Nov. 23, 2004


by Jane Kenyon

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Poem: "Happiness" by Jane Kenyon, from Otherwise New & Selected Poems © Graywolf Press, 1997. Reprinted with permission.


There's just no accounting for happiness,
or the way it turns up like a prodigal
who comes back to the dust at your feet
having squandered a fortune far away.

And how can you not forgive?
You make a feast in honor of what
was lost, and take from its place the finest
garment, which you saved for an occasion
you could not imagine, and you weep night and day
to know that you were not abandoned,
that happiness saved its most extreme form
for you alone.

No, happiness is the uncle you never
knew about, who flies a single-engine plane
onto the grassy landing strip, hitchhikes
into town, and inquires at every door
until he finds you asleep midafternoon.
as you so often are during the unmerciful
hours of your despair.

It comes to the monk in his cell.
It comes to the woman sweeping the street
with a birch broom, to the child
whose mother has passed out from drink.
It comes to the lover, to the dog chewing
a sock, to the pusher, to the basket maker,
and to the clerk stacking cans of carrots
in the night.

It even comes to the boulder
in the perpetual shade of pine barrens,
to rain falling on the open sea,
to the wineglass, weary of holding wine.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It was on this day in 1889 the Jukebox made its debut at the Palais Royale Saloon in San Francisco. It was called a "nickel-in-the-slot player" and was built by the Pacific Phonograph Co. and installed by entrepreneur Louis Glass and his business associate William S. Arnold.

The jukebox consisted of an Edison Class M Electric Phonograph inside a free-standing oak cabinet to which were attached four stethoscope-like tubes. Each tube could be activated by depositing a coin so that four people could listen to a single recording at one time - the sound equivalent of the peep-show nickelodeon. Towels were supplied so that Palais Royale patrons could wipe off the listening tubes between uses. Despite competition from player pianos, this primitive jukebox was a big hit across the country. In its first six months of service, the Nickel-in-the-Slot earned over $1,000.

It's the birthday of poet Christopher Logue, born in Portsmouth, Hampshire, England (1926), whose works include Wand and Quadrant (1953), The Girls (1969), Kings: An Account of Books One and Two of Homer's Iliad (1991), War Music: An Account of Books 1-4 and 16-19 of Homer's Iliad (1987) and All Day Permanent Red: An Account of the First Battle Scenes of Homer's Iliad (2003).

Logue grew up in Portsmouth where his mother had gone for her own mother's company. His father was in London much of the time where he rented a small house and worked as an official in the British postal service. Logue had an intense but hostile attachment to his mother. He was miserable in school and didn't feel like he fit in. He spent his time drawing and woodworking. He thought he would have made a better painter than a writer, but he chose poetry as his vocation.

He said, "People in the arts struck me as being free...I wanted, and still want, to create something exceptionally clear and hard and truthful. So it was poetry for me." When he left school he was advised he was not suitable for further education.

In 1944, Logue joined the Army and was sent to the Middle East with the Black Watch. He was found guilty of gunrunning and other offenses in Palestine and was imprisoned for two years. In 1948 after his discharge he went to London where he worked as a park keeper and a dental receptionist. He later qualified as the single registered pauper in the town of Bournemouth. During this time he read all of Shaw, Milton, and Dryden.

His father soon died and left him with fifty pounds. So Logue used the money to go to Paris in 1951. At that time, Alexander Trocchi and Samuel Beckett were around, George Whitman was developing the bookshop which is now famous as Shakespeare & Company, and magazines like Merlin and The Paris Review were starting. Logue made friends and found happiness. He said, "With the exception of my various love affairs I have remained happy ever since."

While nearly starving, he published Wand and Quadrant (1953) with money he raised in cafes. He became a Marxist the following year and dressed entirely in black. He wrote Songs in 1959, a mix of love sonnets, political poems, ballads and translations from Homer and Pablo Neruda printed in a variety of typefaces which Logue himself designed.

He has been described as an exhibitionist who seeks to raise the poet to the level of pop singer. In Who's Who he revealed himself to be "Count Palmiro Vicarion," who in 1957 published Lust--a pornographic novel, A Book of Limericks, and A Book of Bawdy Ballads.

