Jul. 21, 2003

Being Boring

by Wendy Cope

MONDAY, 21 JULY 2003
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Poem: "Being Boring," by Wendy Cope from If I Don't Know (Faber and Faber).

Being Boring
'May you live in interesting times.' Chinese curse

If you ask me 'What's new?', I have nothing to say
Except that the garden is growing.
I had a slight cold but it's better today.
I'm content with the way things are going.
Yes, he is the same as he usually is,
Still eating and sleeping and snoring.
I get on with my work. He gets on with his.
I know this is all very boring.

There was drama enough in my turbulent past:
Tears and passion - I've used up a tankful.
No news is good news, and long may it last.
If nothing much happens, I'm thankful.
A happier cabbage you never did see,
My vegetable spirits are soaring.
If you're after excitement, steer well clear of me.
I want to go on being boring.

I don't go to parties. Well, what are they for,
If you don't need to find a new lover?
You drink and you listen and drink a bit more
And you take the next day to recover.
Someone to stay home with was all my desire
And, now that I've found a safe mooring,
I've just one ambition in life: I aspire
To go on and on being boring.

Literary Notes:

It's the birthday of poet Wendy Cope, born in Erith, Kent, England (1945). She's known for her humorous poems in collections like Men and Their Boring Arguments (1988) and her most recent collection If I Don't Know (2001).

It's the birthday of novelist John Gardner, born in Batavia, New York (1933). He's best known for his novel Grendel (1971), which is a retelling of Beowulf from the point of view of the monster.

It's the birthday of Tess Gallagher, born in Port Angeles, Washington (1943). She's the author of many collections of poetry, including My Black Horse: New and Selected Poems (1995).

It's the birthday of poet Hart Crane, born Harold Crane in Garrettsville, Ohio (1899). He's best known for his epic poem The Bridge (1930). His father was the wealthy owner of a candy company, and his parents didn't get along very well. His mother was a terrible hypochondriac, and Crane spent his childhood listening to her complain about imaginary illnesses. He never finished high school, but moved to New York City, hoping to attend Columbia University. They didn't take him. He tried to enlist in the Army, but they wouldn't take him either because he was a minor. He was a homosexual and a bohemian. He loved to drink and pick up sailors in the Brooklyn Naval Yard, though he often got beat up and robbed by the men he propositioned. His father constantly threatened to disown him unless he got a real job. In a letter to his father he wrote, "Try to imagine working for the pure love of simply making something beautiful… then maybe you will see why I am not so foolish after all to have followed what seems sometimes only a faint star." He had begun writing publishable poems in his early teens, but he wanted to write an epic poem like Walt Whitman's "Song of Myself" or T.S. Eliot's "The Wasteland." Every day, he spent hours looking out the window of his apartment at the Brooklyn Bridge, and it gave him an idea for a book-length poem about America called The Bridge (1930). It was his masterpiece, but it got mixed reviews when it was published in 1930. Crane spent his last few years traveling in Cuba and Mexico, drinking and struggling with writer's block. He once threw his typewriter out the window in frustration. In 1932, while sailing on a ship from Havana to New York, he came out on the deck wearing a topcoat over his pajamas. He took off his coat, folded it neatly over the rail, and jumped into the Gulf of Mexico. His body was never found.

It's the birthday of Ernest Hemingway, born in Oak Park, Illinois (1899). As a young man, he wanted to fight in World War I, but he had bad eyesight so he volunteered as an ambulance driver for the American Red Cross in Italy. Only one month after he started, he was passing out chocolates to Italian soldiers on the frontlines and got hit by shrapnel from an exploding shell. He spent several weeks in the hospital, where he started suffering from insomnia. He couldn't sleep without a light on for fear that he might die in the night. He traveled back to his parents' home, still recuperating from his injury. He walked around with a cane, read everything he could get his hands on, and taught his sisters Italian swear words. He was a small town war hero, and often spoke at schools and social clubs about his experience in the war. He always passed around his bloodstained, shrapnel-torn trousers. In a letter to a friend he wrote, "They've tried to make a hero out of me here. But you know and I know that all the real heroes are dead." Hemingway continued living with his parents for months, occasionally hunting and fishing with friends. He wrote a few adventure stories about the war and sent them to the Saturday Evening Post, but they were rejected. His parents accused him of "sponging," told him to get a real job, and his mother finally threw him out of the house when he was twenty-one. He got married, moved to Paris, and started hanging out with writers like Ezra Pound, James Joyce, and Gertrude Stein. He was forced to begin over again when he lost a suitcase that carried every manuscript and every copy of every manuscript he had written so far in Paris. Hemingway tried to write as simply and objectively as possible, using very few adjectives or adverbs. After he published For Whom the Bell Tolls in 1940, he began to struggle with his writing, worrying that he was repeating himself. He worked for years on a huge manuscript, and finally published just a small part of it as The Old Man and the Sea (1953), about a fisherman who catches a huge fish, only to have it eaten by sharks before he can get home. The book won the Pulitzer Prize, and a year later Hemingway was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. Ernest Hemingway said, "All good books are alike in that they are truer than if they had really happened and after you are finished reading one you will feel that all that happened to you and afterwards it all belongs to you; the good and the bad, the ecstasy, the remorse, and sorrow, the people and the places and how the weather was."

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