MONDAY, 18 SEPTEMBER, 2006
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Poem: "Morning News in the Bighorn Mountains" by William Notter from More Space Than Anyone Can Stand. © Texas Review Press. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Morning News in the Bighorn Mountains

The latest movie star is drunk in spite of rehab,
two or three cities had extraordinary killings,
and expensive homes are sliding off the hills
or burning again. There's an energy crisis on,
and peace in the Middle East is close as ever.
In Wyoming, just below timberline,
meteors and lightning storms
keep us entertained at night. Last week,
a squirrel wrecked the mountain bluebirds' nest.
I swat handfuls of moths in the cabin
and set them out each day,
but the birds will not come back to feed.
It snowed last in June, four inches
the day before the solstice. But summer
is winding down—the grass was frosted
this morning when we left the ranger station.
Yellow-bellied marmots are burrowing
under the outhouse vault, and ravens have left the ridges
to gorge on Mormon crickets in the meadows.
Flakes of obsidian and red flint
knapped from arrowheads hundreds of years ago
appear in the trails each day,
and the big fish fossil in the limestone cliff
dissolves a little more with every rain.


Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of Dr. Samuel Johnson, (books by this author) born in Lichfield, England (1709). He compiled one of the first comprehensive dictionaries of the English language, and finished it single-handedly in just nine years.

Dr. Johnson said, "A man ought to read just as inclination leads him, for what he reads as a task will do him little good."

And he said, "Marriage has many pains, but celibacy has no pleasures."


It was on this day in 1793 that President George Washington laid the cornerstone of the United States Capitol building. He had led a procession of local masons from the banks of the Potomac up Jenkins Hill to the Capitol's construction site. A mason himself, Washington was wearing his Masonic apron that day. He had an umbrella for the sun, but he gave it to a woman in the crowd, saying, "I have been exposed to the sun before in the course of my life." He then used a silver trowel to lay the cornerstone atop a silver plaque.

The Capitol building was subject to numerous additions, improvements, and repairs for the first fifty years of its history. It started life much smaller, with a copper dome. The original 32 senators and 106 representatives had no office space, but worked at desks, like school children. The public area under the dome served as a flea market, where vendors sold everything from silk to light machinery.

The completed version of the building, basically what we know as the Capitol today, was finished in the middle of the Civil War.


It was 155 years ago, on this day in 1851, that the first edition of The New York Times was published in a dirty, candle-lit office just off Wall Street. The founders were Henry J. Raymond and his partner George Jones, and Raymond was motivated to start the paper in part by a desire for revenge. He'd spent 10 years working for Horace Greeley at the New York Tribune, only to be laid off when he caught a fever. He intended The New York Times to put the New York Tribune out of business.

New York was not an easy place to get a newspaper off the ground. There were already dozens of papers in circulation, and the city only had a population of 500,000 people, many of them uneducated. At the time, most newspapers made no attempt at reporting the news objectively. They were full of opinions, and they were often openly associated with specific political parties. Raymond and Jones thought they could make their paper stand out by loading it with facts, instead of opinions.

Within 10 days, The Times had a circulation of 10,000. But it was languishing by the 1890s, and might have gone out of business, when a man named Adolph Ochs bought the paper on the cheap for $75,000 in 1896. He was a young newspaper editor from Chattanooga, Tennessee, and it was he who chose the paper's new motto, printed on the first page of every issue, "All the News That's Fit to Print." Ochs turned it into the most influential paper in the country largely by pouring all the profits back into the paper.

The only other New York newspaper that has survived longer than The New York Times is the New York Post.




TUESDAY, 19 SEPTEMBER, 2006
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Poem: "Aria" by George Bilgere from Haywire. © Utah State University Press. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Aria

Jussi Bjoerling, that soaring tenor,
    Was pulled down from the air.
My father pulled off to the shoulder

    And closed his eyes. Nessun Dorma,
It might have been,
                          or Cielo e Mar.

Hotter than Hades in the car
    But I knew enough by then
To shut up. Even my sisters
    For once stopped their idiot fidgeting.

