Jul. 8, 2010

The Elm City

by Reed Whittemore

The hard, yellow, reversible, wicker seats
Sit in my mind's warm eye, varnished row on row,
In the old yellow childhood trolley
At the end of the line at Cliff Street, where the conductor
Swings the big wooden knob on the tall control box,
Clangs the dishpan bell, and we wander off

To tiptoe on stones and look up at bones in cases
In the cold old stone and bone of the Peabody Museum,
Where the dinosaur and the mastodon stare us down,
And the Esquimaux and the Indians stare us down

In New Haven,
The Elm City.

I left that town long ago for war and folly.
Phylogeny rolled to a stop at the old Peabody.
I still hear the dishpan bell of the yellow trolley.

"The Elm City" by Reed Whittemore, from The Feel of Rock. © Dryad Press. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of columnist and novelist Anna Quindlen, (books by this author) born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (1953). She wanted to be a fiction writer. But straight out of college, she got hired by the New York Post, and a few years later, by The New York Times. She was so successful that a lot of people thought she was in line to be deputy editor of the paper. She really wanted to write fiction, and had been trying all along during her tenure at the Times — she managed to publish two novels while working full time and raising kids. But she didn't have enough time to do both, so in 1995, she quit to become a full-time writer. Her most recent novel, Every Last One (2010), came out a few months ago and made the New York Times best-seller list.

It's the birthday of novelist and short-story writer J.F. Powers, (books by this author) born James Farl Powers in Jacksonville, Illinois (1917). His family was Catholic in a heavily Protestant town. He went to Catholic school, he was a great basketball player, and then he started working odd jobs to support himself and his family during the Great Depression. By the time WWII started, he was unemployed and living in Chicago, but he loved it because he met all sorts of interesting people — jazz singers, political exiles, pacifists.

Powers refused to join the war, and so he was sent to a federal prison in Sandstone, Minnesota. He was paroled to work as an orderly in a hospital in St. Paul, and he wrote fiction at night. In 1947, he published Prince of Darkness,a book of short stories. He continued to write novels and short stories, mostly satire, many of them about priests in small towns in Minnesota. His novel Morte d'Urban (1962) won the National Book Award.

It was on this day in 1819 that John Keats (books by this author) wrote one of his most famous lines: "I love you the more in that I believe you have liked me for my own sake and for nothing else. I have met with women whom I really think would like to be married to a Poem and to be given away by a Novel." It was part of letter to his beloved Fanny Brawne, a letter that began:

"My sweet Girl—Your Letter gave me more delight than any thing in the world but yourself could do; indeed I am almost astonished that any absent one should have that luxurious power over my senses which I feel. Even when I am not thinking of you I receive your influence and a tenderer nature stealing upon me. All my thoughts, my unhappiest days and nights have I find not at all cured me of my love of Beauty, but made it so intense that I am miserable that you are not with me: or rather breathe in that dull sort of patience that cannot be called Life."

It was one of the earliest of his famous letters to Fanny Brawne, though the two had met almost a year before, in the autumn of 1818. Keats was in love with another woman, Isabella Jones, at the time, but by late spring of 1819, he'd become devoted to Fanny Brawne.

The two became secretly engaged, but never married, and Keats died of tuberculosis a year and a half later, at the age of 25. She lived for another 45 years after his death. Keats' now-famous love letters to her were unknown until 1878, when they were first published — more than half a century after he wrote them.

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