Friday

Aug. 22, 2014

You're the Top

by Tony Hoagland

Of all the people that I've ever known
I think my grandmother Bernice
would be best qualified to be beside me now

driving north of Boston in a rented car
while Cole Porter warbles on the radio;
Only she would be trivial and un-

politically correct enough to totally enjoy
the rhyming of Mahatma Ghandi
with Napoleon brandy;

and she would understand, from 1948,
the miracle that once was cellophane,
which Porter rhymes with night in Spain.

She loved that image of the high gay life
where people dressed by servants
turned every night into the Ritz:

dancing through a shower of just
uncorked champagne
into the shelter of a dry martini.

When she was 70 and I was young
I hated how a life of privilege
had kept her ignorance intact

about the world beneath her pretty feet,
how she believed that people with good manners
naturally had yachts, knew how to waltz

and dribbled French into their sentences
like salad dressing. My liberal adolescent rage
was like a righteous fist back then

that wouldn't let me rest,
but I've come far enough from who I was
to see her as she saw herself:

a tipsy debutante in 1938,
kicking off a party with her shoes;
launching the lipstick-red high heel
                     from her elegant big toe

into the orbit of a chandelier
suspended in a lyric by Cole Porter,
bright and beautiful and useless.

"You're the Top" by Tony Hoagland, from Sweet Ruin. © The University of Wisconsin Press, 1992. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

On this date in 1864, 12 European nations signed the First Geneva Convention, marking the beginning of the international humanitarian law movement. The convention was initiated by Henri Dunant, the founder of the International Committee for the Relief of the Wounded, which would later become the International Committee of the Red Cross. He had been horrified by the carnage he witnessed during the war for the unification of Italy, especially the Battle of Solferino (1859), which resulted in 40,000 casualties, many of whom were just left to die on the battlefield. Switzerland agreed to host the convention for the "Amelioration of the Wounded in the Time of War." The First Convention concerned itself mostly with setting ground rules to establish fair treatment of combatants, the obligation to treat sick and wounded regardless of what side they were on, and the protection of medical personnel, vehicles, and equipment. Subsequent conventions extended protection to prisoners of war, shipwreck survivors, and civilians during wartime.

Twelve nations attended the First Geneva Convention and signed the treaty on August 22; it was ratified by all the major European powers within three years. Clara Barton, a nurse in the American Civil War, led the drive for ratification in the United States; it eventually passed in 1882.

It's the birthday of Annie Proulx, (books by this author) born Edna Annie Proulx in Norwich, Connecticut (1935). As a young woman, she lived in Vermont, published a small newspaper, and supported herself writing how-to books about things like apple cider and fence-building. Some of her early stories were about hunting and fishing, since she was passionate about those pursuits; the only outlet for them was men's outdoor magazines, though, and the editors made her publish them as E.A. Proulx, believing men wouldn't read them if they knew a woman had written them. "The ones who suggested it were from a small Vermont publication," she told Paris Review, "and I got back this awful letter, full of bad spelling and clumsy syntax, suggesting that I should change my name to initials. Very tiresome." She put up with it for a while, but then started writing as "E. Annie" and then "Annie."

Her freelance writing jobs taught her how to research almost anything, and she has since made a career writing fiction based on her extensive research. To write her first novel Postcards (1992), she traveled back and forth across America, stopping in all the places where her homeless main character worked and lived. After she finished that novel, she stumbled upon a map of Newfoundland. She said, "Each place-name had a story — Dead Man's Cove, Seldom Come Bay and Bay of Despair, Exploits River, Plunder Beach. I knew I had to go there, and within 10 minutes of arriving, I'd fallen in love." She explored the island, examined maps, and went to bed every night with a Newfoundland vernacular dictionary. The result was her novel The Shipping News (1993), which became a best-seller and won the Pulitzer Prize.

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

 









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