Jul. 11, 2006


by Elisabeth Kuhn

TUESDAY, 11 JULY, 2006
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Poem: "Bathrooms" by Elisabeth Kuhn from Average C-Cup. © Turning Point. Reprinted with permission (buy now)


The condo I just bought has two. Some houses
had three. What to do with them all? Use one?
Turn the others into extra closets?
Reserve one for guests? There are none
I'd invite. I talk too much to too
many people all day. On conference
weekends I have to talk Sundays too,
and when I close my door, I want silence.

Back home we were seven. Our bathroom the only
room we could lock in a house without keys.
We'd sit, read, dream, alone, not lonely,
until testy banging disturbed our peace.
Then we'd sigh, flush, put down our text,
and turn our sanctuary over to the next.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of the literary critic and teacher Harold Bloom, (books by this author) born in New York City (1930). His book, The Anxiety of Influence (1973), argued that all great writers are obsessed with breaking away from the great writers of the past. The book made him famous.

Bloom is one of the last critics in America who believes that great literature is a product of genius. He treats characters in books as though they are real people, and he believes that we should read not to learn about historical periods or political climates but to learn about the human soul.

In the last several years, he has begun writing books for general readers, because he thinks that scholars have forgotten how to read for pleasure. Many of his recent books have become best-sellers, including Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human (1998) and How to Read and Why (2000).

It's the birthday of E.B. (Elwyn Brooks) White, (books by this author) born in Mount Vernon, New York (1899). In addition to writing children's books, he was also a great essayist, and he wrote many of his essays about taking care of a small farm. He especially liked writing about the personalities and goings-on of his farm animals. In his essay, "The Geese," he wrote, "I have had geese ... for a number of years and they have been my friends. 'Companions' would be a better word; geese are friends with no one, they badmouth everybody and everything. But they are companionable once you get use to their ingratitude and their false accusations."

White was a young advertising copywriter in 1925, when he happened to purchase the first issue of The New Yorker magazine at a newsstand in Grand Central Station. He bought it and eventually joined the staff in 1926.

In 1929, he took a vacation to Ontario, working at a summer camp that he had gone to as a kid, and he seriously considered quitting his job at The New Yorker to become a camp director. He had just turned thirty, and he was disappointed that he hadn't written anything other than a lot of humorous magazine pieces. He wrote in a letter to Katherine Angell that he considered himself a failure as a writer, a mere hack, and he wasn't sure what the point was in continuing. She wrote back to say that there was no question in her mind that he was a great writer, even if he hadn't produced a masterpiece yet. When White returned to New York, he married her.

They eventually moved to a farmhouse in Maine, where White kept animals. He was particularly fond of his pigs and felt guilty about turning them into ham and bacon. One day, while he was walking through his orchard, carrying a pail of slop to his pig, he got an idea for a story about how a pig's life could be saved. He said, "I had been watching a large spider in the backhouse, and what with one thing and another, the idea came to me."

That was Charlotte's Web, which came out in 1952. It's the story of Wilbur, a runt pig saved from slaughter when a spider named Charlotte begins to weave words about him into a web above his pen. After saving his life, she lays her eggs and dies. White's publishers tried to get him to change the unhappy ending, but he refused.

Charlotte's Web became the masterpiece E.B. White had been trying to write his whole life.

E. B. White wrote, "All I hope to say in books, all that I ever hope to say, is that I love the world."

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




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