Aug. 3, 2012
Sometimes, out of nowhere, it comes back,
that night when, driving home from the city,
having left the nearest streetlight miles behind us,
we lost our way on the back country roads
and found, when we slowed down to read a road sign,
a field alive with the blinking of fireflies,
and we got out and stood there in the darkness,
amazed at their numbers, their scattered sparks
igniting silently in a randomness
that somehow added up to a marvel
both earthly and celestial, the sky
brought down to earth, and brought to life,
a sublunar starscape whose shifting constellations
were a small gift of unexpected astonishment,
luminous signalings leading us away
from thoughts of where we were going
or coming from, the cares that often drive us
relentlessly onward and blind us
to such flickering intervals when moments
are released from their rigid sequence
and burn like airborne embers, floating free.
It's the birthday of the poet Marvin Bell (books by this author), born in Center Moriches, a farming community on the south shore of Long Island (1937). After a stint in the Army, he returned home in 1966 and published his first book of poetry, Things We Dreamt We Died For,to critical acclaim. Ten years later, he published Stars Which See, Stars Which Do Not See,which was a finalist for the National Book Award. Bell went on to teach at the Iowa Writers' Workshop for 40 years, and served as Iowa's first poet laureate in 2000.
Marvin Bell said, "Much of our lives involves the word 'no.' In school we are mostly told, 'Don't do it this way. Do it that way.' But art is the big yes. In art, you get a chance to make something where there was nothing."
Today is the birthday of poet Hayden Carruth (books by this author), born in Waterbury, Connecticut (1921). He attended college in Chapel Hill before serving two years in the Army Air Forces during World War II, and later he went to graduate school on the GI Bill, fell in love with jazz, learned the clarinet, and began to write poetry. He worked as an editor in Chicago, but in 1953, he suffered a nervous breakdown and spent the next year and a half in treatment for alcoholism and anxiety. He underwent electroshock therapy and left by his own account "in worse shape than I went in."
Carruth then decided to move to the rural communities of Vermont and New York State. He began to farm, worked as a mechanic, hired himself out as a field hand, and wrote nightly, sometimes not finishing with farm work until after midnight. He freelanced occasionally, but his income after several years was a scant $600, and at one point he had to steal corn meant for livestock to survive. He kept up this hardscrabble lifestyle for decades, and his poetry reflected those on the margins who live by their hands: field workers, farmers, jazz musicians, mental patients, war protesters, lonely fathers. The writer Wendell Berry credits Carruth's poetry for showing him that there was beauty to be found in places others considered "nowhere" as he weighed his own return to rural life.
In 1996, at the age of 75, his collection Scrambled Eggs and Whiskey won the National Book Award. Carruth died in 2008 after complications from a stroke.
Today is the birthday of the journalist and war correspondent Ernest Taylor "Ernie" Pyle (books by this author), born near Dana, Indiana (1900). He went to Indiana University, and with only a semester left, he quit school went to work on the Washington Daily News. He soon made editor, married, and worked nonstop for three years. But he was restless and didn't like being behind a desk, so he and his wife packed up their Ford roadster and took off on a 9,000-mile trip around the U.S.
When World War II broke out, he became a war correspondent, writing stories from the front from the soldier's perspective. He won the Pulitzer Prize for his work and was instrumental in securing combat pay for troops. Congress named this legislation the Ernie Pyle Bill.
He said: "Someday when peace has returned to this odd world I want to come to London again and stand on a certain balcony on a moonlit night and look down upon the peaceful silver curve of the Thames with its dark bridges."
Pyle was killed by machine-gun fire on an island just north of Okinawa on April 18, 1945. When control of the island was regained by the Japanese, the monument to Ernie Pyle there was one of just a few allowed to remain standing.
Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®