Oct. 4, 2013

Going Away

by Howard Nemerov

Now as the year turns toward its darkness
the car is packed, and time come to start
driving west. We have lived here
for many years and been more or less content;
now we are going away. That is how
things happen, and how into new places,
among other people, we shall carry
our lives with their peculiar memories
both happy and unhappy but either way
touched with a strange tonality
of what is gone but inalienable, the clear
and level light of a late afternoon
out on the terrace, looking to the mountains,
drinking with friends. Voices and laughter
lifted in still air, in a light
that seemed to paralyze time.
We have had kindness here, and some
unkindness; now we are going on.
Though we are young enough still
And militant enough to be resolved,
Keeping our faces to the front, there is
A moment, after saying all farewells,
when we taste the dry and bitter dust
of everything that we have said and done
for many years, and our mouths are dumb,
and the easy tears will not do. Soon
the north wind will shake the leaves,
the leaves will fall. It may be
never again that we shall see them,
the strangers who stand on the steps,
smiling and waving, before the screen doors
of their suddenly forbidden houses.

"Going Away" by Howard Nemerov, from New Poems. © University of Chicago Press, 1981. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of man of letters Brendan Gill (1914) (books by this author). He was born in Hartford, Connecticut, and in 1936, graduated from Yale (where he was a member of the secretive Skull and Bones society). Later that same year, editor Harold Ross hired the 22-year-old Gill as a staff writer for The New Yorker. Gill outlasted Ross and two of Ross's successors, working under four different editors during his 61-year tenure there. He started off writing short stories for the magazine, but soon found a niche in nonfiction, as a book, theater and film critic. He also contributed anonymous pieces for the "Talk of the Town" column, and eventually had a column of his own: Sky Line was a forum for his views on the preservation of historic buildings in New York.

He wrote 15 books: biographies, social histories, fiction, criticism, and poetry. In 1975, he wrote Here at the New Yorker, about the magazine that was his professional home for so many years. The year before his death in 1997, he published Late Bloomers (1996), a book about people who achieved success later in life. The book included Harry Truman, Charles Darwin, and Edith Wharton.

Gill was a tireless supporter of architectural preservation, and would often lead free architectural walking tours of New York City on behalf of the Municipal Art Society. Alongside Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, he fought to preserve New York's iconic Grand Central Terminal in the 1970s. His book Many Masks (1987) was a biography of Frank Lloyd Wright. The two men were, in many ways, opposites — Wright worshiped nature, while Gill was an urbanite to his core — and their personalities played off each other in the book as in life; the two became close friends.

He also found time to serve on the board of several organizations; he was at one time or another chair of the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, the Municipal Art Society, and the New York Landmarks Conservancy. He was also vice president of the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

It's the birthday of the novelist Anne Rice (books by this author), born in New Orleans, Louisiana, (1941). Her father was a postal worker who wrote fiction in his spare time, and her mother was a failed Hollywood actress who was interested in the occult. Rice's mother would take her for long walks in old New Orleans neighborhoods, and she would tell Anne Rice stories about which of the various old mansions was haunted and which had been used by covens of witches.

After getting married and having a daughter, she struggled to become a writer. She began writing a short story every day as an exercise, but she couldn't get much published. Then, her five-year-old daughter was diagnosed with acute leukemia and died.

Rice fell into a deep depression and only got herself out of it by writing. She wrote constantly, and in five weeks, she had finished her first novel. It was about a vampire who becomes so lonely that he decides to turn a five-year-old girl into a vampire to keep him company. He's horrified when he realizes that she will never age, that she will remain a five-year-old forever. That novel was Interview with a Vampire (1974). It got mixed reviews and didn't sell very well. But it developed a cult following, and throughout the early 1980s, it kept selling copies, slowly becoming one of the most popular vampire novels of all time.

Rice's latest novel, The Wolves of Midwinter (2013), will be released this month. It is part of a new series called The Wolf Gift Chronicles and features a young werewolf hero named Reuben Golding.

It's the birthday of humorist Roy Blount Jr. (books by this author), born in 1941 in Indianapolis. When he was a toddler, his Southern parents moved back to Decatur, Georgia. After going to Vanderbilt University on a scholarship for students aspiring to a career in sportswriting, he did a master's in literature at Harvard and joined the military. He worked for The Atlanta Journal, then got a job writing for Sports Illustrated and wrote his first book, About Three Bricks Shy of a Load (1974). The book — about the Pittsburgh Steelers football team — was successful enough that Blount quit his job at Sports Illustrated and has made his living ever since as a freelance writer. He has contributed profiles, essays, sketches, verse, short stories, and reviews to more than a hundred different publications.

His latest book is Alphabetter Juice: or, The Joy of Text (2011).

Roy Blount Jr. said, "Language seems to me intrinsically comic — noises of the tongue, lips, larynx, and palate rendered in ink on paper with the deepest and airiest thoughts in mind and the harshest and tenderest feelings at heart."

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




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