Aug. 16, 2013

This Last Great Country Song

by Paul Muldoon

I took the interstate in a '53 V-8
I followed her from Haight
Ashbury to Ashbury Park
And my spirit soared
With that coast-to-coast billboard
Now I get my kicks
When mail-order mavericks
Fill the billboard charts

But my heart still aches
When I think of the kiss
Into which we rushed headlong
I don't know if I can take
Much more of this
This last great country song

I danced a jig at The Blind Pig
I took another swig
From a fifth of Maker's Mark
I walked the buzzard-buzzy sky
Where the deer were getting high
Now I'm on the floor
At the convenience store
Loading soda into a cart

But my heart still quakes
When I reminisce
On drinking all night long
I don't know if I can take
Much more of this
This last great country song

With its failed crops its foreclosed loans
Its store-bought whiskey its wit home-grown
Its waitresses who've left no traces
Of their pantie-lines their X-tans
Their monster-trucking exes their dash-mounted fans
Their fanned-out cartridge cases

Through which I ran for my life from a guy with a knife
I'd been led by his wife
To their trailer park
Where the strung-out utility poles
Still found no use for our lost souls
Now I'll be running for mayor
I'll be leading a prayer
Breakfast next to Wal-Mart

But my heart still breaks
To think I'll no longer be remiss
To think I'll no longer do wrong
I don't know if I can take
Much more of this
This last great country song

"This Last Great Country Song" by Paul Muldoon, from Songs and Sonnets. © Enitharmon Press, 2013. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of William Maxwell (books by this author), born in Lincoln, Illinois (1908), a novelist, short-story writer, and an editor at The New Yorker magazine for 40 years, from the 1930s through the 1970s, during which time he published Frank O'Connor, Eudora Welty, Vladimir Nabokov, Alice Munro, John Cheever, and John Updike, and hundreds of others.

Maxwell lived in Lincoln for only 14 years, but later said that the town provided "three-quarters of the material I would need for the rest of my writing life." But his childhood was far from idyllic. When he was 10, his mother died from the epidemic influenza, which she'd contracted while nine months pregnant. It was an event that he would return to again and again in his writing. It formed the basis for his second novel, They Came Like Swallows (1937). He wrote the opening chapter of the book, "Whose Angel Child," more than 100 times, often while weeping. He once wrote: "I couldn't understand how it had happened to us. It seemed like a mistake. And mistakes ought to be rectified, only this one couldn't be."

He published his first novel, Bright Center of Heaven (1934), and after getting a $200 advance for the second novel, he quit his teaching job of two years — in the midst of the Great Depression — and moved to New York figuring he'd get an editorial job for steady income.

He applied to The New Yorker, and they put him in the art department, where for $35 a week he sat in on editorial meetings and then told the artists what kinds of changes they should make. He moved to the fiction department, where it was also his job to edit poetry.

At The New Yorker, Bill Maxwell, as he was known there, had a reputation for being a meticulous editor, strict, kind, helpful, and trustworthy. And also very tactful: He once took a train an hour and a half north of the city so that he could tell John Updike in person, with regrets, that the magazine was rejecting one of his stories.

Maxwell said, "Reading is rapture (or if it isn't, I put the book down meaning to go on with it later, and escape out the side door)."

It's the birthday of Charles Bukowski (books by this author), born in Andernach, Germany (1920). He published more than 15 wildly popular books of fiction and poetry, including Run With the Hunted (1962), and The Days Run Away Like Wild Horses Over the Hills (1969).

Late in his life he said: "Every day I'll wake up around noon. Then I'll go to the track and I'll play the horses ... Then I'll come back and I'll swim and ... have dinner and I'll go upstairs and I'll sit at the computer and I'll crack me a bottle [of wine] and I'll listen to some Mahler or Sibelius and I'll write, with this rhythm, like always."

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




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