Mar. 2, 2012

In Art Rowanberry's Barn

by Wendell Berry

In Art Rowanberry's barn, when Art's death
had become quietly a fact among
the other facts, Andy Catlett found
a jacket made of the top half
of a pair of coveralls after
the legs wore out, for Art
never wasted anything.
Andy found a careful box made
of woodscraps with a strap
for a handle; it contained
a handful of small nails
wrapped in a piece of newspaper,
several large nails, several
rusty bolts with nuts and washers,
some old harness buckles
and rings, rusty but usable,
several small metal boxes, empty,
and three hickory nuts
hollowed out by mice.
And all of these things Andy
put back where they had been,
for time and the world and other people
to dispense with as they might,
but not by him to be disprized.
This long putting away
of things maybe useful was not all
of Art's care-taking; he cared
for creatures also, every day
leaving his tracks in dust, mud,
or snow as he went about
looking after his stock, or gave
strength to lighten a neighbor's work.
Andy found a bridle made
of several lengths of baling twine
knotted to a rusty bit,
an old set of chain harness,
four horseshoes of different sizes,
and three hammerstones picked up
from the opened furrow on days
now as perfectly forgotten
as the days when they were lost.
He found a good farrier's knife,
an awl, a key to a lock
that would no longer open.

"In Art Rowanberry's Barn" by Wendell Berry, from Given. © Shoemaker Hoard, 2005. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of journalist and novelist Tom Wolfe (books by this author), born in Richmond, Virginia (1931). He wrote The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test (1968), about Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters. He also wrote The Right Stuff (1979), about the American space program. Though he viewed nonfiction as the best way to comment on the really important things in life, he also wrote three novels: The Bonfire of the Vanities (1987), A Man in Full (1998), and I am Charlotte Simmons (2004). His fourth novel, Back to Blood, is due out this year (2012).

In an essay published in 2007, Tom Wolfe argued that the newspaper industry would stand a much better chance of survival if newspaper editors encouraged reporters to "provide the emotional reality of the news, for it is the emotions, not the facts, that most engage and excite readers and in the end are the heart of most stories." He said journalists should use four literary devices in their work — "to make the reader feel present in the scene described and even inside the skin of a particular character." They are: 1) constructing scenes; 2) dialogue — lots of it; 3) carefully noting social status details, "everything from dress and furniture to the infinite status clues of speech"; and 4) point of view, "in the Henry Jamesian sense of putting the reader inside the mind of someone other than the writer."

Today is the 70th birthday of John Irving (books by this author), born John Wallace Blunt Jr. in Exeter, New Hampshire, in 1942. By the time he was two years old, his parents had divorced and he never heard from his father again. His mother eventually remarried and gave him his stepfather's last name, Irving.

His first three books were received well by critics, but didn't sell well; his fourth novel was his first popular success: The World According to Garp (1978), and it's about the fatherless son of a radical feminist. The absence of a parent, especially the father, is a recurring theme in Irving's work. In 1981, his mother gave him a stack of letters that she had kept from him, letters that Irving's father had written during World War II. Irving learned that his father was an Air Force pilot, and had been shot down over Burma. It was also the first time he realized that his father had wanted to keep in touch with him; he considered tracking his father down, but didn't want to hurt his stepfather. Instead, he used some of his father's stories in his book The Cider House Rules (1985).

It's the birthday of Sholem Aleichem (books by this author), born Solomon Rabinovich in Pereyaslav, Ukraine (1859). He adopted a pen name because many of his friends and relatives disapproved of his decision to write in Yiddish, the colloquial language of Eastern European Jews, rather than in Hebrew, the language of intellectuals and liturgy. So he chose the name Sholem Aleichem, which comes from a Hebrew greeting meaning "peace be with you." He gave us the character Tevye the milkman, who was the inspiration for the 1964 musical Fiddler on the Roof.

Aleichem said, "Life is a dream for the wise, a game for the fool, a comedy for the rich, a tragedy for the poor."

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




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