Sep. 21, 2005

Changing Diapers

by Gary Snyder

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Poem: "Changing Diapers" by Gary Snyder, from Axe Handles © Shoemaker & Hoard, Washington D.C. Reprinted with permission.

Changing Diapers

How intelligent he looks!
     on his back
     both feet caught in my one hand
     his glance set sideways,
     on a giant poster of Geronimo
     with a Sharp's repeating rifle by his knee.

I open, wipe, he doesn't even notice
     nor do I.
Baby legs and knees
     toes like little peas
     little wrinkles, good-to-eat,
     eyes bright, shiny ears
     chest swelling drawing air,

No trouble, friend,
     you and me and Geronimo
     are men.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of a famous literary critic, Sir Edmund Gosse, born in London (1849). He was famous in his own time as the man who rescued the reputation of the poet John Donne, whom nobody read at the time until Edmund Gosse wrote a book about him.

And he was the man who brought Henrik Ibsen to the attention of the English-reading and English play-attending audience. But we know him best as the author of a single book, his memoir, Father and Son, about his struggle to break away from his own father.

Gosse grew up in a strict fundamentalist Puritan congregation called the Brethren, where dancing, gambling, tobacco and the theater were all considered sinful, but worst of all, his parents believed that telling stories was a sin. Gosse wrote in his autobiography, "Not a single fiction was read or told to me during my infancy ... Never in all my early childhood, did anyone address to me the affecting preamble, 'Once upon a time!' I was told about missionaries, but never about pirates; I was familiar with humming birds, but I had never heard of fairies. Jack the Giant-Killer, Rumpelstiltskin and Robin Hood were not of my acquaintance, and although I understood about wolves, Little Red Ridinghood was a stranger even by name."

As a boy, he was forbidden to read anything other than religious works. He was not allowed to go to college, so he got a job as a clerk in the British Museum and went to live in London. And just before he left, he realized that he had lost his faith in God. He became obsessed with literature instead of religion, and in 1907 published his book Father and Son about his childhood.

Edmund Gosse, who had grown up in a house without stories, died in 1928 in a house with a library that was so large, it was sold for a small fortune.

It's the birthday of the novelist Herbert George (H.G.) Wells, born in Bromley, England (1866). He had a job writing biology textbooks until he developed a respiratory illness in his late 20s. He thought he didn't have long to live, so he left his wife. He ran away with another woman, and he began writing furiously. And in just three years, he published all the novels for which we know him: The Time Machine, The Island of Dr. Moreau, The Invisible Man, and The War of the Worlds.

It's the birthday of the novelist Stephen King, born in Portland, Maine (1947). His father was a merchant seaman who left the family when Stephen was just two. He has no memories of his father, but one day he found a whole box full of his father's science fiction and fantasy paperbacks, and that box of his father's books inspired him to start writing horror stories.

He studied creative writing in college. He tried to write some literary stories, but he found that writing about giant man-eating rats was a lot more fun. He worked at a gas station after college and at a laundromat. His wife worked at Dunkin' Donuts. He did his writing in the furnace room of his trailer home. He did the first drafts typed single-spaced and no margins to save paper.

He was working as a teacher when he wrote his first novel about a weird high school girl with psychic powers named Carrie White. He gave up on the book at one point and threw it in the trash. His wife rescued it. Carrie was published in 1973. The hard cover didn't sell well, but then his agent called to say that the paperback rights had sold for $400,000.

It's the birthday of the man who first put high quality literature into paperbacks, Sir Allen Lane, born in Bristol, England (1902), the founder of Penguin Books.

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




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