Aug. 22, 2004

those good people

by Charles Bukowski

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Poem: "those good people" by Charles Bukowski from Bone Palace Ballet © Black Sparrow Press. Reprinted with permission.

those good people

the worst celebrities often support the most noble
some because so directed by their
publicity agents,
others, of the less famous
out of their need to be
accepted as good

beware these who rally too often to
popular causes,
not because the cause is
necessarily wrong
but because their motive is
self-serving—the cause being
their cause.
those people who swarm to
the ringing of bells and
speeches to the gatherings of
the righteously
and often those who
ring the bells and give the
are far worse as humans
than that or those they might
praise or support
or preach or rail

think, would you want
one of these
smiling on your couch
on a rainy March night
any night
at all?

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of Annie Proulx, born Edna Annie Proulx in Norwich, Connecticut (1935). As a young woman, she supported herself writing nonfiction books about how to make things like apple cider, custard, cheese, a house, or a salad garden. Her freelance writing jobs taught her how to research almost anything, and she has since made a career writing fiction based on her extensive research. She said, "I just sort of have an inborn nosiness about everything. When you're a child, the world seems composed of vast secrets. I always had a fondness for digging."

To write her book Postcards (1951), she traveled back and forth across America, stopping in all the places where her homeless main character worked and lived. After she finished that novel, she stumbled upon a map of Newfoundland. She said, "Each place-name had a story—Dead Man's Cove, Seldom Come Bay and Bay of Despair, Exploits River, Plunder Beach. I knew I had to go there, and within 10 minutes of arriving, I'd fallen in love." She explored the island, examined maps, and went to bed every night with a Newfoundland vernacular dictionary. The result was her novel The Shipping News (1993), which became a best seller and won the Pulitzer Prize.

For her book Accordion Crimes (1996), Proulx studied a stack of court cases involving accordions, and consulted with more than 20 accordion scholars and musicians. One man told her that it is possible to hide money in an accordion, and she made that fact a centerpiece of the novel. She now lives in Wyoming, and writes about ranchers. Her most recent book is That Old Ace in the Hole (2002).

It's the birthday of Dorothy Parker, born Dorothy Rothschild in West End, New Jersey (1893). She's remembered as one of the greatest wits of the 20th century, even though she only wrote a few books of poetry and short stories. She started her career just after World War I, in an era when slick magazines were one of the most popular forms of entertainment. The writers for these magazines wrote in a jaded, wisecracking tone of voice, and it was Dorothy Parker who proved that women could wisecrack just as well as any man.

Parker was four feet and eleven inches tall, and she loved to swear. The drama critic Alexander Woollcott described her as, "A blend of Little Nell and Lady Macbeth." She said, "[I'm] just a little Jewish girl, trying to be cute."

She was the only woman who belonged to the famous group of New York writers who met every day at the Round Table of the Algonquin Hotel to trade wit and gossip. That circle included Harold Ross, who created the New Yorker, and he said he borrowed the tone of voice for his magazine from those Algonquin meetings. He later hired Parker as a columnist.

Much of her writing was collected in the Portable Dorothy Parker, which has been in print since 1944. Of the first ten Portables published by Viking, only the Portable Shakespeare and the Portable Bible sold as well and as steadily as the Portable Parker.

Dorothy Parker said, "I don't care what is written about me so long as it isn't true."

And, "People are more fun than anybody."

It's the birthday of science fiction writer Ray Bradbury, born in Waukegan, Illinois (1920). He's the author of many books of science fiction, including The Martian Chronicles (1950) and Fahrenheit 451 (1953). One of his ancestors, Mary Bradbury, was burned as a witch in Salem, Massachusetts, and he said he got from her his anxiety about fear-mongering and thought control. He said, "Science fiction is a wonderful hammer; I intend to use it when and if necessary, to bark a few shins or knock a few heads, in order to make people leave people alone."

Bradbury had already begun reading a lot of Edgar Allen Poe and the Oz books by time he was seven years old, but that year he said, "My life was drastically changed by the advent of Buck Rogers in the comic pages of our newspaper." Through Buck Rogers and Tarzan and the magazine Amazing Stories, he became aware of the world of the future, and the world of fantasy. He began to collect Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon strips, he got a magic set and began learning magic tricks and putting on shows. He said, "I don't know if I believe in previous lives, I'm not sure I can live forever. But that young boy [myself at twelve] believed in both, and I have let him have his [way]. He has written all my stories and books for me."

Bradbury started sending stories to magazines like Collier's and Esquire while he was still in high school, with little success. After high school, he got a job selling newspapers, and he wrote every day on the side. He mimeographed his stories and printed them in his own personal magazine called Futuria Fantasia.

Then, in 1941, he finally sold his first story to a magazine called Super Science Stories. He got paid thirteen dollars and seventy-five cents. The story came out on his twenty-first birthday.

In his early career, Bradbury wrote for pulp fiction magazines such as Astounding Science Fiction, Thrilling Wonder Stories, and Captain Future; but he became one of the first science fiction writers to cross over to mainstream publications like American Mercury and Harper's magazine. More than any other American writer, he is responsible for making science fiction respectable.

This year Ray Bradbury is eighty-four years old, and he has been writing for more than seventy years. He has now published more than 30 books and 600 short stories. A new collection of one hundred of his short stories came out last year, called Bradbury Stories.

He said, "I don't try to describe the future. I try to prevent it."

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




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