Sep. 20, 2009

The Game

by Marie Howe

And on certain nights,
maybe once or twice a year,
I'd carry the baby down
and all the kids would come
all nine of us together,
and we'd build a town in the basement

from boxes and blankets and overturned chairs.
And some lived under the pool table
or in the bathroom or the boiler room
or in the toy cupboard under the stairs,
and you could be a man or a woman
a husband or a wife or a child, and we bustled around
like a day in the village until

one of us turned off the lights, switch
by switch, and slowly it became night
and the people slept.

Our parents were upstairs with company or
not fighting, and one of us — it was usually
a boy — became the Town Crier,
and he walked around our little sleeping
population and tolled the hours with his voice,
and this was the game.

Nine o'clock and all is well, he'd say,
walking like a constable we must have seen
in a movie. And what we called an hour passed.

Ten o'clock and all is well
. And maybe somebody stirred in her sleep
or a grown up baby cried and was comforted . . .
Eleven o'clock and all is well.
Twelve o'clock. One o'clock. Two o'clock . . .

and it went on like that through the night we made up
until we could pretend it was morning.

"The Game" by Marie Howe, from What the Living Do. © W.W. Norton and Co, 1999. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of poet Donald Hall, (books by this author) born in Hamden, Connecticut (1928). When he was growing up, he loved horror movies, and on Saturdays he would take the bus into New Haven to watch them. When he told a neighborhood friend how much he loved horror movies, that boy suggested that he read Edgar Allan Poe. Donald Hall had no idea who Edgar Allan Poe was, but he went through his parents' bookshelves and found a set of his books. They inspired him to write, and he wrote his first poem, called "The End of All," all about death.

Donald Hall continued writing poems on and off, and a couple of years later he was bragging to a 16-year-old about writing poetry, and the older boy told Donald that he had dropped out of school to become a poet. Hall was impressed, and he decided that he would become a serious poet as well, and started writing after school for a couple of hours a day. He went on to publish many books of poetry, including The One Day (1988), Without (1998), and White Apples and the Taste of Stone (2006). He was named poet laureate in 2006.

He said: "I see no reason to spend your life writing poems unless your goal is to write great poems. … To desire to write poems that endure — we undertake such a goal certain of two things: that in all likelihood we will fail, and that if we succeed we will never know it."

It's the birthday of Upton Sinclair, (books by this author) born in Baltimore in 1878. He wrote a novel about the terrible conditions of factory workers, and since he couldn't find a publisher, he finally decided to publish it himself. The Jungle (1906) became a huge best-seller. A senator from Indiana passed the book on to Teddy Roosevelt, and the president was so disgusted that he helped pass a piece of legislature called the Pure Food and Drug Act, which regulated food quality.

And it's the birthday of the man to whom F. Scott Fitzgerald (books by this author) wrote: "What a time you've had with your sons, Max — Ernest gone to Spain, me gone to Hollywood, Tom Wolfe reverting to an artistic hill-billy." That wasn't Fitzgerald's father; it was his editor, Maxwell Perkins, (books by this author) born on this day in New York City (1884). Perkins is most famous as the editor and champion of Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, (books by this author) and Thomas Wolfe (books by this author).

In 1919, Perkins got a manuscript from an unknown, 22-year-old writer, a novel begun while the writer was at Princeton. It was called This Side of Paradise, and Perkins saw talent in F. Scott Fitzgerald, and fought for him to get published, even though the older, more traditional editors at Scribner's all wanted to reject him. The novel was a big success, and once he was established, Fitzgerald liked to recommend promising young writers to Perkins. One of these was Ernest Hemingway, a 27-year-old writer living in Paris. Fitzgerald had spent a summer with him in France, and he encouraged Perkins to get in touch with Hemingway. The two started writing letters, and when Hemingway's book deal with a French publisher fell through, Perkins convinced Hemingway to come visit him in New York with his manuscript. The novel was filled with obscenities, but Perkins recognized it as a work of genius. He convinced Hemingway to tone it down slightly but not completely, and he fought — against the other conservative editors, once again — to get the novel published. The Sun Also Rises came out in 1926, and made Hemingway's name.

Perkins also discovered Thomas Wolfe, an unknown writer from Asheville, North Carolina. Perkins took Wolfe's difficult manuscript called O Lost and helped him edit it down, cutting out 66,000 words. The result was retitled Look Homeward, Angel (1929).

Perkins had more than 60 books dedicated to him. Fitzgerald dedicated The Beautiful and Damned to him, and Hemingway The Old Man and the Sea. Thomas Wolfe dedicated Of Time and the River to Perkins, to "a great editor and a brave and honest man, who stuck to the writer of the book through times of bitter hopelessness and doubt and would not let him give in to his own despair."

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




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