Somewhere that summer, Bjoerling
    Was dying of booze.
My father had lost a lung. No more
    Singing forever.

                          Through the bridal veil
Of a cigarette, my mother
    Stared hard down the highway,
Waiting for it to be over.


Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of the journalist and editor Roger Angell, (books by this author) born in New York City (1920). He's been a fiction editor at The New Yorker Magazine since 1956. It was six years later, in 1962 that William Shawn, the editor of The New Yorker, suggested that Angell try writing about baseball. Shawn wasn't a baseball fan himself, but he knew that Angell loved the sport. He also knew that Angell could write, and he thought the two might make a good combination.

Angell went on to become one of the greatest baseball writers in history. His baseball books include The Summer Game (1972), Late Innings (1982), and Game Time (2003). His most recent book is the memoir Let Me Finish, which came out this year.

Roger Angell said, "[Baseball is] perfect for a writer, so full of specifics. I love the way a ballplayer knocks the dirt out of his spikes. The ritual that is sport is strongest in baseball."


It was on this day in 1991 that a 5,300-year-old man was found frozen in a glacier in the Alps, between Austria and Italy. He became known as the "Iceman." Why his discovery was so important for anthropologists was the fact that he died while he was out walking on an ordinary day, wearing ordinary clothing, and carrying his customary tools and weapons. His discovery gave scientists a unique opportunity to learn about early European civilization.

The man was between 25 and 35 years old, and about 5 feet 2 inches tall. His hair was about 3 1/2 inches long, which is evidence that humans were getting hair cuts much earlier in history than scientists had imagined. He also had several tattoos: parallel lines on his lower spine, a cross behind his left knee, and stripes on his right ankle. Before the discovery of the Iceman, scientists had believed that tattoos originated 2,500 years later. The Iceman was wearing an unlined fur robe, whipstitched in a mosaic pattern that suggests Neolithic Age people were great tailors. He also wore a woven grass cape, and his size-6 shoes were stuffed with grass for warmth.

He carried a copper axe and a fur quiver for his arrows—the only quiver from the Neolithic period that has ever been found. His arrows had sharp flint points and feathers affixed at an angle that would cause the arrows to spin, which showed that people at the time understood basic principles of ballistics. He carried a number of other tools in a primitive rucksack with a wooden frame, and in a leather pouch that functioned like a fanny pack. Among these tools were a ball of fibrous cord, a dagger, and a deer's antler, probably used to skin animals.

It was nearly 10 years before a forensics expert noticed in an X-ray that the Iceman had an arrowhead lodged in his back. Scientists now believe that he was murdered.


It's the birthday of William Golding, (books by this author) born in Cornwall, England (1911). Golding became a schoolteacher in 1939, but his career was interrupted by World War II, and he joined the Navy. He became a lieutenant in charge of a torpedo ship that sank the German battleship Bismarck, and he fought at the invasion of Normandy.

Golding was shocked by the violence and cruelty of war. Shortly after he came home, he wrote his first novel, Lord of the Flies (1954), about a group of boys who become stranded on a desert island and struggle for survival. One of the boys tries to establish a democracy, but a bunch of boys break off from the main group and it turns into violent anarchy.


On this day in 1995, The New York Times and The Washington Post published the Unabomber's Manifesto. The Unabomber had offered to stop mailing bombs if the manifesto would be published in the newspaper, Time, or Newsweek. The publication of the manifesto sparked a heated debate over ethics in journalism. But a man named David Kaczynski happened to read the manifesto, and he was horrified to recognize it as the work of his brother, Ted. David contacted authorities and turned his brother, Ted Kaczynski, in to the FBI. Kaczynski is now serving four consecutive life sentences in Colorado for murdering three and injuring dozens of others.




WEDNESDAY, 20 SEPTEMBER, 2006
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Poem: "And The Men" by Tony Hoagland from Hard Rain: A Chapbook. © Hollyridge Press. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

And The Men

want back in:
all the Dougs and the Michaels, the Darnells, the Erics and Josés,
they're standing by the off-ramp of the interstate
holding up cardboard signs that say WILL WORK FOR RELATIONSHIP.