Logue returned to London and took part in early poetry-and-jazz experiments, pioneering poster poems, going to prison again, and taking part in the literary and political scenes. He was there at the Albert Hall poetry reading at which three Beat poets, Ginsberg, Ferlinghetti, and Corso, joined with Logue, George MacBeth, and other locals to perform before an audience of several thousand. He said of the event, "It was the moment that spoke."

For over four decades, Logue has worked at rewriting and modernizing Homer's Iliad in English. He can't read a word of Ancient Greek, and works through the Iliad by consulting existing translations, getting a sense of what it's about, and then writing his own version. Logue said, "I write slowly and painfully. This would be fine except for the fact that I suffer greatly from long, alternating bouts of idleness and impatience."

Logue's latest installment is All Day Permanent Red (2003). Its name comes from a Revlon lipstick ad. The book recounts a single battle in the Trojan War and is entirely action.

It's the birthday of mystery writer, critic and lecturer Robert Barnard, born in 1936 in Essex, England. He spent many years in academia while establishing himself as a writer of crime fiction. His first crime novel, Death of an Old Goat (1974) was written while he was professor of English at the University of Tromso in Norway, the world's most northerly university. Since then he has written over thirty crime novels including A Scandal in Belgravia (1991), The Mistress of Alderley (1992), The Bones in the Attic (2001), and The Graveyard Position (2004). His detectives include Scotland Yard's Perry Trethowan and Yorkshire policeman Charlie Peace. He also writes historical crime novels as Bernard Bastable, often featuring Mozart as a detective.

Robert Barnard said he writes only to entertain. He regards Agatha Christie as his ideal crime writer and has published an appreciation of her work, A Talent to Deceive (1980), as well as books on Dickens and a history of English literature.

It's the birthday of poet Paul Celan, born Paul Antschel, in what was Czernowitz, Romania at the time of his birth (1920). It is now located in Ukraine. When Romania came under Nazi control during World War Two, Celan was sent to a forced labor camp, and his parents were murdered. Celan escaped and after the war, he settled in Paris where he published Mohn und Gedachtnis (Poppy and Memory, 1952) and established his reputation as poet in the German-speaking countries.

Though Celan spoke eight languages, he chose to write in German. A year after receiving the news of his parent's deaths, Celan wrote: "And can you bear, Mother, as once on a time, / the gentle, the German, the pain-laden rhyme?" His German mother tongue reminded him of the loss constantly. He said, "Only in one's mother tongue can one express one's own truth. In a foreign language, the poet lies."

His most famous poem, "Todesfugue" (Death Fugue), is one of the great poems to come out of the Holocaust. It is a poem about the Nazi death camps and about Germans and Jews.

Celan became a teacher of German language at the Ecole Normale Sup&eaccent;rieure in Paris. Along with writing poetry, he translated works from such writers as Cocteau, Mandelstam, Rimbaud, Val&ecaute;ry, Char, du Bouchet, and Dupin. After being wrongly accused of plagiarism, Celan had a nervous breakdown and continued to suffer from bouts of depression throughout the 1960s. He drowned himself in the Seine river on May 1, in 1970, at the age of 49. In his pocket calendar he had written: "Depart Paul." The three books Celan left unfinished at his death appeared in 1986 under the title Last Poems.

Paul Celan said: "Only one thing remained reachable, close and secure amid all losses: language... But it had to go through its own lack of answers, through terrifying silence, through the thousand darknesses of murderous speech. It went through."

And he said, "Reality is not simply there, it must be searched and won."

It's the birthday of writer and critic Guy Davenport, born in Anderson, South Carolina (1927). He is best known for two books of essays, Every Force Evolves a Form (1987) and The Geography of the Imagination (1981). He has published seven collections of short stories and numerous translations of early Greek poets and playwrights. He was a professor of English at the University of Kentucky from 1964 to 1990. He is also a painter and illustrator and in 1996 a collection of Davenport's artwork, 50 Drawings, was published.

Guy Davenport said, "Art is the attention we pay to the wholeness of the world."

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