Feb. 2, 2003


by Kenneth Rexroth

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Poem: "Growing," by Kenneth Rexroth from Sacramental Sets: The Love Poems of Kenneth Reproth (Copper Canyon Press).


Who are you? Who am I? Haunted
By the dead, by the dead and the past and the
Falling inertia of unreal, dead
Men and things. Haunted by the threat
Of the impersonal, that which
Never will admit the person,
The closed world of things. Who are
You? Coming up out of the
Mineral earth, one pale leaf
Unlike any other unfolding,
And then another, strange, new,
Utterly different, nothing
I ever expected, growing
Up out of my warm heart's blood.
All new, all strange, all different.
Your own leaf pattern, your own
Flower and fruit, but fed from
One root, the root of our fused flesh.
I and thou, from the one to
The dual, from the dual
To the other, the wonderful,
Unending, unfathomable
Process of becoming each
Our selves for each other.

It is the birthday of poet and novelist James Dickey, born in Atlanta, Georgia (1923). His interest in writing began with poetry, which he learned to appreciate from his father, a lawyer, who would read the young Dickey famous speeches to the jury. Dickey's first purchase was a volume of Byron's poetry. Though he considered poetry his first love, it was his novel Deliverance (1970), about four men trapped together on a white-water canoe trip in the Georgia wilderness, and the movie adaptation that followed, that gave him his most fame.

It's the birthday of James Joyce, born in Rathgar, Ireland just outside Dublin (1882). As a teenager, he taught himself Norwegian so that he could read Henrik Ibsen, his favorite playwright, in the original. Joyce wasn't always modest. He was proud of his singing voice. When the medal he won in a singing contest was merely a bronze, he flung it into the Liffey River. When a woman asked him who he thought was the greatest living writer, he said, "Aside from myself, I don't know." His classic Ulysses, which is based on the epic story of the Odyssey, follows three characters through one day in Dublin, June 16, 1904. This date was chosen because it was the day Joyce met his wife, Nora Barnacle. A year before his death, Nora told him, "Well, Jim, I haven't read any of your books but I'll have to someday because they must good considering how well they sell." Joyce said: "I want to give a picture of Dublin so complete that if the city one day disappeared from the earth it could be reconstructed out of my book." He said this despite living in a self-imposed exile from the city for the last two thirds of his life. June 16 is still celebrated in Dublin as "Bloomsday," named for Leopold Bloom, the novel's main character. Joyce's final novel, Finnegan's Wake (1939), is based on an Irish folk tale wherein an old fisherman is awoken by whiskey splashing on his face during his funeral. It is an incredibly difficult text, combining Irish folktales, word play in many languages, and in some places, 100-letter nonsense words. The book begins in the middle of a sentence, and ends at the beginning of that same sentence, making it a never-ending cycle. Joyce's wife one day asked him, "Why don't you write books people can read?" He said, "I've put in so many enigmas and puzzles that it will keep the professors busy for centuries arguing over what I meant, and that's the only way of insuring one's immortality."

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