Wednesday

Mar. 12, 2008

At the Store

by Jane Kenyon

I. At The Store

Clumps of daffodils along the storefront
bend low this morning, late snow
pushing their bright heads down.
The flag snaps and tugs at the pole
beside the door.

The old freezer, full of Maine blueberries
and breaded scallops, mumbles along.
A box of fresh bananas on the floor,
luminous and exotic...
I take what I need from the narrow aisles.

Cousins arrive like themes and variations.
Ansel leans on the counter,
remembering other late spring snows,
the blue snow of '32:
Yes, it was, it was blue.
Forrest comes and goes quickly
with a length of stovepipe, telling
about the neighbors' chimney fire.

The store is a bandstand. All our voices
sound from it, making the same motley
American music Ives heard;
this piece starting quietly,
with the repeated clink of a flagpole
pulley in the doorway of a country store.

"At The Store" by Jane Kenyon, from Otherwise. © Graywolf Press, 1997. Reprinted with permission.(buy now)

It's the birthday of the writer and editor Dave Eggers, (books by this author) born in Boston (1970). He grew up in Lake Forest, Illinois, a city that was famous when he was growing up for having been the setting for the movie Ordinary People.

While he was in college at the University of Illinois, his mother was diagnosed with stomach cancer. Then, just after his mother went through severe stomach surgery, his father was diagnosed with cancer. Six months later, both of his parents were dead. Eggers was just 21 years old.

Of the experience of losing both of his parents so suddenly, Eggers later said, "On the one hand you are so completely bewildered that something so surreal and incomprehensible could happen. At the same time, suddenly the limitations or hesitations that you might have imposed on yourself fall away. There's a weird, optimistic recklessness that could easily be construed as nihilism but is really the opposite. You see that there is a beginning and an end and that you have only a certain amount of time to act. And you want to get started."

Eggers had to drop out of college to become the guardian of his 8-year-old younger brother. They moved to San Francisco, and Eggers used the insurance money from his parents' deaths to start his own magazine with some high school friends. They called their publication Might Magazine, because the liked the fact that the word "might" conveyed both strength and hesitation. The magazine developed a cult following for the way it satirized the magazine format. Each issue included an erroneous table of contents, irrelevant footnotes, and fictional error retractions. In one issue, they wrote, "On page 111, in our 'Religious News Round-up,' we reported that Jesus Christ was a deranged, filthy protohippy. In fact, Jesus Christ was the son of God. We regret the error." To raise money for the magazine, they sold the contents of their recycle bins to readers.

The magazine only lasted for 16 issues, but Eggers used the group of writers he got to know to start a new literary quarterly called Timothy McSweeney's Quarterly Concern. Eggers wanted to experiment with graphic design and printing techniques, so he changed the format of the journal for every issue. One issue consisted of 14 individually bound pamphlets. Another issue included a music CD with a different piece of music composed specifically to accompany each piece in the journal.

All the while that he was starting up these magazines, Dave Eggers was staying up late at night trying to write a book about the death of his parents and the effect that it had on his life. But as he wrote it, he began to include all his own doubts about whether writing about his parents' deaths was an act of vanity. That book grew into his memoir, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, which became a big best seller in 2000.

Eggers has gone on to write a collection of short stories, How We Are Hungry (2004), and two novels, You Shall Know Our Velocity (2002) and What Is the What (2006). He also founded a writing center for young people in San Francisco called 826 Valencia, which has grown into a national organization designed to help and encourage young people to write.

It's the birthday of Jack Kerouac, (books by this author) born Jean-Louis Kerouac in Lowell, Massachusetts (1922). He was part of the "Beat Generation," and he came up with the name. He said, "To me, it meant being poor, like sleeping in the subways ... and yet being illuminated and having illuminated ideas about apocalypse and all that." Later, Kerouac decided that "beat" stood for "beatific."

His parents were from French-speaking Quebec, and he did not start learning English until grade school. He skipped second and third grades, and as a 16-year-old senior, he ditched class in order to go alone to the public library and read what he wanted: Hugo, Goethe, Hemingway, William Saroyan, Thomas Wolfe, history books, the Encyclopedia Britannica, and books of chess problems. He was a good football player and received a scholarship to Columbia University, but he broke his leg in the first season and didn't play anymore. He dropped out of Columbia, joined the Merchant Marine and then the Navy, and was given a psychiatric discharge after only two months, having been labeled as a "schizoid personality." The next fall, he went back to Columbia where he dropped out again almost immediately, but kept his apartment near campus and it became a gathering place for young intellectuals. During that time, he met Allen Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs, Carl Solomon, Neal Cassady, and others who would help found the Beat Movement.

He spent the next seven years hitchhiking around the United States and Mexico, and in 1949 he and his friend Neal Cassady drove a Cadillac limousine from California to Chicago, going over 100 miles an hour on two-lane roads until the speedometer broke. In 1951, he sat at his kitchen table, taped sheets of Chinese art paper together to make a long roll, and wrote the story of Cassady and their trips. It had no paragraphs and very little punctuation. Allen Ginsberg called it "a magnificent single paragraph several blocks long, rolling, like the road itself." It took him only three weeks to complete and became his novel On the Road (1957).

It's the birthday of playwright Edward Albee, (books by this author) born in 1928. He worked a series of odd jobs including selling music and books, working as an office assistant and a hotel barman, and then his favorite job: a Western Union messenger, about which he said, "It kept you out in the air and it was a nice job because it could never possibly become a career."

During this time, he frequently attended modern art exhibitions, concerts, and plays in New York City and, inspired by the emerging Theatre of the Absurd, he quit his job and in three weeks wrote The Zoo Story (1958), a one-act, two-man play about strangers who meet in Central Park. It was at first rejected by New York producers, premiered in Germany, and then staged the next year in New York's Greenwich Village.

He wrote a few more one act plays and then his first full-length play, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1962), the work for which he is best known. The title is taken from graffiti he saw on a mirror at a New York bar. In its first season, the play's profanity shocked some audience members, and one critic called it an "exercise in depraved obscenity," but it was largely popular with critics and audiences, ran for 644 performances, and won many awards. A film version starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton came out in 1966.

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

 









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