Aug. 28, 2002

The Way We Live

by Kathleen Jamie

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Poem: "The Way We Live," by Kathleen Jamie from Mr. & Mrs. Scotland are Dead: Poems 1980-1994 (Bloodaxe Books).

The Way We Live

Pass the tambourine, let me bash out praises
to the Lord God of movement, to Absolute
non-friction, flight, and the scarey side:
death by avalanche, birth by failed contraception.
Of chicken tandoori and reggae, loud, from tenements,
commitment, driving fast and unswerving
friendship. Of tee-shirts on pulleys, giros and Bombay,
barmen, dreaming waitresses with many fake-gold
bangles. Of airports, impulse, and waking to uncertainty,
to strip-lights, motorways, or that pantheon -
the mountains. To overdrafts and grafting

and the fit slow pulse of wipers as you're
creeping over Rannoch, while the God of moorland
walks abroad with his entourage of freezing fog,
his bodyguard of snow.
Of endless gloaming in the North, of Asiatic swelter,
to launderettes, anecdotes, passions and exhaustion,
Final Demands and dead men, the skeletal grip
of government. To misery and elation; mixed,
the sod and caprice of landlords.
To the way it fits, the way it is, the way it seems
to be: let me bash out praises - pass the tambourine.

It's the feast day of Saint Augustine, the patron saint of theologians, printers and brewers.

It's the birthday of Rita Dove, born in Akron, Ohio (1952). Her collection of poems about her grandparents, Thomas and Beulah (1986), won a Pulitzer Prize, and she was named Poet Laureate in 1993. She said that at different points in her life, different poets had been important to her, but that when she was a child, her favorites were Shakespeare, Edna St.Vincent Millay, and Mother Goose.

It's the birthday of Janet Frame, born in Dunedin, New Zealand (1924). She's New Zealand's most famous writer, and was shortlisted for the Nobel Prize in 1998. She's written twenty books, including The Lagoon (1951) and Owls Do Cry (1957). Her memoirs were made into the film An Angel at My Table. As a child, she lost her two sisters to drowning, one ten years after the other. When she was a university student, she checked herself into a mental hospital, and was diagnosed as schizophrenic. They gave her two hundred electro-shock treatments. She was released when the hospital director was informed that The Lagoon had won New Zealand's most important prize for fiction. She had been on the waiting list for a lobotomy.

It's the birthday of Robertson Davies, born in Thamesville, Ontario (1913). He published a dozen novels, including What's Bred in the Bone (1985) and The Cunning Man (1995), as well as plays, essays and criticism.

It's the birthday of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, born in Frankfurt am Main (1749). He was at the center of the German Enlightenment; he knew Schiller, Holderlin, Schelling, and Hegel. He wrote the verse drama Faust, the novel The Sorrows of Young Werther, hundreds of essays, volumes of lyric poetry, and an exhaustive treatise on the physics of light and color, which he wrote in opposition to Newton's work on the subject. Newton had reduced light and color to mathematical formulae.

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