Their love-mobiles are rusty.
Their Shaggin' Wagons are up on cinderblocks.
They're reading self-help books and practicing abstinence,
taking out Personals ads that say
          "Good listener would like to meet lesbian ladies,
                                       for purposes of friendship only."

In short, they've changed their minds, the men:
they want another shot at the collaborative enterprise.
Want to do fifty-fifty housework and childcare;
They want commitment renewal weekends and couples therapy.

Because being a man was finally too sad—
In spite of the perks, the lifetime membership benefits.
And it got old,
telling the joke about the hooker and the priest

at the company barbeque, praising the vintage of the beer and
           punching the shoulders of a bud
                in a little overflow of homosocial bonhomie—
Always holding the fear inside
                         like a tipsy glass of water—

Now they're ready to talk, really talk about their feelings,
in fact they're ready to make you sick with revelations of
                         their vulnerability—
A pool of testosterone is spreading from around their feet,
it's draining out of them like radiator fluid,
like history, like an experiment that failed.

So here they come on their hands and knees, the men:
Here they come. They're really beaten. No tricks this time.
                No fine print.
Please, they're begging you. Look out.


Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of the newly appointed poet laureate of the United States, Donald Hall, (books by this author) born in New Haven, Connecticut (1928). He's the author of many collections of poetry, including The Dark Houses (1958), Kicking the Leaves: Poems (1978), and Willow Temple: New and Selected Poems (2003).

As a boy, he spent summers on his grandfather's farm in New Hampshire, and he often listened to his grandfather recite long narrative poems like "Casey at the Bat." It was one of those summers at his grandfather's house that Donald Hall began writing his own first poems at a tiny desk in the room where he slept. His first literary hero was Edgar Allan Poe. Hall said, "I wanted to be mad, addicted, obsessed, haunted, and cursed; I wanted to have eyes that burned like coals, profoundly melancholy, profoundly attractive."

When he was 16, he met Robert Frost at a writers' conference, and while he was in college he met the elder poets T.S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, and Dylan Thomas. He said that meeting professional poets gave him the idea that being a poet was something that you worked at steadily, for a long time.

His collection White Apples and the Taste of Stone: Selected Poems 1946-2006 came out this year. He was named the poet laureate this June.

Donald Hall said, "I try every day to write great poetry—as I tried when I was 14. ... What else is there to do?"


It's the birthday of the muckraking novelist Upton Sinclair, (books by this author) born in Baltimore, Maryland (1878). He's best known as the author of The Jungle (1906), a novel about the meatpacking industry. He wrote the novel in protest of the meatpacking workers' horrific working conditions. Many of them were injured and killed on the job and no one seemed to care. The Jungle (1906) made Sinclair famous. President Theodore Roosevelt invited him to the White House to discuss his book. But instead of enacting legislation to protect the workers in the packinghouses, Congress passed legislation to protect the safety of the meat for consumers.


It's the birthday of one of the greatest editors of the twentieth century, Maxwell Perkins, born in New York City (1884). He joined the editorial staff of Charles Scribner's Sons as a young man, and early in his career he acquired a manuscript by a writer named F. Scott Fitzgerald. When This Side of Paradise came out in 1920, it sold more than 50,000 copies, which was almost unheard of for a first novel at the time.

Perkins went on to edit authors such as Ring Lardner, Ernest Hemingway, and Thomas Wolfe. When Wolfe turned in the manuscript for Of Time and the River, it was more than 3,000 pages long, and the pages weren't numbered. Perkins spent the next year cutting and editing. They fought a lot about the manuscript, but Wolfe was ultimately satisfied. Wolfe eventually left all his unfinished manuscripts to Perkins in his will.




THURSDAY, 21 SEPTEMBER, 2006
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Poem: "Apology to the Wasps" by Sara Littlecrow-Russell from The Secret Powers of Naming. © The University of Arizona Press. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Apology to the Wasps

Terrorized by your stings,
I took out biochemical weapons
And blasted your nest
Like it was a third world country.

