Jun. 22, 2004

Having Come This Far

by James Broughton

TUESDAY, JUNE 22, 2004
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Poem: "Having Come This Far," by James Broughton, from Packing up for Paradise. © Black Sparrow Press. Reprinted with permission.

Having Come This Far

I've been through what my through was to be
I did what I could and couldn't
I was never sure how I would get there

I nourished an ardor for thresholds
for stepping stones and for ladders
I discovered detour and ditch

I swam in the high tides of greed
I built sandcastles to house my dreams
I survived the sunburns of love

No longer do I hunt for targets
I've climbed all the summits I need to
and I've eaten my share of lotus

Now I give praise and thanks
for what could not be avoided
and for every foolhardy choice

I cherish my wounds and their cures
and the sweet enervations of bliss
My book is an open life

I wave goodbye to the absolutes
and send my regards to infinity
I'd rather be blithe than correct

Until something transcendent turns up
I plash in my poetry puddle
and try to keep God amused

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of novelist Dan Brown, born in Exeter, New Hampshire (1964). He's the author of the book that's been the number-one bestseller in this country for most of the past year, The Da Vinci Code (2003). It's a thriller about a Harvard professor who investigates the murder of a curator at the Louvre, and finds many of the clues in paintings by Leonardo Da Vinci.

Brown started out as a pop musician, but about ten years ago he started teaching and writing suspense novels in his spare time. He had published three novels before writing The Da Vinci Code, and none of them had sold very well, but his publishers were so impressed with The Da Vinci Code that they sent out thousands of advance copies to reviewers and bookstores. The day before it came out last year, on March 17, it got a great review on the front page of the New York Times arts section. It sold 6,000 copies on the day it hit bookstores, and by the end of the week it had sold about 25,000 copies, enough to put it on the top of the bestseller list.

The Da Vinci Code has gone through more than fifty printings, and there are now more than 7.5 million copies of it in print. Almost 100,000 copies are still being sold each week. The book has sparked a controversy in some religious circles, especially in the Catholic Church. The book argues that much of what we hold to be true about Christianity was actually decided at a single meeting of bishops at Nicea in modern-day Turkey, in the year 325. According to the book, it was at that meeting that church leaders decided they wanted to consolidate their power base and establish dogmas for all Christians to follow—and that was the beginning of the Catholic Church. The narrator says that up until that point not all Christians believed in a divine Christ and an infallible Scripture.

It's the birthday of poet and essayist Anne (Morrow) Lindbergh, born in Englewood, New Jersey (1906). She came from an upper-class New England family and went to college at Smith, where she studied literature. The year after she graduated, she had a poem published in Scribner's magazine.

In 1927, she was attending a reception in honor of Charles Lindbergh, who had just completed his solo flight from New York to Paris. She didn't know Lindbergh at the time; her father was ambassador to Mexico and the reception was being held at the U.S. embassy in Mexico City. But she talked to Lindbergh at the reception, and they liked each other so much that he took her flying with him. She wrote in her diary: "Clouds and stars and birds—I must have been walking with my head down looking at puddles for twenty years."

Anne and Charles got married in 1929. Anne wrote in her diary, "This clear, direct straight boy [has] swept out of sight all the other men I have ever known, all the pseudointellectuals, the sophisticates, the posers—all the 'arty' people. All my life, in fact, my world—my little embroidery beribboned world—is smashed."

Anne and Charles flew together on goodwill tours and trips to explore transcontinental routes for commercial flights. In one year alone they covered more than 30,000 miles over five continents. Charles taught Anne how to fly, and in 1931 she got her private pilot's license. That same year, the couple went on a survey flight to Asia, flying over Canada, Alaska and Siberia, and the trip became the subject of Anne Lindbergh's first book, North to the Orient (1935). Both that book and her next book about flying, Listen! the Wind (1938) became bestsellers. She went on to write two novels, a book of poems, and a book of essays, Gift from the Sea (1955).

It's the birthday of theater producer Joseph Papp, born in Brooklyn, New York (1921). For three decades, he was one of the most influential people on Broadway. In the 1960s he took over the Astor Library in New York and turned it into the Public Theater, a huge six-theater complex. Many of the most famous Broadway plays of the '60s and '70s debuted at the Public, including Hair and A Chorus Line, one of the longest-running shows in Broadway history. Papp supported the work of many young playwrights, including Wallace Shawn, David Mamet, Tina Howe and John Guare.

But his biggest legacy might be the "Shakespeare in the Park" phenomenon—free performances of Shakespeare's plays performed in outdoor parks all over the world. In 1954, Papp began staging free performances of Shakespeare in the Emmanuel Presbyterian Church on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Two years later, he won financial support from the New York City Parks Department, and moved the free performances to East River Park Amphitheater. In 1962, Delacorte Theatre was built in Central Park specifically for Shakespeare in the Park performances. The theater was renovated five years ago.

It's the birthday of novelist Erich Maria Remarque, born in Osnabruck, Germany (1898). He's the author of the classic novel about World War I, All Quiet on the Western Front (1929). The novel was a huge success when it came out in 1929: It sold more than a million copies in Germany in less than a year, and the next year it was made into a Hollywood movie. The Nazis were rising to power in Germany at the time, and they didn't like the novel because of its negative portrayal of World War I. It was one of the books they publicly burned in 1933. In 1938, Remarque lost his German citizenship, and eventually ended up in the United States.

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