Sep. 19, 2010
News From the Garage
Parking the car,
I saw in the dusky space
a vibrant small wasp:
shaken with silver—
tremble as she hunted
among the cobwebs
for a safe place to
build a nest,
find a spider,
sting it near to death,
bring it to her mud home,
and right there, beside it, to
lay and hatch her
terrible colony of eggs.
It's the anniversary of the day that poets Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Browning eloped in 1846. She was the better-known poet; he had come across her poems two years before and wrote her a fan letter. Over the next 20 months, Elizabeth and Robert exchanged 574 letters. They met for the first time in 1845.
Elizabeth (books by this author) was a semi-invalid under the care of a very overprotective father, and he didn't want her to marry, so they courted in secret and eloped to Florence the following year, where they spent the rest of their married life. Elizabeth's father never spoke to her again.
Robert and Elizabeth read and critiqued one another's poetry, and they both began writing the best poetry of their lives after their marriage. Robert (books by this author) often called Elizabeth "my little Portuguese" because of her dark complexion. In 1850, she published her most famous work, a collection of poems called Sonnets from the Portuguese. It contains the famous line, "How do I love thee? Let me count the ways." Elizabeth's health continued to decline and in 1861 she died in Robert's arms.
It's the birthday of William Golding, (books by this author) born in St. Columb Minor, England (1911). He had a difficult childhood — he didn't have friends, he wasn't close to his family, and he was intensely ashamed of their lower social status. He went to the run-of-the-mill school where his father taught, but there was a fancy private school nearby, and he was jealous of the boys who could afford to go there. When he applied to Oxford, he got in, but in his formal application his interviewers labeled him "not quite a gentleman."
Later, he became a teacher, and he wrote his first novel, Lord of the Flies. It was rejected over and over, 21 times in all. Faber and Faber had initially rejected it — their reader called it "absurd & uninteresting ... rubbish & dull." But an editor at Faber overruled the reader and decided to take a chance on Lord of the Flies, and it was published in 1954. But after all that, it got off to a slow start — it only sold about 3,000 copies in the United States and went out of print in 1955. But it was picked up again, and during the 1960s became a best-seller, and it's still one of the most popular books taught in high school and college classes. William Golding was 50 years old by the time Lord of the Flies was successful enough in America that he was able to give up teaching.
Last year, the British scholar John Carey published the biography William Golding: The Man Who Wrote Lord of the Flies.
It's the birthday of writer and editor Roger Angell, (books by this author) born in New York (1920). He was mostly raised by his father, but his mother was Katharine Sergeant White, an editor at The New Yorker, and his stepfather was the writer E.B. White. Young Roger liked to read detective stories and books about cowboys and reptiles, and go to the movies.
He went to Harvard, then into the Air Force, and then worked for magazines. He wasn't really planning to be a writer, and after watching E.B. White slave over short columns for The New Yorker, write them over and over and still feel like they weren't good enough, he wasn't sure if it was the job for him. But after about 10 years at various jobs, and occasional submissions to The New Yorker, he found himself drawn back to the magazine. He joined the staff as a contributing writer and the fiction editor. He was the editor for writers including John Updike, William Trevor, and Woody Allen, and he is still a staff writer and senior editor.
In 1962, he was talking to William Shawn about baseball. He said, "I told him about spring training; he didn't know there was such a thing." So Shawn sent him to Florida to write about spring training, and he's been writing about baseball ever since. He said: "It never occurred to me that I was going to spend my life writing about baseball. I had no such plan. No such plan. And at no point did I say to myself, What I am is somebody getting together a body of baseball writings. I think of this as one piece at a time and hope that I'm still enthusiastic about the game, that if something happens I'll want to write about it."
And he said: "The stuff about the connection between baseball and American life, the Field of Dreams thing, gives me a pain. I hated that movie. It's mostly fake. You look back into the meaning of old-time baseball, and really in the early days it was full of roughnecks and drunks. They beat up the umpires and played near saloons. In Fields of Dreams there's a line at the end that says the game of baseball was good when America was good, and they're talking about the time of the biggest race riots in the country and Prohibition. What is that? That dreaminess, I really hated that."
Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®