Feb. 12, 2011
She Thinks of Him on Her Birthday
It's still winter,
and still I don't know you
anymore, and you don't know
me. But this morning I stand
in the kitchen with the illusion,
peeling a clementine. Each piece
snaps like the nickname for a girl,
the tinny bite it was
to be one once. Again I count
your daughters and find myself in the middle,
the waist of the hourglass,
endlessly passed through and passed through
but holding nothing, dismayed
by the grubby February sun
I was born under and the cheap pleasure
it gives the window. Yet I raise the shade
for it, and try not to feel it is wrong
to want spring, to be a season
further from you—not wrong to wish
for a hard rain, a hard wind
like one we sat out in together
or came in from together.
It's the birthday of poet and editor Deborah Garrison, born in Ann Arbor, Michigan (1965). At age 21, she graduated from Brown with a creative writing degree; married her high school sweetheart, a lawyer; and joined the staff of The New Yorker, where she worked for more than a decade as senior editor.
Her first poetry collection, A Working Girl Can't Win, was published in 1998. It sold more than 30,000 copies, which is a lot for a poetry book — Pulitzer Prize-winning poets routinely sell far less. John Updike said that her poems "have a Dickinsonian intensity and the American recluse's air of independent-minded, lightly populated singleness." The collection was called "wry, sexy, appealing" by Elle.
Garrison had children and didn't produce another poetry book for almost a decade. She's very happy as a mother, and she found that it was much easier to be a prolific poet when she felt less happy and less fulfilled. She wrote, "When I was unhappy / words slipped ceaselessly / from my pen, / arrows down the page, / tars run together, / running to tell." Her second, and most recent collection, The Second Child (2007), contains a number of poems on the pleasures of motherhood. She's now the poetry editor at Knopf.
Her poem "Play Your Hand" begins:
"A joy so full it won't fit in a body. Like sound packed in a trumpet's bell, its glossy exit retains that shape, printing its curve in reverse on the ear. A musical house, with more children than you planned for, a smallest hand, and fingers of that hand closing on one of yours, making a handle, pulling the lever gaily down, ringing in the first jackpot of many, with coins and cries, heavenly noise, a crashing pile of minor riches —"
She was 27 years old, with two preschool aged children, when she began writing seriously. For two years, she received constant rejections. Highlights magazine routinely sent her a form rejection letter with the box checked "Does not win in competition with others." She finally published her first book in 1969: a story called The One in the Middle is the Green Kangaroo.
The next year, she had her big breakthrough, with the young adult novel Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret (1970). It's the story of 11-year-old Margaret Simon, the daughter of Jewish father and Christian mother, and her adolescent attempts to make sense of things like religion, boys, and menstruation. The book was banned in many schools and libraries. It's one of the most challenged books of the last third of the 20th century. But it's also beloved by many, and it has been a big best-seller over the years. It was re-released just last year.
She's also the author of Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing (1972), Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great (1972), Blubber (1974), The Pain and the Great One (1974), Starring Sally J. Freedman as Herself (1977), Superfudge (1980), Here's to You, Rachel Robinson (1993), and recently, Going, Going, Gone! with the Pain and the Great One (2008). Her books have sold more than 80 million copies.
She lives mostly in Key West, where she writes at a desk facing a garden. In the summer, she writes in a small cabin on Martha's Vineyard. She always writes in the morning. When she's working on a first draft, which she says is the hardest part, she writes seven days a week, even if only for an hour or two day.
She always begins a story "on the day something different happens." In Here's to You, Rachel Robinson, she said, "It's the day Rachel's older brother Charles, gets kicked out of boarding school." In Superfudge, "it's the day Peter learns there's going to be a new baby in the family." She keeps a notebook for each book, filled with scraps of dialogue and other things that come to her head at various times through out the day. She says that her characters are in her head for a long time before she begins writing, and she feels like they're so real that she often talks about them at the dinner table. She usually does about three drafts of each book, and works much more intensely at rewriting than at the first draft.
She has also edited an anthology, Places I Never Meant to Be: Original Stories by Censored Writers (1999).
From the archives:
It's the birthday of two men who were born on exactly the same day in 1809: Charles Darwin and Abraham Lincoln.
Abraham Lincoln (books by this author) was born on this day near Hodgenville, Kentucky (1809). Though he's generally considered possibly the greatest president in our country's history, fairly little is known about his early life. Unlike most presidents, he never wrote any memoirs. We know that he was born in a log cabin and had barely a year of traditional schooling. His mother died when he was nine, and he spent much of his adolescence working with an ax. But when he was in his early 20s, Lincoln apparently decided to make himself into a respectable man. Residents of the town of New Salem, Illinois, said that they remembered Lincoln just appearing in their town one day. People remembered him because he was one of the tallest people anyone had ever seen, about 6 feet 4 inches, and the pants that he wore were so short that they didn't even cover his ankles.
Charles Darwin (books by this author) was born in Shrewsbury, Shropshire, England (1809). On the famous voyage to the southern tip of South America when he was only 22, Darwin brought with him a book called Principles of Geology by Sir Charles Lyell, which suggested that the earth was millions of years old. And along the journey, Darwin got a chance to explore the Galapagos Islands. These islands were spaced far enough apart that the animals on them had evolved over time into different species.
It took him a long time to publish his findings, mainly because he was afraid of being attacked as an atheist. But about 20 years after he first came up with the idea, he published his book On the Origin of Species (1859).
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