Nov. 9, 2009

No Direction Home

by Charles Wright

After a certain age, there's no one left to turn to.
You've got to find Eurydice on your own,
                                                                you've got
To find the small crack
                        between here and everywhere else all by yourself.

How could it be otherwise?
Everyone's gone away, the houses are all empty,
And overcast starts to fill the sky like soiled insulation.

"No Direction Home" by Charles Wright, from Sestets. © Farrar, Straus & Giroux. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of astronomer Carl Sagan, (books by this author) born in New York City in 1934. His father was a Ukrainian immigrant who worked in a coat factory, and his mother was a housewife. He went on to become a great scientist. He studied and taught at several prestigious universities and helped advance the study of astronomy and the U.S. space program. And he published a number of books that helped regular people understand ideas about the universe, including Dragons of Eden: Speculations of the Evolution of Human Intelligence (1977), which won the Pulitzer Prize, and Cosmos (1980),which is considered the best-selling science book ever published in English. He also wrote a science fiction novel, Contact (1985), which was made into a film in 1997.

He said, "Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known."

It's the birthday of poet Anne Sexton, (books by this author) born in Newton, Massachusetts (1928). She said: "As a young child I was locked in my room until the age of five. After that, at school, I did not understand the people who were my size or even the larger ones. At home, or away from it, people seemed out of reach. Thus I hid in fairy tales and read them daily like a prayer-book. Any book was closer than a person."

She got married, had two children, became a housewife. But she had nervous breakdowns, and her therapist suggested that she try writing poetry, so in 1957, she went to a writing workshop. She became friends with Maxine Kumin, Sylvia Plath, Robert Lowell, W.D. Snodgrass. She published a few poems, then a collection, and soon she was publishing book after book — popular books — including All My Pretty Ones (1962) and Live or Die (1966), which won the Pulitzer. But her marriage was falling apart, she drank too much, and her depression took over. In 1974, she committed suicide at the age of 46. She had put together one last book, The Awful Rowing Toward God (1975), and it was published after her death.
She wrote:
My dear it was a moment
to clutch at for a moment
so that you may believe in it
and believing is the act of love, I think,
even in the telling, wherever it went.

It's the birthday of a woman whom The New York Times described as "a winning hostess with mettlesome eyes and an alert personality." That's actress and writer Erika Mann, (books by this author) born in Munich in 1905. She wrote children's books and journalism.

Erika Mann openly opposed the Nazis, and in 1933, along with the actress Therese Giehse, she started a cabaret called "Die Pfeffermühle," or "The Pepper Grinder." It had an anti-fascist message that was barely concealed under performances of fairy tales and fables. The act didn't last long in Germany — she went into exile, and the Nazis revoked her passport — but she and Giehse traveled all over Europe, giving 1,000 performances, and the cabaret was extremely popular. She and her friend, poet W.H. Auden, married in 1935, even though she was a lesbian woman and he was a gay man, because the marriage got her a British passport so she could be free of Nazi persecution. She went on to write several books about the Nazis, including School for Barbarians (1938), about the German education system under Nazi control. She was one of the only women who was allowed in to interview the defendants during the Nuremberg trials, and she continued to work as a journalist documenting the climate of post-war Europe.

It was on this day in 1967 that the first issue of Rolling Stone was published. It was started by 21-year-old Jann Wenner, who dropped out of Berkeley and borrowed $7,500 from family members and from people on a mailing list that he stole from a local radio station, and with that money he managed to put together a magazine. The cover of the first issue featured John Lennon, and in it, Wenner wrote, "Rolling Stone is not just about music, but also about the things and attitudes that the music embraces." He printed 40,000 copies, and 34,000 were returned unsold. But soon Rolling Stone had a devoted group of readers, partly because there were some great writers there. Probably the most famous of these journalists was Hunter S. Thompson, who showed up at Jann Wenner's office in 1970 with a case of beer and an offer to write for Rolling Stone. The next year, he serialized Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas in the magazine's pages. Today Rolling Stone has a circulation of about 1.4 million.

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




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