I was the United States Air Force.
It felt good to be so powerful
Until I saw your family
Trailing shredded wings,
Staggering on disintegrating legs,
Trying desperately to save the eggs
You had stung to protect.


Literary and Historical Notes:

Today is an important day in the history of three related genres of literature: science fiction, horror, and fantasy. It's the birthday of the science-fiction novelist H.G. Wells, the horror novelist Stephen King, and it was on this day in 1937 that J.R.R. Tolkien published his first novel, The Hobbit.

Tolkien (books by this aurthor) was working as a professor at Oxford, where he specialized in ancient European languages, including classical Greek and Latin, Old Norse, Old English, medieval Welsh and Anglo-Saxon, and an ancient form of German called Gothic. He was especially interested in Northern European mythology. He had begun thinking about the fact that there were almost no native English fairytales, and it occurred to him that he might be able to use his knowledge of mythology to create something new.

At the time, he was supplementing his income as a professor by grading examinations in the summers. He later referred to the job as "agony." He spent hours poring over terribly written essays. And it was in the middle of one of these sessions, in the summer of 1928, going through a stack of papers, when he said, "One of the candidates mercifully left one of the pages with no writing on it—which is possibly the best thing that can happen to an examiner—and I wrote on it, "In a hole in the ground lived a hobbit."

Tolkien later said that he had no idea where the word "hobbit" came from. It had just popped into his head, out of nowhere. He was intrigued by it and decided to write a story to find out what a hobbit might be. In the story that resulted, he wrote a description of hobbits that said, in part, "[Hobbits] are (or were) a little people, about half our height, and smaller than the bearded Dwarves. ... They are inclined to be fat in the stomach; they dress in bright colours (chiefly green and yellow); wear no shoes, because their feet grow naturally leathery soles and thick warm brown hair like the stuff on their heads (which is curly); have long clever brown fingers, good-natured faces, and laugh deep fruity laughs (especially after dinner, which they have twice a day when they can get it)."

Tolkien had been thinking for years about an imaginary place he called Middle-Earth full of dwarves, elves, and wizards. He decided that his story would concern a hobbit in this world named Bilbo Baggins who goes on an adventure to help steal a treasure from a dragon named Smaug, and along the way discovers a magical ring that turns him invisible. Tolkien wrote the book by hand, sitting on a tiny bed in his attic, finishing it sometime around the mid-1930s.

He showed it to a few friends, but he had no intention of publishing it until a former student of his got a job at a publishing house and began pestering him to give her the manuscript. He finally relented, and it came out on this day in 1937.


The novelist H.G. (Herbert George) Wells, (books by this author) was born on this day in Bromley, England (1866). After college, he got married, got a job writing biology textbooks, and settled down for a few years. But when he developed a respiratory illness in his late 20s, he thought he didn't have many years to live, so he left his wife, ran away with another woman, and began writing furiously. Between 1895 and 1898, he published all of the novels for which he is best remembered: The Time Machine (1895), The Island of Dr. Moreau (1896), The Invisible Man (1897), and The War of the Worlds (1898).


The novelist Stephen King (books by this author) was born on this day in Portland, Maine (1947). His father, a merchant seaman, deserted the family when King was two. He has no memories of the man, but one day he found a boxful of his father's science-fiction and fantasy paperbacks, including an anthology of stories from Weird Tales magazine and a book by horror author H. P. Lovecraft. That box of his father's books inspired him to start writing horror stories. His first novel was Carrie (1973).

He went on to become one of the most popular novelists of all time. Before him, most horror novels took place in drafty old mansions and castles. His horror novels take place in ordinary American small towns, at fast food restaurants, local libraries, and little-league baseball games.


It's the birthday of publisher Sir Allen Lane, born Allen Williams in Bristol, England (1902). He came up with the idea of publishing high-quality literature in paperback form, and that was the beginning of Penguin Books.


It's the birthday of novelist Fannie Flagg (books by this author) born Patricia Neal in Birmingham, Alabama (1941). She's best known as the author of the novel Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café (1987).




