Dec. 5, 2009

A Marriage

by Barry Spacks

Clear now
of our long struggle
I can hear your voice, its strength
the sweet coldness
of river water.

And I can see you
as in the photograph
with your father and sister,
tall pretty girl,
pigtailed and freckled,

led, misled,
until you doubted
your beauty, body,
that you were one among us,
a person, like any other.

And, given distance,
I think of you
becoming smaller,
but cheerful, the way
the old are

with short white hair
and an easiness
you'd never know before,
and me, incredibly,
not there.

"A Marriage" by Barry Spacks, from Spacks Street: New and Selected Poems. © The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1982. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of Pre-Raphaelite poet Christina Rossetti, (books by this author) born in London in 1830. She grew up in a large, boisterous household. She had three brothers and sisters, and her parents were Italian, so all the children grew up speaking Italian and English. Her father was a political refugee and a Dante scholar and poet.

Christina started writing poetry as a young girl. In September of 1848, when Christina was 17, her brothers Dante Gabriel Rossetti and William Michael Rossetti helped form the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, considered by many to be the first avant-garde movement, although it might not look particularly radical to us now. Christina was never officially a member of the group, but she published poetry in their magazine, and she was a frequent model for her brother Dante's paintings.

And she was a successful and much-admired poet in her own right. She published her most famous collection, Goblin Market and Other Poems (1862), when she was 31 years old. And most people today would probably recognize one of her poems as a well-known Christmas carol.

It begins:
In the bleak mid-winter
Frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron,
Water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow,
Snow on snow,
In the bleak mid-winter
Long ago.

It's the birthday of travel writer Kate Simon, (books by this author) born Kaila Grobsmith in Warsaw in 1912. She loved New York and she decided that she wanted to write a city guidebook that would be different from all the other books on the market, so she wrote New York Places and Pleasures: An Uncommon Guidebook (1959), which is still in print and has gone through four revisions since then. It was so successful that she started getting commissions to write travel books, and wrote about cities and countries all around the world.

And she also wrote memoirs, Bronx Primitive: Portraits of a Childhood (1982), A Wider World: Portraits of an Adolescence (1986), and Etchings in an Hourglass (1990), which she completed just before she died from cancer in 1990.

It's the birthday of novelist and essayist Joan Didion (books by this author) born on this day in Sacramento in 1934. She grew up in the Sacramento Valley, the same place her family, early settlers to California, had lived for five generations. When she was a teenager, she typed out pages from Ernest Hemingway, and she said that typing out passages from A Farewell to Arms "taught me the importance of absolute precision, of how every word and every comma and every absence of a word or comma can change the meaning, make the rhythm, make the difference." She went to Berkeley, and in her senior year she won a writing competition sponsored by Vogue. The prize was either a trip to Paris or money and a job at the magazine. She chose the job, which turned out to be her first and only job. She worked there for a few years, then took some time off to work on her first novel and never went back to the office. Her novel had been turned down by 12 publishers, but then the next publisher accepted it and gave her $1,000 to finish it. So she did, and it was published as Run River(1963). She went on to write reviews, essays, journalism, novels, and screenplays, seven of them co-written with her husband, John Gregory Dunne. She wrote the essay collection Slouching Towards Bethlehem (1968), the novel A Book of Common Prayer (1977), and many more books. In 2004, her beloved husband died of a heart attack while their only daughter was in the hospital with a dangerous illness, which she died from a year later. Joan Didion wrote her memoir The Year of Magical Thinking (2005) about her year of grief. It was a huge best-seller and won the National Book Award.

It's the birthday of nonfiction writer John Berendt, (books by this author) born in Syracuse, New York (1939). He went to Harvard, wrote for the Harvard Lampoon, and after college he got a job at Esquire. He worked on and off at the magazine for more than 30 years. One day in 1982, he was feeling overwhelmed by life in the big city and he found cheap a weekend flight to Savannah, Georgia, so he went on a vacation. And he loved it. He especially liked the people who lived there and the stories they told. So he started listening to stories, taking notes, and he finally decided to just go ahead and move to Savannah. He lived there for five years, and then he went back to New York and he wrote a book. That book was Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil (1994), and it was a huge best-seller, on the New York Times best-seller list for more than four years, something that Berendt was not expecting. He said, "First, I wanted people to say —or critics to say, 'Yeah, it's a book. This man, who writes columns and magazine articles, has written a book.' Then I hoped they would say, 'It's a good book,' and possibly, 'It's a very good book.' But I wasn't really thinking of sales. ... It didn't occur to me to even hope for that."

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




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