeac, France (1790). He had a gift for languages, and it is said that young Champollion could read Homer and Virgil in Greek and Latin by the time he was nine. The Frenchman was able to break the code of the famous Rosetta Stone when he discovered that each of the Egyptian hieroglyphs could represent both a sound and a concept. His translations resurrected a language that had been dead for thousands of years.

It is the birthday of one of the great champions of poetry, Harriet Monroe, founder of Poetry Magazine, born in Chicago (1860). She said, "The people must grant a hearing to the best poets they have, else they will never have better." In 2002, Ruth Lilly, the pharmaceutical heiress, gave Poetry Magazine a gift of stock worth more than $100 million. Lilly had sent poems in to the magazine for years without getting published. But she kept no hard feelings, and she gave the gift because she wanted to make sure that magazine could continue well into the future.

It was on this day in 1975 that Congress passed the Metric Conversion Act and started the "go metric" campaign with school activities, bumper stickers, public service announcements, and wall charts. But in 1982, Ronald Reagan disbanded the Metric Board and canceled its funding. The metric system was developed 200 years ago, during of the Age of Reason, and is based on numeric intervals of 10, while the U.S.'s measurement system is based on seeds and body parts. Today, the United States, Liberia, and Myanmar are the only nonmetric countries in the world.

It's the birthday of novelist Donna Tartt, (books by this author) born in Greenwood, Mississippi (1963). One of Tartt's grandfathers had the habit of giving her a mixture of whiskey and codeine whenever she had a cough, and she later said that she spent much of her childhood in a hallucinatory state. In college, she took a class from the writer Willie Morris, who she discovered cared about writing as much as she did. And she started work on her first book, The Secret History, about a group of college students who form a secret cult and wind up murdering one of their own members. It sold more than 5 million copies when it came out in 1992. Tartt was just 28 years old. She took 10 years to write her second novel, The Little Friend (2002), about a girl named Harriet who is trying to solve the mystery of her older brother's death.

It is the birthday of Samuel Smiles, (books by this author) born in Haddington, Scotland (1812). He is best known for his book Self Help (1859), which preached the ideals of hard work and was often the only book besides the Bible in Victorian homes. Self Help followed the stories of people who beat the odds, like Bernard Palissy (c.1510-1589), a 16th-century potter who threw his own furniture into the furnace to make his art, and eventually became the potter to the French throne. Samuel Smiles once said, "Probably he who never made a mistake never made a discovery."

It is the birthday of poet Robert Bly, (books by this author) born in Madison, Minnesota (1926), who served in the Navy during World War II, went to Harvard University, studied Yeats, and decided he wanted to write poetry for the rest of his life. He has written over 30 books of poetry, including The Light Around the Body (1967) and Loving a Woman in Two Worlds (1987).

It is the birthday of Calder Willingham, (books by this author) born in Atlanta, Georgia (1922). Before college, Willingham was sent to the Citadel, the infamous military school in South Carolina, and he wrote about the sodomy and sadism experienced there by the cadets in his first book, End As a Man (1947). The New York Society for the Suppression of Vice sued the publisher for obscenity, which helped skyrocket sales, and Willingham went on to write even more shocking novels about sexuality: Geraldine Bradshaw (1950) and Reach to the Stars(1951).

It's the birthday of Norman Maclean, (books by this author) born in Clarinda, Iowa (1902). His family moved to Missoula, Montana, and Maclean's childhood there became the basis for his novel A River Runs Through It. The book begins, "In our family, there was no clear line between religion and fly fishing... [Our Father] told us about Christ's disciples being fisherman, and we were left to assume, as my brother and I did, that all first-class fisherman on the Sea of Galilee were fly fishermen and that John, the favorite, was a dry-fly fisherman."

On this day in 1823, an anonymous poem entitled "A Visit From St. Nicholas" was printed in the Troy (New York) Sentinel. It is known better by its first line: "'Twas the night before Christmas..." Though attributed to Clement C. Moore, it is likely that the original poem was written by Major Henry Livingston. Many of the modern qualities associated with Santa Claus grew out of "A Visit from St. Nicholas," which described Santa as "chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf."

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