Sunday

Jul. 4, 2010

Thoughtful Voyeur: Woman and Cantaloupe

by Cindy Gregg

Watch her select it
over sassier summer
fruits, carved offerings
of purple, yellow,
red in a supermarket
stunned with
fluorescent light.

Seeing her slice it open,
ponder how the melon
secrets its exquisite
pastel beneath a rough,
webby exterior, silent
protest to the showy
outer life of
its every former
neighbor apple,
banana, strawberry, grape.

Later on, recall
the knife's decisiveness,
the sudden exposure of
such a pleasing hue,
its juicy glisten
brightening, gladdening
her stark white kitchen
with a brief and modest blush.

"Thoughtful Voyeur: Woman and Cantaloupe" by Cindy Gregg, from Suddenly Autumn. © Word Play Press, 2010. Reprinted with permission.

Today is July 4th, Independence Day. It was on this day in 1776 that the Second Continental Congress formally adopted the Declaration of Independence, more than a year after the Revolutionary War began in Lexington, Massachusetts — and more than seven years before the war would come to an end with the signing of the Treaty of Paris in 1783.

One year later, there was a small celebration of Independence Day in Philadelphia, but celebrations didn't become common until after the War of 1812, and in 1870 Congress passed a law declaring it a federal holiday. These days, almost all communities — from small towns to major metropolitan areas — have 4th of July parades and set off fireworks. Washington, D.C., has a parade down Constitution Avenue and fireworks above the Washington Monument. In Boston, the Boston Pops Orchestra performs a free concert that ends with fireworks over the Charles River. Chicago, New Orleans, Houston, and Philadelphia also have huge festivities. But the longest-running 4th of July parade in the country takes place in Bristol, Rhode Island, a town of just over 20,000, which has had a parade every year since 1785.

One hundred and fifty-five years ago, on this day in 1855, Walt Whitman (books by this author) published a small volume of poems, which he called Leaves of Grass.

Ten years earlier, Ralph Waldo Emerson had written an essay called "The Poet," which called for a new style of poetry that reflected the spirit of the United States. Emerson wrote: "We have yet had no genius in America, with tyrannous eye, which knew the value of our incomparable materials [...] Our logrolling, our stumps and their politics, our fisheries, [...] our boasts, and our repudiations, the wrath of rogues, and the pusillanimity of honest men, the northern trade, the southern planting, the western clearing, Oregon, and Texas, are yet unsung. Yet America is a poem in our eyes; its ample geography dazzles the imagination, and it will not wait long for metres." And so Walt Whitman decided to become that genius. He wrote later: "I was simmering, simmering, simmering; Emerson brought me to a boil."

Whitman was a printer, and so once he had the 12 poems that would make up Leaves of Grass, he did a lot of the typesetting and design for the book himself, with a gold title and gold leaves and vines coming from it, and yellow endpapers. He published 795 copies, and the poems he included are some of his most famous: "Song of Myself," "I Sing the Body Electric," "Faces," "The Song of the Answerer," and so on.

It got very mixed reviews; many critics shared the opinion of the anonymous reviewer in The National Quarterly Review, who wrote: "In no work of the same size have we ever read so much that is disgusting and repulsive." But Emerson loved Leaves of Grass, and he sent Whitman a congratulatory letter telling him so, writing: "I greet you at the beginning of a great career." Being the fabulous self-promoter that he was, when Whitman published a second edition a year later, with 33 poems, he included a number of positive reviews of the book, many of them were written by Whitman himself, and he also included Emerson's letter, — it might be the first blurb in history.

On this day in 1845, 27-year-old Henry David Thoreau (books by this author) moved into his cabin near Walden Pond, a mile and a half from Concord, on some land that belonged to his friend Ralph Waldo Emerson. In exchange for rent, Thoreau worked on the land, clearing away brush and planting trees. He planted two and a half acres, mostly with beans — scholars estimate that Thoreau planted 24,750 bean plants by hand the first year, hoeing them from 5 in the morning until noon each day. He spent 26 months there, keeping a journal of his thoughts, activities, and observations. Years later, in 1854, he published Walden, or Life in the Woods, based on his notebooks from those years.

It's the birthday of novelist Nathaniel Hawthorne, (books by this author) born Nathaniel Hathorne in Salem, Massachusetts (1804). He went off to Bowdoin College in Maine, and around that time he decided to change his name from Hathorne to Hawthorne. No one is sure why he made the change, but many people assume that he wanted to distinguish himself from his well-known family. He was in the sixth generation of Hathornes to live in Salem, all of them strict Puritans. His great-grandfather, Jonathan Hathorne, was an infamous judge during the Salem Witch Trials, whose harsh questioning is well documented. In 1850, Hawthorne published The Scarlet Letter, which condemns the severity of the Puritans. It's the story of Hester Prynne, who is forced to wear a scarlet "A" on her chest to mark her as an adulteress after she gives birth out of wedlock.

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