Dec. 5, 2005

Deer Season

by Barbara Tanner Angell

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Poem: "Deer Season" by Barbara Tanner Angell from The Long Turn Toward the Light: Collected Poems © Cleveland State University Poetry Center. Reprinted with permission.

Deer Season

My sister and her friend, Johnny Morley,
used to go on Saturdays to the Bancroft Hotel
to visit his grandfather.

One autumn, the beginning of deer season,
the old man told them,

"Used to hunt when I was a boy,
woods all around here then,
but I never went again after that time...

the men went out, took me with them,
and I shot my first buck.
It was wounded, lying in the leaves,

so they told me,
take the pistol, shoot it in the head.
I went straight up to it,
looked right into its eyes.

Just before I pulled the trigger,
it licked my hand."

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of English poet Christina Rossetti, born in London (1830) to Italian parents.

It's the birthday of the humorist Ellis Parker Butler, born in Muscatine, Iowa (1869). Butler went to New York, and it was there that an editor suggested he write a story about a railway agent who has to assess the shipping rate on two guinea pigs, and decides that they must be livestock rather than pets because they are some breed of pig. Butler didn't like the idea, but he decided to try to write it anyway, to please his editor. The result was his story "Pigs Is Pigs" which first came out in The American Magazine in 1905.

The story might not have been remembered if it weren't for the fact that the Railway Appliances Company chose to use it as part of a marketing campaign. They reprinted the story as a pamphlet and distributed 10,000 copies to customers. It proved to be so popular that the story was reprinted as a book, and went on to become a silent movie and an animated Disney cartoon.

Ellis Parker Butler went on to write more than thirty other books, and also became the president of a bank, and he always regretted the fact that he was best known as the author of "Pigs Is Pigs," a book he hadn't even wanted to write.

It's the birthday of Austrian film director Fritz Lang, born in Vienna (1890). After coming to the United States he made Westerns and crime movies like Western Union (1941) and The Big Heat (1953).

It's the birthday of the essayist and humorist Calvin Trillin, born in Kansas City, Missouri (1935). His father was a Russian immigrant and grocery store owner, and from the time Calvin Trillin was born, his father planned for him to go to Yale and become President of the United States. Trillin did go to Yale, but he got into journalism instead of politics. He edited the Yale Daily News and then got a job working for Time magazine.

It was the 1960's and what Trillin wanted to do was write a book about the lives of people involved in the Civil Rights struggle. But instead of writing about the movement as a whole, he decided to follow the first two black students at the University of Georgia and write about the ordinary details of their daily lives. The result was his first book An Education in Georgia (1964).

In 1967, Trillin began writing a regular column for the New Yorker magazine called "U.S. Journal," which he saw as a chance to write about ordinary people who didn't usually get covered in the national press. He would scour local newspapers from across the country, and whenever he ran across something particularly interesting, he'd travel there and cover it.

Trillin said, "Upwardly mobile reporters tend to gauge themselves by the importance of the people they interview... Most of the people I talk to have never spoken to a reporter before."

As a result of traveling all over America, Trillin began eating in a variety of local restaurants, and he realized that he could start writing about regional American food. At that time, most food writers focused on gourmet food from France, so Trillin wrote about barbecue ribs in the Midwest. His first collection of food writing was American Fried: Adventures of a Happy Eater (1974), in which he declared that the top four or five restaurants in the world are in Kansas City, Missouri.

His most recent book is Obliviously On He Sails (2004), a book of poems about George W. Bush.

It's the birthday of the essayist and novelist Joan Didion, born in Sacramento, California (1934). She grew up as a nervous, preoccupied child. She said, "I was one of those children who always thought the bridge would fall in if you walked across it... I thought about the atomic bomb a lot... after there was one."

She began keeping a notebook when she was five years old, and she later wrote, "Keepers of notebooks are a different breed altogether, lonely and resistant rearrangers of things, anxious malcontents, children afflicted apparently at birth with a sense of loss." At one point in her childhood, she lived near a mental hospital, and she would wander around the hospital grounds with a notebook, writing down all the most interesting snippets of conversation.

Didion became associated with the so-called New Journalism, because she often made herself a character in whatever she was covering, and she went much further than most journalists in revealing her own states of mind. The title essay of her collection The White Album (1979) includes notes from a psychiatrist's evaluation after she suffered a nervous breakdown.

Her memoir The Year of Magical Thinking, about her husband's recent death from a heart attack at the dinner table, came out this year.

Joan Didion said, "My only advantage as a reporter is that I am so physically small, so temperamentally unobtrusive, and so neurotically inarticulate that people tend to forget that my presence runs counter to their best interests. And it always does. . . . Writers are always selling somebody out."

It's the birthday of novelist James Lee Burke, born in Houston, Texas (1936). He's best known for his series of detective novels featuring Dave Robicheaux, an ex-New Orleans policeman, Vietnam veteran, and recovering alcoholic. Burke's novels have been compared to those by master crime novelists like Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett. His big breakthrough book came out in 1985, The Lost Get-Back Boogie.

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