May 15, 2002


by Dorianne Laux

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Poem: "Dust," by Dorianne Laux, from What We Carry (BOA Editions).


Someone spoke to me last night,
told me the truth. Just a few words,
but I recognized it.
I knew I should make myself get up,
write it down, but it was late,
and I was exhausted from working
all day in the garden, moving rocks.
Now, I remember only the flavor-
not like food, sweet or sharp.
More like a fine powder, like dust.
And I wasn't elated or frightened,
but simply rapt, aware.
That's how it is sometimes-
God comes to your window,
all bright light and black wings,
and you're just too tired to open it.

It's the birthday of American photographer Richard Avedon, born in New York City (1923). He first tried his hand at fashion photography when he was a boy in New York, taking snapshots of his beautiful younger sister. His fashion shots showed his models being active and having fun, not just standing still in a studio, and his work revolutionized fashion photography.

It's the birthday of writer, editor, and book-lover Clifton Fadiman, born in Brooklyn, New York (1904). In the 30s and 40s, he was the host of the popular radio program "Information Please," which earned him a reputation for being a human encyclopedia. For over fifty years he was, in fact, on the Board of Editors of the Encyclopedia Britannica, and compiled the Treasury of the Encyclopedia Britannica (1992). He was also the book editor for the New Yorker and a founder of the Book-of-the-Month Club.

It's the birthday of American writer Katherine Anne Porter, born in Indian Creek, Texas (1890). She wrote one long-awaited and much-publicized novel, Ship of Fools (1962), but she was best known as a writer of brilliant and subtle short stories. She published three collections of short stories: Flowering Judas (1930), Pale Horse, Pale Rider (1939), and The Leaning Tower (1944). She said: "I specialize in what the French call la petite histoire. I am interested in the individual thumbprint."

It's the birthday of Austrian playwright and novelist Arthur Schnitzler, born in Vienna (1862). He wrote a medical thesis on the treatment of neuroses-and became known in the literary world for his psychological dramas about the Viennese middle class. His famous erotic play, Reigen (1897), or Hands Around, scandalized audiences when it was finally performed for the first time in 1920. Riots broke out in Berlin at the debut, and the author was brought up on obscenity charges.

It's the birthday of L(yman) Frank Baum, born near Syracuse, New York (1856). He started out managing and writing plays for a small-town theater owned by his wealthy father. After his father died, he took over the family business, but a dishonest employee bilked him of his fortune. Hoping to start over, he and his wife and children moved to Aberdeen, South Dakota, and then to Chicago, where he started a successful magazine. His first book was a collection of Mother Goose stories that he originally wrote down for his sons; it was called Mother Goose in Prose (1897). He followed it with a sequel, Father Goose, His Book (1899). His next book was about a girl named Dorothy who gets whisked away from her home in Kansas by a tornado, and lands in a magical land called Oz. Baum came up with the name when his eyes rested on a two-drawer filing cabinet in his study; the top drawer was labeled A-N, the bottom drawer was labeled O-Z. Thirteen sequels followed before Baum's death in 1919.

It's the birthday of British novelist Edward George Bulwer-Lytton, born in London, England (1803). He is most famous, or infamous, as the author of long-winded historical novels like The Last Days of Pompeii (1834) and Harold, the Last of the Saxon Kings (1848). His novel Paul Clifford (1830) opens with one of the most famous opening lines in all of English literature: "It was a dark and stormy night..." The full first line is: "It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents-except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness." It's an example of the kind of clunky prose that inspired the creation, in 1982, of the annual Bulwer-Lytton Ficton Contest, sponsored by San José State University. The winner of the contest is the one who comes up with the most long-winded and inept opening sentence.

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




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