Jun. 3, 2009

The Ordinary

by Kirsten Dierking

It's summer, so
the pink gingham shorts,
the red mower, the neat rows
of clean smelling grass
unspooling behind
the sweeping blades.

A dragonfly, black body
big as a finger, will not leave
the mower alone,
loving the sparkle
of scarlet metal,
seeing in even a rusting paint
the shade of a flower.

But I wave him off,
conscious he is
wasting his time,
conscious I am
filling my time
with such small details,
distracting colors,

like pink checks,
like this, then that,
like a dragonfly wing
in the sun reflecting
the color of opals,
like all the hours
we leave behind,
so ordinary,
but not unloved.

"The Ordinary" by Kirsten Dierking, from Northern Oracle. © Spout Press, 2007. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of novelist Larry McMurtry, (books by this author) born in Wichita Falls, Texas (1936). His novel Lonesome Dove came out in 1985, the story of a former Texas Ranger named Augustus McCrae who persuades two friends to ride with him to Montana to find his one true love, Clara Allen, the only woman who could ever beat him in an argument. At the time the novel came out, most critics agreed with McMurtry that the Western was dead, but Lonesome Dove revitalized the genre. It became a huge best seller and a TV mini series, and it won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction.

On this day in 1924, Franz Kafka died. (books by this author) He wrote to his friend Max Brod, "Dearest Max, my last request: Everything I leave behind me … in the way of diaries, manuscripts, letters (my own and others'), sketches, and so on, [is] to be burned unread. … Yours, Franz Kafka." But Brod had already told him that he would never destroy any of Kafka's manuscripts — not even if Kafka himself told him to — and critics are skeptical about the sincerity of Kafka's request. The three novels Kafka left behind — The Trial, Amerika, and The Castle — were all published by Brod, who made substantial changes to the manuscripts. He corrected Kafka's odd spelling and punctuation, moved chapters and paragraphs around, and gave the works cleaner endings. It was not until the 1970s that the originals were translated into English as Kafka wrote them.

It's the birthday of Allen Ginsberg, (books by this author) born in Newark, New Jersey (1926). His poem "Howl" is said to have turned America from the 1950s into the 1960s overnight. It begins:
"I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked, dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix, angel-headed hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night…"

He got a job in marketing in New York and then in San Francisco. He was working in advertising in San Francisco when in 1954, after getting his psychotherapist's approval, Ginsberg decided to cut loose, quit his job, and devote himself "to writing and contemplation, to Blake and smoking pot, and doing whatever I wanted."

Howl and Other Poems was published by Lawrence Ferlinghetti's newly established City Lights press in 1956. For publishing Ginsberg's poetry book, Ferlinghetti was put on trial, charged with obscenity. The publicity greatly boosted sales of Howl and made Ginsberg famous.

Many agree that Ginsberg's best poem is "Kaddish." He wrote most of it in one 40-hour sitting, an epic elegy for his mother who had suffered from mental illness all of Ginsberg's life and who died in a psychiatric hospital on Long Island in 1956. Ginsberg's mother had been a devoted Communist. In high school, he would ride the bus across town with his mother, going with her to her therapy appointments. Paranoia was one of her diagnosed illnesses. Shortly before she passed away, Ginsberg had signed the authorization for her lobotomy. Two days after she died, Ginsberg received a letter in the mail from her that said, "The key is in the window, the key is in the sunlight in the window — I have the key — get married Allen don't take drugs. … Love, your mother."

The poem for his mother, fully entitled "Kaddish for Naomi Ginsberg (1894–1956)," begins:

"Strange now to think of you, gone without corsets & eyes, while I walk on
the sunny pavement of Greenwich Village,
downtown Manhattan, clear winter noon, and I've been up all night, talking,
talking, reading the Kaddish aloud, listening to Ray Charles blues
shout blind on the phonograph
the rhythm the rhythm — and your memory in my head three years after —"

He became a devout Buddhist. As Ginsberg got older, his poetry became less shocking and more toned down, and after decades of publishing with small independent publishers, he signed, in the early 1980s, a six-book contract with Harper & Row for $160,000. The first book to come out under that contract was an 800-page edition of his Collected Poems 1947–1980, published in 1984. In 1994, he sold his archives, made up of journals, various photographs, and personal letters, as well as some old articles of clothing and fresh trimmings of his beard, to Stanford University for a million dollars. Ginsberg gave readings up until a few months before he died in 1997, from liver cancer, at the age of 70.

Ginsberg said, "Poetry is the one place where people can speak their original human mind. It is the outlet for people to say in public what is known in private."

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