Jul. 21, 2006

A Reading

by Wendy Cope

FRIDAY, 21 JULY, 2006
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Poem: "A Reading" by Wendy Cope from If I Don't Know. © Faber and Faber. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

A Reading

Everybody in this room is bored.
The poems drag, the voice and gestures irk.
He can't be interrupted or ignored.

Poor fools, we came here of our own accord
And some of us have paid to hear this jerk.
Everybody in the room is bored.

The silent cry goes up, 'How long, O Lord?'
But nobody will scream or go berserk.
He won't be interrupted or ignored.

Or hit by eggs, or savaged by a horde
Of desperate people maddened by his work.
Everybody in the room is bored,

Except the poet. We are his reward,
Pretending to indulge in his every quirk.
He won't be interrupted or ignored.

At last it's over. How we all applaud!
The poet thanks us with a modest smirk.
Everybody in the room was bored.
He wasn't interrupted or ignored.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of cartoonist Garry Trudeau, born in New York City, New York (1948), who is the creator of the Doonesbury comic strip.

It's the birthday of author and communications theorist Marshall McLuhan, (books by this author) born in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada (1911). In his Understanding Media (1964), McLuhan wrote, long before the invention of the Internet, that electronic media was creating a global electronic village in which books would become obsolete.

It's the birthday of poet Wendy Cope, born in Erith, Kent, England (1945).

It's the birthday of novelist John Gardner, (books by this author) born in Batavia, New York (1933). He's best known for his novel Grendel (1971).

It's the birthday of Tess Gallagher, (books by this author) born in Port Angeles, Washington (1943). She said, "If poems are deep-sea diving, writing fiction is foraging."

She also said, "Fiction is ... like sitting in a clearing and waiting to see if the deer will come. Poetry to me is lightning of the moment."

It's the birthday of Ernest Hemingway, (books by this author) born in Oak Park, Illinois (1899). He was just twenty-two when he moved to Paris with his wife, having taken a job as a foreign correspondent for the Toronto Daily Star. Even though he was making decent money, he liked the idea of living like a bohemian, so they moved into an apartment in the Latin Quarter, in a neighborhood full of drunks, beggars, and street musicians. Rent was two hundred and fifty francs a month, or about eighteen dollars, which left them plenty of money to travel around Europe when they wanted to.

He rented himself a room in a hotel, and every morning, after breakfast, he would walk to his writing room and work. But instead of writing stories, he just tried to write what he called "true sentences." He said, "I would stand and look out over the roofs of Paris and think, 'Do not worry. You have always written before and you will write now. All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.'"

Between January and April 1922, Hemingway had composed only six sentences that he was proud of. One of those sentences read, "I have stood on the crowded back platform of a seven o'clock ... bus as it lurched along the wet lamp-lit street while men who were going home to supper never looked up from their newspapers as we passed Notre Dame gray and dripping in the rain."

His first important book was the collection of short stories In Our Time (1925), and he followed that with The Sun Also Rises (1926). But it was A Farewell To Arms (1929) that most critics consider his greatest novel. It was Hemingway's first big success, selling 80,000 copies in just four months.

It begins, "In the late summer of that year we lived in a house in a village that looked across the river and the plain to the mountains. In the bed of the river there were pebbles and boulders, dry and white in the sun, and the water was clear and swiftly moving and blue in the channels. Troops went by the house and down the road and the dust they raised powdered the leaves of the trees. The trunks of the trees too were dusty and the leaves fell early that year and we saw the troops marching along the road and the dust rising and leaves, stirred by the breeze, falling and the soldiers marching and afterward the road bare and white except for the leaves."

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




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