FRIDAY, 22 SEPTEMBER, 2006
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Poem: "Once Again I Fail to Read an Important Novel" by George Bilgere from Haywire. © Utah State University Press. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Once Again I Fail to Read an Important Novel

Instead, we sit together beside the fountain,
the important novel and I.

We are having coffee together
in that quiet first hour of the morning,
respecting each other's silences
in the shadow of an important old building
in this small but significant European city.

All the characters can relax.
I'm giving them the day off.
For once they can forget about their problems—
desire, betrayal, the fatal denouement—
and just sit peacefully beside me.

In the afternoon,
at lunch near the cathedral,
and in the evening, after my lonely,
historical walk along the promenade,

the men and women, the children
and even the dogs
in the important, complicated novel
have nothing to fear from me.

We will sit quietly at the table
with a glass of cool red wine
and listen to the pigeons
questioning each other in the ancient corridors.


Literary and Historical Notes:

On this day in 1776, patriot Nathan Hale was executed for espionage. At 11:00 a.m., he stood on the gallows and uttered the most famous last words in American history: "I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country."

Hale graduated with honors from Yale, taught high school, and then joined the fight against the British during the Revolutionary War. The British were building up their forces on Long Island, and at the battle of Harlem Heights, George Washington asked for a volunteer to go behind enemy lines as a spy. Hale was the only soldier who stepped forward.

He disguised himself as a Dutch schoolmaster. For over a week he gathered information on the position of British troops, but while he was trying to return to the American side, he was captured with all of his maps and notes. He was 21 years old.


It was on this day in 1862 that President Lincoln announced one of the most important executive orders in American history, the Emancipation Proclamation, declaring slaves in rebel states free as of January 1, 1863. Since the Civil War had begun, various people had been urging Lincoln to free the slaves, but Lincoln wanted the war to be about secession, not slavery. He knew that the U.S. Constitution explicitly allowed slavery, but he believed that it did not allow secession, and he wanted to fight the war based on clear constitutional grounds.

But Lincoln had been having a hard year. He wasn't sleeping well or eating well. He'd been struggling for months with General McClellan, who refused to aggressively attack the Confederate Army. Volunteers for the military had grown scarce, and many Northern politicians claimed that Northerners didn't see the use of fighting a war over slavery that would leave slavery intact. Others, such as the former slave Frederick Douglass, argued that emancipation would encourage the slaves to join up with the North and fight for the Union Army.

And so, Lincoln changed his mind. He decided that he would issue the proclamation when his army secured a major victory. But the war only seemed to be getting worse. The Union Army was badly beaten at the Second Battle of Bull Run, and the Confederate Army began to push into the North for the first time in the course of the war. Many Northerners suddenly began to worry that they were losing the war, and members of Lincoln's own party began to question his leadership.

Then, on September 17th, the Union Army beat back the Confederates at Antietam, the bloodiest single day of the war. Five days later, on this day in 1862, Lincoln read the Emancipation Proclamation to his cabinet. His cabinet members made a few minor changes, and the proclamation was publicly announced and published that day.

The proclamation did not end slavery altogether, but it encouraged slaves to rebel against their masters and support the Union. By the end of the war, more than 500,000 slaves had fled to freedom behind Northern lines. About 200,000 black soldiers and sailors, many of them former slaves, served in the armed forces. They helped the North win the war.


It was on this day in 1961 that President John F. Kennedy (books by this author) signed legislation that created the Peace Corps. A group of 500 volunteers shipped out to nine foreign countries that first year, where they taught people to read and write, promoted effective farming techniques, and helped provide better health care. By 1965, the number of Peace Corps volunteers had grown from 500 to almost 8,000 worldwide. The following year there were more than 15,000.

The Peace Corps hasn't been as successful as Kennedy had hoped. He envisioned sending out 100,000 volunteers a year, whereas most years there have been fewer than 10,000. But over the past 35 years, a total of more than 178,000 Peace Corps volunteers have served in 137 countries. It's still going strong today.


