Jun. 7, 2004

I'll Be Seeing You

by Jo McDougall

MONDAY, 7 JUNE, 2004
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Poem: "I'll Be Seeing You," by Jo McDougall, from Towns Facing Railroads. © University of Arkansas Press. Reprinted with permission.

I'll Be Seeing You

World War II is slipping away, I can feel it.
Its officers are gray.
Their wives who danced at the USO
are gray, too.
Veterans forget their stories. Some lands they fought in
have new names, and Linda Venetti
who deserted the husband who raised cows
to run off with an officer
has come home to look after her mother
and work the McDonald's morning shift.
William Holden is dead,
and my mother, who knew all the words
to "When the Lights Go On Again All over the World."

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of poet Gwendolyn Brooks, born in Topeka, Kansas (1917). She's the author of the collections A Street in Bronzeville (1945), The Bean Eaters (1960) and In the Mecca (1968). In 1949 she became the first black author to win the Pulitzer Prize, for her collection Annie Allen.It's the birthday of poet Gwendolyn Brooks, born in Topeka, Kansas (1917). She's the author of the collections A Street in Bronzeville (1945), The Bean Eaters (1960) and In the Mecca (1968). In 1949 she became the first black author to win the Pulitzer Prize, for her collection Annie Allen.

It's the birthday of novelist Elizabeth Bowen, born in Dublin, Ireland (1899). She's known for writing about British upper-class society in novels such as The Death of the Heart (1938) and A World of Love (1955).

Bowen said, "The genius of memory is that it is choosy, chancy, and temperamental: it rejects the edifying cathedral and indelibly photographs the small boy outside, chewing a hunk of melon in the dust."

She wrote in a letter to the writer V.S. Pritchett, "Solitary ... people don't have relationships; they are quite unrelatable. If you and I were capable of being altogether house-trained and made jolly, we should be nicer people, but not writers."

It's the birthday of poet and novelist Louise Erdrich, born in Little Falls, Minnesota (1954). She's best known for her series of four books that follow three generations of Chippewa Indians in North Dakota during the twentieth century: Love Medicine (1984), The Beet Queen (1986), Tracks (1988) and The Bingo Palace (1994).

She grew up on the plains of North Dakota. Her father was of German descent and her mother was a Chippewa Indian. They encouraged her writing right from the beginning: Her father gave her a nickel for every story she wrote, and her mother wove together strips of construction paper to make book covers for them. Erdrich later said, "At an early age, I felt myself to be a published author earning substantial royalties."

Her newest novel, The Master Butchers Singing Club (2003) just came out in paperback. It begins: "Fidelis walked home from the great war in twelve days and slept thirty-eight hours once he crawled into his childhood bed. When he woke in Germany in late November of the year 1918, he was only a few centimeters away from becoming French on Clemenceau and Wilson's redrawn map, a fact that mattered nothing compared to what there might be to eat."

It's the birthday of novelist Harry Crews, born in Bacon County, Georgia (1935). He's the author of many novels, including The Gypsy's Curse (1977), Body (1990) and Celebration (1997).

He grew up on a series of farms in one of the poorest parts of Georgia. He said the only reason he knew that there was a world outside of rural Georgia was through books. When he was 17 he volunteered for the Marines. He went off to fight in Korea, and it was there that he got his real education, reading whatever books he could get his hands on. He later said, "When I got to my first duty station and walked into the base library, it was like throwing a starving man a turkey. I did my time in the Corps with a book always at hand."

When he got back from Korea, he went to the University of Florida on the G.I. Bill, but he dropped out after two years to drive around the country on his motorcycle. He later said, "Choking and gasping from Truth and Beauty, I gave up on school for a Triumph motorcycle." During his road trip, he worked as a bartender, a cook, and a caller at a carnival sideshow. He also began writing, but it wasn't until 1968 that his first book, The Gospel Singer, was published.

Crews said, "Nothing good in the world has ever been done by well-rounded people. The good work is done by people with jagged, broken edges, because those edges cut things and leave an imprint, a design."

And he said, "Writers spend all their time preoccupied with just the things that their fellow men and women spend their time trying to avoid thinking about .... It takes great courage to look where you have to look, which is in yourself, in your experience, in your relationship with fellow beings, your relationship to the earth, to the spirit or to the first cause—to look at them and make something of them."

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®




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