Jul. 9, 2005

A Primer of the Daily Round

by Howard Nemerov

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Poem: "A Primer of the Daily Round" by Howard Nemerov, from New and Selected Poems. © University of Chicago Press. Reprinted with permission.

A Primer of the Daily Round

A peels an apple, while B kneels to God,
C telephones to D, who has a hand
On E's knee, F coughs, G turns up the sod
For H's grave, I do not understand
But J is bringing one clay pigeon down
While K brings down a nightstick on L's head,
And M takes mustard, N drives into town,
O goes to bed with P, and Q drops dead,
R lies to S, but happens to be heard
By T, who tells U not to fire V
For having to give W the word
That X is now deceiving Y with Z,
     Who happens just now to remember A
     Peeling an apple somewhere far away.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of the novelist Larry Brown, born in Oxford, Mississippi (1951). He liked school when he was a kid, but read mostly hunting stories and fishing stories and cowboy stories—nothing that qualified as literature. He failed English his senior year in high school.

He enlisted in the Marines, was stationed at a barracks in Philadelphia. He spent a lot of time listening to the stories of veterans who'd come back from Vietnam. He went back to Mississippi and joined the Oxford Fire Department in 1973 and loved the job. It didn't pay well, though. He had been reading best-selling novels by Stephen King and Louis L'Amour and thought maybe he could do that too.

He wrote a novel about a man-eating bear in Yellowstone Park. It got turned down by everybody. So he went to the library and checked out every how-to book about writing that he could find. He started writing short stories and started reading Flannery O'Connor and William Faulkner and Raymond Carver.

His first book of stories, Facing the Music, came out in 1988. And his first novel, Dirty Work, the year after, which was based on the stories he had heard from veterans back in the Marines. The book got great reviews. And he went on to become a renowned southern fiction writer and published three more novels before he died of a heart attack at the age of 53.

Larry Brown said, "There's no such thing as a born writer. It's a skill you've got to learn, just like learning how to be a bricklayer or a carpenter." His story Falling Out of Love begins, "Sheena Baby, the one that I loved, and I were walking around. It was late one evening. All the clouds had gathered up into big marshmallows and mushrooms, and it was an evening as fine as you could ask for, except that we had two flat tires on our car some miles back down the road and didn't know where we were or who to ask. We were about ready to kill one another."

It's the birthday of the science writer Oliver Sacks, born in London (1933). He's the author of The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, Awakenings and Uncle Tungsten: Memories of a Chemical Boyhood.

It's the birthday of author Dean Koontz, born in Everett, Pennsylvania (1945). He's the author of more than 70 supernatural and science fiction thrillers, including The Bad Place and Mr. Murder. The turning point in his career was in 1969, when his wife told him that, if he wanted to try to be a writer, he could quit his job and she would support him for five years. He published 18 novels in those first five years, and his career was on its way.

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