Thursday

Sep. 20, 2012

Hoses

by George Bilgere

I love the hoses of summer
hanging in their green coils
from the sides of houses,
or slithering through lawns
on their way to the cool
meditations of sprinklers.

I think of my father, scotch
in one hand, the dripping hose
in the other, probing the dusk
with water, the world
around him falling apart,
marriage crumbling, booze
running the show.
Still, he liked to walk out
after dinner and water the lawn,
fiddling with the nozzle,
misting this, showering that.

Sometimes, in the hot twilight,
my sisters and I would run
in our swimsuits through the yard
while he followed us
with a cold beam of water.

And once, when my mother
came out to watch, he turned
the hose on her, the two of them
laughing in a way we'd never heard,
a laughter that must have brought them
back to the beginning.

"Hoses" by George Bilgere. Reprinted with permission of the author.

The American Association for the Advancement of Science was established in Philadelphia on this date in 1848. Its stated purpose was to "procure for the labors of scientific men, increased facilities and a wider usefulness."

The term "scientist" had been coined in English just 15 years earlier, and all over the world scientists were making important new discoveries and formulating new ideas. Europe tended to be the center for the great theorists of science — in the year 1848, Léon Foucault set up his first rudimentary pendulum to demonstrate the Earth's rotation, Darwin was at work on his theory of evolution, Michael Faraday was at the height of his work on electromagnetism. But America was cut off from Europe, and it was hard to compete with the scientific community there. Instead, there was an interest in invention and science that supported industry. Just four years earlier, the first telegraph line was installed, stretching from Baltimore to Washington, D.C. Trains were popping up all over the country, and in the year 1848, four times as many train tracks were laid as in 1847. In 1845, Elias Howe had invented the mechanical sewing machine. The inventor Cyrus McCormick had sold the patent for his McCormick Reaper in the 1830s.

Earlier in the century, Lewis and Clark's journey was the first to make science an exciting and visible aspect of discovering new territory. They observed the weather, the topography, and the geography. They described 182 plant species and 120 animals in their travels; they sent back specimens to the East Coast, a few of them live, including a prairie dog that lived in the White House. By the 1840s, the botanists Asa Gray and George Engelmann were actively cataloguing the plants of the American West. At the same time, anthropology was starting to emerge as its own field, separate from natural history.

There were only 87 members when the American Association for the Advancement of Science was formed, but it grew to a membership of more than 2,000 by 1860. And in 1880, the AAAS began publishing the journal Science, which today is one of the world's top scientific journals. The AAAS is the largest general scientific society in the world.

Today is the birthday of Upton Sinclair (books by this author), born in Baltimore, Maryland (1878). A precocious child whose heroes were Jesus Christ and Percy Bysshe Shelley, Sinclair entered City College of New York at the age of 14. He paid for his tuition and housing by publishing stories in newspapers and magazines. And by the time he was 17, Sinclair was doing well enough to pay for his own apartment and still had money left over to support his parents. But after he married and had a child of his own, his income was no longer adequate. He self-published his first novel, Springtime and Harvest (1901), with the help of a loan from his uncle. Several more books followed, and although some of them got decent reviews, they didn't sell well.

Sinclair was deeply troubled by the disparity between rich and poor. He witnessed the income gap in his own extended family: his grandparents were extremely wealthy, and his parents were destitute. Sinclair eventually joined the Socialist Party of America, and his political philosophy became linked with his writing as he became inspired by investigative journalists. Sinclair said, "The proletarian writer is a writer with a purpose; he thinks no more of art for art's sake than a man on a sinking ship thinks of painting a beautiful picture in the cabin; he thinks of getting ashore — and then there will be time enough for art."

In 1904, a socialist newspaper hired him to write an exposé of the meatpacking industry and the exploitation of its immigrant workers. So Sinclair moved to Chicago's stockyards district for seven weeks. He took detailed notes on the miserable working conditions there, and then returned to the East Coast to transform his investigative journalism into fiction. The Jungle was serialized in the paper, as planned, but six different publishers declined to publish the manuscript in book form unless he lost the "blood and guts." Sinclair decided to self-publish once again, and he began taking advance orders. Encouraged by his brisk sales, Doubleday agreed at the last minute to publish the book on the condition that its claims could be verified. The publisher's lawyer traveled to the Chicago stockyards to witness for himself the dreadful state of affairs, and The Jungle caused an almost instant sensation when it was published in 1906. Sinclair received $30,000 in royalties in the first year alone.

Although Sinclair had intended to highlight the mistreatment of the workers, readers recoiled instead to his descriptions of what exactly went into their food supply. "I aimed at the public's heart," Sinclair remarked, "and by accident I hit it in the stomach." President Theodore Roosevelt received a hundred letters a day demanding the reform of the meatpacking industry. Sinclair and Roosevelt began a correspondence, and while the president was critical of socialism, he hastened to add, "But all this has nothing to do with the fact that the specific evils you point out shall, if their existence be proved, and if I have power, be eradicated." Roosevelt was true to his word, and he passed the Pure Food and Drugs Act, and the Meat Inspection Act, in 1906.

Although none of his later books matched the success of The Jungle, Sinclair continued to write books with socialist agendas, like Oil! (1927), about the Teapot Dome scandal; and Boston (1928), about the trial of anarchists Sacco and Vanzetti. His 1942 novel, Dragon's Teeth, about the rise of the Nazi Party, was awarded the Pulitzer Prize.

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

 









«

»

  • “Writers end up writing stories—or rather, stories' shadows—and they're grateful if they can, but it is not enough. Nothing the writer can do is ever enough” —Joy Williams
  • “I want to live other lives. I've never quite believed that one chance is all I get. Writing is my way of making other chances.” —Anne Tyler
  • “Writing is a performance, like singing an aria or dancing a jig” —Stephen Greenblatt
  • “All good writing is swimming under water and holding your breath.” —F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • “Good writing is always about things that are important to you, things that are scary to you, things that eat you up.” —John Edgar Wideman
  • “In certain ways writing is a form of prayer.” —Denise Levertov
  • “Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia.” —E.L. Doctorow
  • “Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” —E.L. Doctorow
  • “Let's face it, writing is hell.” —William Styron
  • “A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.” —Thomas Mann
  • “Writing is 90 percent procrastination: reading magazines, eating cereal out of the box, watching infomercials.” —Paul Rudnick
  • “Writing is a failure. Writing is not only useless, it's spoiled paper.” —Padget Powell
  • “Writing is very hard work and knowing what you're doing the whole time.” —Shelby Foote
  • “I think all writing is a disease. You can't stop it.” —William Carlos Williams
  • “Writing is like getting married. One should never commit oneself until one is amazed at one's luck.” —Iris Murdoch
  • “The less conscious one is of being ‘a writer,’ the better the writing.” —Pico Iyer
  • “Writing is…that oddest of anomalies: an intimate letter to a stranger.” —Pico Iyer
  • “Writing is my dharma.” —Raja Rao
  • “Writing is a combination of intangible creative fantasy and appallingly hard work.” —Anthony Powell
  • “I think writing is, by definition, an optimistic act.” —Michael Cunningham
The Writer's Almanac on Facebook


The Writer's Almanac on Twitter

Subscribe to our daily newsletter for poems, prose and literary history every morning
An interview with Sharon Olds at The Writer's Almanac Bookshelf
Current Faves - Learn more about poets featured frequently on the show
O, What a Luxury

Although he has edited several anthologies of his favorite poems, O, What a Luxury: Verses Lyrical, Vulgar, Pathetic & Profound forges a new path for Garrison Keillor, as a poet of light verse. Purchase O, What a Luxury »