Jun. 5, 2003

Calling Your Father

by Robert Bly

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Poem: "Calling Your Father," by Robert Bly from Eating the Honey of Words (Harper Collins).

Calling Your Father

There was a boy who never got enough.
You know what I mean. Something
In him longed to find the big
Mother, and he leaped into the sea.

It took a while, but a whale
Agreed to swallow him.
He knew it was wrong, but once
Past the baleen, it was too late.

It's OK. There's a curved library
Inside, and those high
Ladders. People take requests.
It's like the British Museum.

But one has to build a fire.
Maybe it was the romance
Novels he burned. Smoke curls
Up the gorge. She coughs.

And that's it. The boy swims to shore;
It's a fishing town in Alaska.
He finds a telephone booth,
And calls his father. "Let's talk."

Literary Notes:

It's the birthday of Welsh novelist Ken Follett born in Cardiff, Wales (1949). He was a crime reporter for the Evening News in London when he wrote his first mystery novel, The Big Needle (1974), very quickly to pay for his car repairs. It was not a success. He kept writing, rapidly. In the next four years he published twelve books, including Eye of the Needle (1978), which sold five million copies and became a best seller in twenty languages. He was twenty-nine, "the world's youngest millionaire author."

It's the birthday of English novelist Margaret Drabble, born in Sheffield, Yorkshire (1939). Her older sister, A. S. Byatt, is also a novelist. Drabble's early novels, including A Summer Bird-Cage (1963), The Garrick Year (1965), and The Millstone (1965), are full of what Drabble calls "high-powered girls" -- female protagonists who are young, attractive, and smart. Her recent novels include The Peppered Moth (2001), about four generations of a Yorkshire mining family, and The Seven Sisters (2002), which came out last year. She said, "Family life itself, that safest, most traditional, most approved of female choices, is not a sanctuary: It is, perpetually, a dangerous place."

It's the birthday of British dramatist David Hare, born in Sussex, England (1947). He's a prolific writer and director. He has written two dozen plays, twelve feature films, and three books, many of them about British institutions -- the legal system, the Labor Party, the Church of England. He said, "My first rule of playwrighting is that scenes must be rivers, not lakes. They must go somewhere."

It's the birthday of Spanish poet and playwright Federico Garcia Lorca, born in Fuente Vaqueros, Granada, Spain (1898). He is the most important Spanish poet and playwright of the twentieth century, known primarily for his Andalusian works, including the poetry collections Gypsy Ballads (1928) and Lament for a Bullfighter (1935). He wrote the comedy The Shoemaker's Prodigious Wife (1930) and the tragedy Blood Wedding (1933). Lorca grew up in a small village in Andalusia, in southern Spain, a place untouched by the modern world. He fell in love with poetry, with Shakespeare, Goethe, and the Spanish poet Antonio Machado. He moved to Madrid, where he met other poets his age and the artist Salvador Dali, who became his close friend and lover. His Gypsy Ballads made him suddenly famous in 1929. But he suffered from depression and sought escape by traveling to New York City and Cuba. He was astounded by New York. He loved it at first -- he was awed by the skyscrapers and thought the people were incredibly friendly. He went to parties where he would entertain people by playing piano and teaching them Spanish songs. He never learned English, and gradually, he became disillusioned with the city. He wrote, "The only things that the United States has given to the world are skyscrapers, jazz, and cocktails. That is all. And in Cuba, in our America, they make much better cocktails." He was not a political person, but when the Spanish Civil War broke out in the summer of 1936 he was arrested by General Francisco Franco's Nationalist forces for his homosexuality and liberal views. On August 18, he was taken to the foothills of the Sierra Nevada, six miles from Granada. Shortly before dawn, next to a stand of olive trees on the hillside, he was shot. He was just 38.

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