It's the birthday of the English scientist Michael Faraday, born in Newington, Surrey, England (1791). In 1831, he found that when he moved a magnet through a coil of wire, an electric current was produced. The process was called electromagnetic induction, and Faraday's discovery led to the electric generator, the heart of the modern power plant.




SATURDAY, 23 SEPTEMBER, 2006
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Poem: "To Daffadills" by Robert Herrick. Public domain. (buy now)

To Daffadills

Faire Daffadills, we weep to see
         You haste away so soone:
As yet the early-rising Sun
     Has not attain'd his Noone.
                           Stay, stay,
           Untill the hasting day
                              Has run
           But to the Even-song;
And, having pray'd together, we
           Will goe with you along.

We have short time to stay, as you,
           We have as short a Spring;
As quick a growth to meet Decay,
           As you, or any thing
                      We die,
     As your hours doe, and drie
                                           Away,
           Like to the Summeres raine;
Or as the pearles of Mornings dew,
Ne'er to be found again.


Literary and Historical Notes:

On this day in 1806, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark returned to St. Louis from their westward expedition to the Pacific Coast. Few people had expected their return. There were various rumors afloat that the whole party had been killed, or that they'd been captured by the Mexicans and forced into slave labor. But they reached St. Louis on this day in 1806, and almost a thousand residents of the city stood on the banks of the river to watch their arrival. They were welcomed by cheers, gunfire salutes, and ringing bells.

They carried with them the first tentative maps of the American West and the most detailed journals ever kept of an exploratory expedition, with notes on the events of every single day of their journey. Their report of what they discovered filled Americans with excitement about the West, and launched a flood of expansion across the newly purchased Louisiana Territory.


Today is the day that Greeks celebrate the birthday of the tragic poet Euripides, (books by this author) who is believed to have been born near Athens in 480 B.C. Of the three poets of Greek tragedy whose plays survive, Euripides' plays survive in the greatest number. He probably wrote 92 plays that ancient people knew of, and 19 of them have been preserved.

Compared to other tragedians, Euripides portrayed the gods as much more petty and uncaring, and he made his characters more human, flawed, and fully rounded. He was also one of the first writers to treat women as major characters in his plays. He's best known for his tragedy Medea (431 B.C.), about a woman who murders her own sons to get back at the husband who left her.


It's the birthday of singer and songwriter Bruce Springsteen, born in Freehold, New Jersey (1949). He was a working-class kid, his father taking odd jobs, his mother working as a secretary to support the family. He didn't do well in school, and people thought he was weird because he didn't seem to have any ambition for anything. Then one day, he saw Elvis Presley perform on TV and that inspired him to scrape together 18 dollars to buy a battered second-hand guitar.

Springsteen was the leader of a series of hard-rock bands with names like the Rogues, the Castiles, the Steel Mill, and Dr. Zoom and the Sonic Boom. He played his early gigs at private parties, firemen's balls, trailer parks, prisons, state mental hospitals, a rollerdrome, and even a shopping center parking lot.


It's the birthday of jazz saxophonist John Coltrane, born in Hamlet, North Carolina (1926). He played the tenor saxophone because he believed Charlie Parker had exhausted the possibilities of the alto saxophone. He got his big break when Miles Davis hired him in the mid-1950s, and he played on Davis's masterpiece Kind of Blue (1959).

He had spent most of his life addicted to heroin, but just two years before he died he finally kicked the habit and got religion. He wrote and recorded the album A Love Supreme (1964) as a way of expressing his new faith, and that album is now generally considered his masterpiece.


And it's the birthday of singer Ray Charles, born Ray Charles Robinson in Albany, Georgia (1930). They called him the "Father of Soul." He first got national attention in the mid-1950s with his performance of "I Got A Woman," which fused rhythm and blues, gospel, and jazz.


On this day in 1939, Sigmund Freud (books by this author) died in his study in Hampstead, London. He had undergone 33 operations for cancer of the palate and the jaw, and was in constant pain. His daughter Anna had laid aside her work to nurse him. He had difficulty hearing and speaking; finally, he could no longer eat. His doctor, Max Schur, came to see him, and Freud grasped him by the hand. "My dear Schur," he said, "you remember our first talk. You promised to help me when I could no longer carry on. It is only torture now, and it has no longer any sense." Schur gave Freud a third of a grain of morphine; he fell into a coma, and died 36 hours later.




