Mar. 2, 2002

First Lesson

by Philip Booth

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Poem: "First Lesson," by Philip Booth from Lifelines: Selected Poems 1950-1999 (Viking).

First Lesson

Lie back, daughter, let your head
be tipped back in the cup of my hand.
Gently, and I will hold you. Spread
your arms wide, lie out on the stream
and look high at the gulls. A dead-
man's-float is face down. You will dive
and swim soon enough where this tidewater
ebbs to the sea. Daughter, believe
me, when you tire on the long thrash
to your island, lie up, and survive.
As you float now, where I held you
and let go, remember when fear
cramps your heart what I told you:
lie gently and wide to the light-year
stars, lie back, and the sea will hold you.

It's the birthday of novelist Peter Straub, born in Milwaukee (1943). He started out writing poetry, got a couple of his collections published, then tried his hand at a novel, Marriages (1973). When it didn't sell well, Straub said, "It unnerved me. I knew I could never hold a real job-that I'd be an impossible employee anywhere. I had to save my life by writing a book that could make some money." After his agent suggested horror stories, Straub brought out Ghost Story in 1979. He then paired up with his friend Steven King to write a collaborative novel: The Talisman (1984).

It's the birthday of novelist John Irving, born in Exeter, New Hampshire (1942). He spent some time as an assistant wrestling coach at Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire, and wrestling makes an appearance in his fourth and most widely read novel, The World According to Garp (1978). His other books include The Hotel New Hampshire (1981), The Cider House Rules (1985), and A Widow for One Year (1998). Irving says he begins his novels by creating "a character in whom the reader will make a substantial emotional investment - and then visit upon that character an unbearable amount of pain."

It's the birthday of naturalist and translator Janet Lembke, born in Cleveland, Ohio (1933), a classics scholar who has produced several translations of Greek tragedy, including Euripides' Electra (1994) and Aeschylus's Persians (1991). She is better known, however, as a nature writer, for her books Looking for Eagles: Reflections of a Classical Naturalist (1990), Dangerous Birds: A Naturalist's Aviary (1996) and River Time (1997).

It's the birthday of novelist and social commentator Tom Wolfe, Jr., born in Richmond, Virginia (1931). The son of a gentleman farmer, Wolfe went off to Yale University, then worked as a reporter for several newspapers, including the New York Herald Tribune. He went to California in 1963 on an assignment for Esquire magazine, and came back with a lot of notes but no story. He told the editor he could deliver the notes, but somebody else would have to write the story. By the time he finished the notes, they were 49 pages long, and Esquire ran the piece as it was. The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby became the title piece of Wolfe's first book, a collection of 22 magazine and newspaper pieces published in 1965. His book The Bonfire of the Vanities (1987) was one of the top ten best-selling books of the 80s.

On this day in 1923, Time magazine hit the newsstands for the first time, selling for 15 cents a copy.

It's the birthday of Doctor Seuss (Theodor Seuss Geisel), born in Springfield, Massachussets (1904), who wrote The Cat in the Hat (1957), Green Eggs and Ham (1960), How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1957), and dozens of other children's books. His first book for children was To Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street (1937), and was rejected by 27 publishers before Vanguard Press picked it up.

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