Mar. 18, 2006

Calgary 2 A.M.

by Christopher Wiseman

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Poem: "Calgary 2 A.M." by Christopher Wiseman from In John Updike's Room © The Porqupine's Quill. Reprinted with permission.

Calgary 2 A.M.

In spite of the fact that it's twenty below
and winter has gone on for five long months,

in spite of being starved, starved almost to death
for greenness and warmth, flowers and birds,

in spite of the deadness of endless classrooms,
shopping centres, television shows,

in spite of the pains in the gut, the migraines,
the wakings, the palpitations,

in spite of a guilty knowledge of laziness,
of failure to meet some obligations,

in spite of all these things, and more,
I have to report that the moon tonight

is filling the house with a wild blueness,
my children grow, excel, are healthy,

my wife is gentle, there are friends,
and once in a while a poem will come.

In spite of the fact that it's twenty below,
tonight I smile. Summer bursts inside me.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of John Updike, born in Shillington, Pennsylvania (1932). He's a prolific writer and the author of many collections of short stories and novels. He grew up in a small town in Pennsylvania where he was an only child and had hay fever, psoriasis and a bad stammer. He took refuge in writing and in drawing. His family subscribed to The New Yorker magazine, and when it came to the house each week, he would pore over the articles and stories and cartoons. First he wanted to become a cartoonist for The New Yorker, and then he decided that he wanted to be a writer for the magazine. He went to Harvard, where he edited the Harvard Lampoon, and he published his first short story in The New Yorker the year he graduated.

He moved to New York City so he could work for The New Yorker full time, and he wrote light verse, stories, and "Talk of the Town" articles. He had wanted to live in New York and write for The New Yorker his entire life, but after a couple of years there he discovered that he didn't like the competitiveness of the literary scene, so he moved with his family to Ipswich, a small town in Massachusetts. His first book was published the following year—a collection of poems called The Carpentered Hen (1958). That was followed by his first novel, The Poorhouse Fair (1959), about a fair held by the elderly residents of a poorhouse.

Updike's first big success was the novel Rabbit, Run (1960), which tells the story of a man named Harry "Rabbit" Angstrom. Updike went on to write three more "Rabbit" novels, following Rabbit's life through the course of the second half of the twentieth century—Rabbit Redux (1971), Rabbit is Rich (1981), and Rabbit at Rest (1990).

Updike said, "When I write, I aim in my mind not toward New York but toward a vague spot a little east of Kansas. I think of the books on library shelves, without their jackets, years old, and a countryish teen-aged boy finding them, and having them speak to him."

And he said, "I'm willing to show good taste, if I can, in somebody else's living room, but our reading life is too short for a writer to be in any way polite. Since his words enter into another's brain in silence and intimacy, he should be as honest and explicit as we are with ourselves."

It's the birthday of George Plimpton, born in New York City (1927). He was the son of a diplomat and went to college at Harvard, where he edited the humor magazine, the Lampoon. He went to Paris in the spring of 1952, staying in a small apartment and living the life of a bohemian. Along with his friends Harold Humes, Peter Matthiessen, Thomas Guinzburg and Donald Hall, he founded the literary magazine The Paris Review.

It was on this day in 1925 that a great tornado came out of southern Missouri and hurdled the Mississippi River, tearing through Indiana and Illinois in three hours. The tornado followed the path of a slight ridge, home to several small mining towns. Many of these towns were completely destroyed, and others, like Murphysboro, suffered heavy damage.

A group of men were working in the mines five hundred feet below the town of West Frankfort, Illinois. None of them were aware of anything unusual on the surface, until the electricity went out. Then they climbed out of the mines through a shaft, and when they reached the surface, the men found their homes heavily damaged or totally destroyed, many of their family members missing.

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




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