SUNDAY, 24 SEPTEMBER, 2006
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Poem: "A Morning In Autumn" by W.S. Merwin from Migration: New and Selected Poems. © Copper Canyon Press. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

A Morning In Autumn

Here late into September
I can sit with the windows
of the stone room swung open
to the plum branches still green
above the two fields bare now
fresh-plowed under the walnuts
and watch the screen of ash trees
and the river below them

and listen to the hawk's cry
over the misted valley
beyond the shoulder of woods
and to lambs in a pasture
on the slope and a chaffinch
somewhere down in the sloe hedge
and silence from the village
behind me and from the years

and can hear the light rain come
the note of each drop playing
into the stone by the sill
I come slowly to hearing
then all at once too quickly
for surprise I hear something
and think I remember it
and will know it afterward

in a few days I will be
a year older one more year
a year farther and nearer
and with no sound from there on
mute as the native country
that was never there again
now I hear walnuts falling
in the country I came to


Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of F. Scott Fitzgerald, (books by this author) born in St. Paul, Minnesota (1896). He was born in a rented apartment on Laurel Avenue in St. Paul, down the street from Summit Avenue, where the richest citizens of the city lived. His mother came from a well-to-do family, but his father was the proprietor of a wicker furniture business that never made a whole lot of money. Fitzgerald grew up feeling self-conscious about his family's social status.

His father's wicker furniture business eventually failed, and the family had to move to Buffalo, New York, where Fitzgerald's father sold soap for Procter and Gamble. Then, one day, Fitzgerald saw his mother answer the telephone, and he knew by watching her face that something terrible had happened. He later wrote, "My mother, a little while before, had given me a quarter to go swimming. I gave the money back to her. ... I thought she could not spare the money now." It turned out that his father had lost his job, and the family had to move back to St. Paul, to live with his wealthy grandmother. Fitzgerald started writing when he got back to St. Paul, mainly as a way to keep from being bored during his classes. He said, "I wrote all through every class in school in the back of my geography book and first year Latin and on the margins of themes and declensions and mathematics problems."

He did so poorly in school that his parents sent him off to a Catholic boarding school on the East coast, but he didn't do well there. He might have gone on to the University of Minnesota, but just before his graduation from high school his grandmother died and left her fortune to his mother, which made it possible for Fitzgerald to go to Princeton. He had a vision of becoming a Princeton football star, but he weighed only 138 pounds and he was cut from the team on the first day. He found that he felt just as out of place at Princeton has he had always felt. He said, "That was always my experience—a poor boy in a rich town; a poor boy in a rich boy's school, a poor boy in a rich man's club at Princeton."

In 1914, Fitzgerald met a beautiful, rich 16-year-old girl named Ginevra King, and he fell madly in love with her. He followed her around at dances and parties, but she was unwilling to commit to dating just one man. One night, he overheard someone say that poor boys should not try to marry rich girls. A year later, Ginevra informed Fitzgerald that she was engaged. He later wrote in a letter to his daughter, "She was the first girl I ever loved ... [and] she ended up by throwing me over with the most supreme boredom and indifference."

So he wrote his first novel about her, while he awaited commission as an army officer. He called the novel The Romantic Egoist. It tells the story of young man named Amory Blaine who falls in love with a beautiful blond debutante named Rosalind Connage and then loses her because she doesn't want to marry someone with so little money. Fitzgerald eventually changed the title to This Side of Paradise. When it came out in 1920, it made Fitzgerald famous almost over night. He finally got to be rich, if only briefly. By the time the stock market crashed in 1929, Fitzgerald's marriage was falling apart and his books weren't selling anymore. He died in 1940 at the age of 44. That year, all of his books sold a total of 72 copies, with royalties of $13.

F. Scott Fitzgerald said, "What people are ashamed of usually makes a good story."




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