Apr. 28, 2010
My first wife and I rented a little bungalow in the center of
town. We were young. Our furniture was nothing but apple crates.
The backyard butted up to a Ford dealer. There was a wall of
new pickup trucks at the end of our garden. We planted everything
we could dream of, even rutabagas. She had sweet peas climbing the
downspouts; I grew peanuts in buckets on the back porch. She
brought home two kittens, Basil and Sage, but they both died and we
buried them under the juniper.
Before anything was ripe, the Ford guy bought the place,
evicted us, bulldozed the house, and paved the yard. Thirty years
later, I still think of those cats buried under the asphalt. And who
knows what else.
It's the week of May Day, and we are looking at the personal letters and journals of writers as they find inspiration in the changing season.
On this day in 1927, the French philosopher Simone de Beauvoir (books by this author) wrote in her diary: "In the brilliant sunshine I felt the desire to take walks in muslin dresses completely soaked with my sweat, to stretch myself out in the grass without a thought, to take refuge in this sensual pleasure, in my body which doesn't need to depend on anybody."
Self-sown my stately garden grows;
The winds and windblown seed,
Cold April rain and colder snows
My hedges plant and feed.
From mountains far and valleys near
The harvest brought to-day
Thrives in all weathers without fear,—
Wild planters, plant away!
On this day in 1957, Jack Kerouac (books by this author) wrote a letter to his old friend Ed White about his spring in France, after spending the winter in Morocco: "I tried to hitchhike through Provence, outside Aix, where Cézanne painted, ended up hiking 20 miles but it was worth it ... sat on side of hills and pencil sketched drawings of the Cézanne country, dull red rusty rooftops, blue hills, white stones, green fields, hasn't changed in all these years ... mauve tan farm houses in quiet fertile farmer's valleys, rustic, with weathered pink powder roof tiles, a grey green mild warmness, voices of girls, gray stacks of baled hay, a fertilized chalky garden, a cherry tree in white bloom (April), a rooster crowing at mid day mildly, tall Cézanne trees in back ... etc. just like Cézanne nein? Then a rattly old bus through Arles country, the restless afternoon trees of Van Gogh in the high mistral wind, the cypress rows tossing, yellow tulips in window boxes, a vast outdoor café with huge awning, and the gold sunlight ..."
It's the birthday of poet Carolyn Forché, (books by this author) born in Detroit (1950). She went to Spain to translate the work of an exiled Salvadorian poet, and then, receiving a Guggenheim, went to El Salvador to work as a human rights activist with Amnesty International. She published her second poetry collection in 1981, The Country Between Us, which drew upon her experiences in El Salvador. It won awards, but brought some biting criticism as well: She was accused, among other things, of corrupting poetry with politics. She felt that she had been writing about her personal experiences in the Salvadorian Civil War — and moreover, that it was OK to be a political poet (though prefers to describe herself as a "poet of witness"). She felt alienated by the critical reception of her very personal work. She didn't publish another book of her poems for 14 years. Her latest collection is Blue Hour (2003).
It was on this day in 1925 that the poet T.S. Eliot (books by this author) accepted the offer of a job at a small publishing house Faber & Gwyer, which soon changed its name to Faber and Faber. One of the first poets Eliot discovered was the young W.H. Auden, and he went on to publish work by Marianne Moore, Siegfried Sassoon, Jean Cocteau, James Joyce, and Ted Hughes. Under his leadership, the firm passed on publishing Animal Farm by George Orwell, but they chose to publish a book that had been rejected by everybody else in Great Britain, called The Lord of the Flies. It would become the best-selling novel in Faber and Faber's history.
Eliot liked the job in part because he was rarely able to write for more than three hours a day, and he liked having something else to do that made him feel useful. He found it dispiriting that the medical publications continued to outsell the poetry collections. Eliot later said, "With most categories of books you are aiming to make as much money as possible, with poetry you are aiming to lose as little as possible."
Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®