Jul. 15, 2003

the great escape

by Charles Bukowski

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Poem: "the great escape," by Charles Bukowski from Sifting Through the Madness for the Word, the Line, the Way (Ecco Press).

the great escape

listen, he said, you ever seen a bunch of crabs in a
no, I told him.
well, what happens is that now and then one crab
will climb up on top of the others
and begin to climb toward the top of the bucket,
then, just as he's about to escape
another crab grabs him and pulls him back
really? I asked.
really, he said, and this job is just like that, none
of the others want anybody to get out of
here. that's just the way it is
in the postal service!
I believe you, I said.

just then the supervisor walked up and said,
you fellows were talking.
there is no talking allowed on this

I had been there for eleven and one-half

I got up off my stool and climbed right up the
and then I reached up and pulled myself right
out of there.

it was so easy it was unbelievable.
but none of the others followed me.

and after that, whenever I had crab legs
I thought about that place.
I must have thought about that place
maybe 5 or 6 times

before I switched to lobster.

Literary Notes:

It's the birthday of American poet and humorist Richard Armour, born in San Pedro, California in 1906. He wrote over forty books, and thousands of articles and poems for two hundred magazines in America and England. He wrote spoofs like Twisted Tales of Shakespeare (1957), collections of light verse like Nights with Armour (1958), and other funny books including Going Around in Academic Circles (1965) and Golf is a Four-Letter Word (1962). He fought in World War II and the Korean War, and later got a PhD from Harvard. He lectured at hundreds of colleges around the world, on both light and serious subjects. He wrote, "In larger things we are convivial / What causes trouble is the trivial." He once said: "If I were marooned on a desert island and could have but one book with me, it would be a dictionary. Of course, I should like to have a Bible with me also, for respectability if I should have visitors."

It's the birthday of the writer Thomas Bulfinch, born in Newton, Massachusetts (1796), the son of the great architect Charles Bulfinch. He learned the classics at Harvard, but then he took a job as a clerk at a Boston bank, and kept it for the rest of his life. It was easy, and it left him time for writing and reading. He wrote three books about legends and myths of modern cultures, but his break came with the book The Age of Fable (1855), which retold all of the important Greek and Roman myths. It became known as Bulfinch's Mythology, and it was the main source of these myths for American readers for many generations.

It's the birthday of the British adventure writer Ralph Hammond Innes, born in Horsham, in the county of Sussex, England (1914). He wrote thirty-five novels, as well as several children's books and travel guides. He had a regular pattern of six months of travel and research, then six months of writing. Among his books are The Doppelganger (1937), Wreckers Must Breathe (1940), and Delta Connection (1996).

It's the birthday of writer Iris Murdoch, born in Dublin, Ireland (1919), author of the novels A Severed Head (1961), The Black Prince (1973), and Jackson's Dilemma (1995). She wrote twenty-six novels over forty years. She would type two copies of each finished manuscript, seal them in plastic bags, and carry them personally to the publisher. She was a perfectionist, and never let publishers change a word of what she had written. Her stories often begin with two people discovering love at first sight. This was common in her own family. Her grandfather had been tending sheep one summer day when he noticed a runaway horse galloping by with an alarmed girl on its back. He rescued her, and they were married in the fall. Iris's parents saw one another on a tram in Dublin during the first World War. And Iris herself was bicycling past the Oxford college window of John Bayley, when he spotted her and made a quick decision that she was the one for him.

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