Jan. 2, 2005

New World Order

by Meredith Holmes

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Poem: "New World Order" by Meredith Holmes, from Shubad's Crown. © Pond Road Press. Reprinted with permission.

New World Order

At dusk on January 2nd
we close the curtains,
eat bread and potatoes by candlelight
and burrow to sleep like marmots.
Pulse and respiration slow
not quickening until April.

Driveways go unshoveled
streets unplowed. Snow fills
doorways, sifts into mail slots.
No traffic, no church, no bowling.
Phones are still, offices unlit
and cities as dark as Nebraska cornfields.
All the interstates are deserted
the truckstops silent.
No steak and egg breakfasts
no Johnny Cash

By February, stars are visible
in the night sky over Manhattan and Detroit.
TV stations on the Gulf Coast
and in Southern California
report only local weather.
The Industrial North, the Midwest
the Great Plains, the Great Lakes
are all but forgotten.
The continent is a closed door
with a narrow band
of light around the edge.
Everybody is dreaming:
fire, skin, cave, snow.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It was on this day in 1897 that Stephen Crane (1871) survived the sinking of a boat to Cuba and went on to write his short story "The Open Boat" about his experience. Stephen Crane was born into a strict Methodist family of 14, he went to college for two years but never finished, instead he went to New York where he lived in poverty and worked as a free lance writer.

Crane had his big break in publishing with the internationally famous novel The Red Badge of Courage (1895) about a young soldier's first experience in battle during the Civil War, but Crane himself had never seen a war. He wanted to witness a war firsthand, so in 1887 he went to Cuba to report on the revolt against Spain when the ship he was on board (The Commodore) sank and he was marooned at sea in a dingy with the captain, the cook and an oil man for four days. When he returned home he wrote "The Open Boat" which is considered one of the greatest short stories ever written, which begins: None of them knew the color to the sky. Their eyes glanced level, and were fastened upon the waves that swept toward them. These waves were of the hue of slate, save for the tops, which were of foaming white, and all of the men knew the colors of the sea.

"The Open Boat" was one of the first semi-autobiographical stories based on actual events, and led to a new genre. It explored themes like human nature and destiny, and contradicting moods of hope and despair. Ernest Hemingway was greatly influenced by Crane's themes and style, and "The Open Boat" probably in part inspired Hemingway to write "The Old Man and the Sea."

It's the birthday of science fiction writer and scientist Isaac Asimov, born in Petrovichi, Russia (1920). Three years later his family later immigrated to Brooklyn, New York, where they ran a candy store that carried science fiction magazines. Isaac's father didn't allow him to read the magazines but he did it anyhow. His family wanted him to go to medical school and become a doctor, which he had no interest in doing, but he applied anyway, and was happy when he was turned down and could go to college to study chemistry instead.

Asimov published his first short story in Amazing Stories when he was 18. He was able to put himself through college and graduate school at Columbia University by writing and publishing stories. He published his 32nd story called "Nightfall" (1941) in Astounding Science Fiction magazine when he was 21 years old. The story was about a planet with six suns that only has a sunset once every two thousand and forty nine years. It won numerous awards and is still often considered the best science-fiction short story ever written. Asimov went on to write over 500 books but he was always bothered that people considered his best work was written so early in his career. Asimov said, "Writing is just thinking through my fingers."

After graduate school Asimov taught biochemistry at Boston University school of Medicine, but he had no interest in research or academic publishing. Instead he liked write science fiction stories and books about outer space.

Isaac Asimov called himself "a born explainer" and in the late 1950s he began to write books about outer space science after the Russians launched the Sputnik space ship. He felt that Americans had a gap in knowledge about outer space so he began to write books about space and science that were interesting and easy for the common person to understand. He continued to write these books about space for 25 years until his publishers told him to stop and go back to writing science fiction novels.

Kurt Vonnegut once asked him how it felt to know everything, to which he replied, "I only know how it feels to have the reputation of knowing everything. Uneasy." He said when he had to write about something he knew little about he closed his eyes and typed "very very fast."

Isaac Asimov died in 1992 after contracting AIDS from an HIV infected blood transfusion he received during a 1982 open heart surgery operation.

It's the birthday of poet David Shapiro, born in Newark, New Jersey (1947). He was a child prodigy. By the time he was sixteen years old he had played the violin for the New Jersey symphony orchestra. When he was thirteen years old he began writing and publishing poetry. Music, math, painting and architecture were among his inspirations, and he believed poems should have movements in them the way Mozart had movements in his music.

He enrolled in Columbia University, and during his freshman year there he published his first book of poetry and won the Breadloaf Writer's Conference Robert Frost Fellowship. His book was well received by many notable writers including Jack Kerouac and Kenneth Rexroth and also the New York Times Book Review. His third book of poems, A Man Holding an Acoustic Panel (1971) was nominated for a National Book Award.

While at Columbia Shapiro protested the war in Vietnam and his photograph was published on the cover of Newsweek magazine "occupying" the president of the University's chair and smoking one of his "liberated" cigars. He continued to win many fellowships including one to Cambridge University in England and a Book of the Month creative arts fellowship as well as a National Endowment for the Humanities, and a National Endowment for the Arts.

During his early years David Shapiro became acquainted with many well-known poets and artists of the era. He knew Marianne Moore and Allen Ginsberg, and Kenneth Koch was a lifelong friend. He also had friendships with musician John Cage and the painter Jasper Johns.

Shapiro is considered a member of The New York School of poets, which was an avant-garde arts movement started in the 1950's following the earlier beat generation of poets and artists. The New York School included the painter Jackson Pollock, and the poets Frank O'Hara, Barbara Guest, John Ashbery and Kenneth Koch. In 1970 David Shapiro co-published An Anthology of New York Poets with Ron Padgett.

David Shapiro says that before he goes to sleep he will ask for lines of poetry to come to him, and in the middle of the night they come to him in dreams and gets out of bed and begins to write. A lot of his poems take place in front of paintings, and once in a dream it was revealed to him that poetry is a form of painting.

David Shapiro said, "Next to Dante we are all just writers."

It's the birthday of British crime novelist Mo Hayder, born in Essex, England (1962). Mo Hayder left home when she was 15 years old and joined the punk rock movement in London's Soho district. After seeing the movie Blade Runner she moved to Japan where she made good money as a nightclub hostess entertaining rich businessmen and lived in a traditional Japanese-style home that was slated for demolition. She eventually decided to go to film school in California, where she made Claymation figures that ate each other's heads. Her animated films won awards, but were not considered suitable for television in the United States. She eventually returned to London, where she continued to work a variety jobs.

Hayder was making minimum wage when her first crime novel Birdman (2000) was published. It reached the London Times bestseller list and quickly became an international best seller. Previous to this book she had never written anything, other than a couple of short stories for a writer's course. Her second novel, The Treatment (2002), was successful as well.

Mo Hayder says she was inspired in part to write these novels due to a murder that took place in her neighborhood when she was growing up. A policeman who lived in the house directly behind her family's home murdered his wife and buried her in the back yard. He put a tent up to hide where he had dug the hole. For about a week she could see the tent from her house before he was arrested. She said this experience made her think about the common ground that we inhabit, whatever side of the law we think we're on.

To research her third novel, Tokyo, (2004) she returned to Japan and again worked as a nightclub hostess.

When asked in a recent interview what was in her refrigerator, Hayder responded, "A head."

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




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