Wednesday

Jun. 16, 2010

Write a Book a Year

by Deborah Digges

Well the wild ride into the earth was thrilling,
really, scared as I was and torn and sore.
I say what other woman could have managed it?
My life before then
picking flowers against my destiny
what glance, what meeting,
who was watching, what we don't know we know,
the hour we chose and we are chosen.
And suddenly the dead my mission,
the dark my mission.
He'd find me pounding out the hours.
Spring is for women, spring clawing at our hearts,
We are pulled forward by our hair
to be anointed in the barren garden.
I want the dark back, the bloody well of it,
my face before the fire,
or lie alone on the cold stone and find a way
to sleep awhile, wake clear and wander.

"Write a Book a Year" by Deborah Digges, from The Wind Blows Through the Doors of My Heart. © Alfred A. Knopff, 2010. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of Joyce Carol Oates, (books by this author) born in Lockport, New York (1938). She grew up in rural New York, which she later used as the basis for the fictional Eden County, where many of her stories and novels are set. The book that had the most profound influence on her life and her writing was Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll. She read it when she was about 10 years old, and she loved how Alice was calm and rational when facing nightmarish situations. She said that Alice's calmness made a strong impression, and ever since she has tried to write about nightmares and bizarre things in a coherent, calm way.

Today is Bloomsday, and James Joyce (books by this author) fans all over the world are celebrating. It commemorates the day on which the events of his novel Ulysses take place. Joyce chose June 16th, 1904, for the setting because it was the day of his first date with Nora Barnacle, his future wife. They'd met each other randomly on Nassau Street in Dublin on June 10th, chatted a bit, and agreed to meet up later. But she stood him up on their first would-be date of June 14th. On the 15th, the 22-year-old James Joyce sent a note to her that read:

"I may be blind. I looked for a long time at a head of reddish-brown hair and decided it was not yours. I went home quite dejected. I would like to make an appointment but it might not suit you. I hope you will be kind enough to make one with me — if you have not forgotten me!"

They successfully met up the following day, June 16th. They went for an evening stroll around the south bank of the Liffey River in Dublin. And Joyce later chose this day for the setting of Ulysses.

Even after the novel's success, Joyce himself did not call June 16th "Bloomsday." Nor did he really celebrate the day, though publisher Sylvia Beach organized a celebratory Parisian luncheon on June 16th, 1929 — years before the book was legal in the English-speaking world.

The first modern celebration of Bloomsday was in 1954, the 50th anniversary of the fictional events in Joyce's book, and about three decades after Joyce published his novel in 1922. Irish writers Flann O'Brien and Patrick Kavanagh got together with critic John Ryan and a dentist cousin of James Joyce, named Tom Joyce, to make a daylong pilgrimage around Dublin. They were to have stops at the Martello Tower (the opening scene of the novel), Davy Byrne's Pub (where Bloom eats a gorgonzola cheese sandwich) and 7 Eccles Street (where Bloom and his wife, Molly, lived). They role-played, acted out the dialogue, and rode in horse-drawn carriages like those described in the scene of Paddy Dignam's funeral. They were supposed to end up in the red-light section of Dublin, where the 15th chapter of Ulysses "Nighttown" is set, but the literary pilgrims got a bit drunk and distracted at a pub about halfway through the route and lost their ambition to finish it.

There are big Bloomsday celebrations today in Paris, Toronto, Seattle, Sydney, San Francisco, Buenos Aires, Oslo, Trieste, Minneapolis, Melbourne, Genoa, and Pittsburgh. In Philadelphia, there are readings — seven hours' worth — on the steps of the Rosenbach Library, where the original manuscript of James Joyce's Ulysses resides.

This past weekend in New York, there was the inaugural Bloomsday in Brooklyn event, a pub crawl with actors reading passages from Ulysses at six different pubs in Park Slope. Today in New York, there's Bloomsday on Broadway, staged readings of Ulysses at Symphony Space. The celebration in Dublin is, of course, the biggest in the world. This year, the festivities have been going on for four days already — since last Saturday. Dubliners sometimes call the whole thing "The Feast of Saint Jam Juice."

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

 









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