Aug. 3, 2006

The Lyric

by Tom Clark

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Poem: "The Lyric" by Tom Clark from Light & Shade: New and Selected Poems. © Coffee House Press. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

The Lyric

lament, sorrow and wild
joy commingle in

the lyric—a collective
sigh of relief comes cascading
out of the blue—

a yearning to submerge
in life like the swimmer
in the pool forgetful

immersed and quenched—
water trailing scattered
diamonds in a rustling

voice of resigned subsidence
as though in the same stroke
everyone alive were speaking through you—

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of one of America's first embedded reporters, Ernie Pyle, (books by this author) born Ernest Taylor Pyle in a little white farmhouse near Dana, Indiana (1900). He wrote for newspapers about World War II in the form of daily letters home from the war front. When he covered the war, he never made it look glamorous. He hated it, and he described all the horror and agony around him. He included the names and hometown addresses of all the soldiers he wrote about.

For three years Pyle wrote about the war, until he couldn't stand it any longer. But four months later, he went back, this time to the Pacific. On April 18, 1945, he and a colonel were in a jeep riding to the command post on an island just west of Okinawa when they were shot at by Japanese machine guns. They dove into a ditch, where a second shot hit Pyle in the left temple, killing him instantly.

It's the birthday of the poet Hayden Carruth, (books by this author) born in Waterbury, Connecticut (1921). He studied journalism and literature in school and went on to a job with a publisher, where he tried to publish as many books by contemporary poets as he could. Then, in 1953, he had a nervous breakdown. He was admitted to a psychiatric hospital and he was subjected to electroshock therapy. When he was released from the hospital, eighteen months later, he said, "I was in worse shape than when I had entered it, and I slipped into a period of phobic isolation."

He moved to a small cabin in rural Vermont, supporting himself as a freelance book reviewer and ghostwriter. And he started to concentrate on writing poetry. He said, "[My isolation] afforded me the opportunity to put everything together, the land and seasons, the people, my family, my work, my evolving sense of survival ... in one tightly integrated imaginative structure. The results were my poems, for what they're worth, and in my life a very gradual but perceptible triumph over the internal snarls and screw-ups that had crippled me from childhood on."

His first collection, The Crow and the Heart, came out in 1959. Carruth kept writing and publishing poems from that isolated cabin, without giving any readings or making any public appearances, for about twenty years. Then, in the 1980s, he began to venture back out into the world. His Collected Shorter Poems came out in 1992, and his Collected Longer Poems came out in 1994.

It's the birthday of mystery author P D (Phyllis Dorothy) James, (books by this author) born in Oxford, England (1920). She's known for her novels starring Detective Inspector Adam Dalgliesh, who first appears about fifty pages into her first novel when he is sent out by Scotland Yard to investigate a death among the gentry at a remote country estate. He's a dedicated, hard-working policeman who is also a sensitive and successful poet.

She said, "The classical detective story affirms our belief that we live in a rational and generally benevolent universe."

On this day in 1955, Waiting for Godot had its premier in English at London's Art Theatre. It had been running in a small Paris theater for over a year, and Samuel Beckett, its author, had translated the play. It's the story of Vladimir and Estragon, two tramps, who have an appointment to meet Godot on a country road. Instead of meeting Godot, they encounter two strange men: Pozzo, a tyrant, and his "servant" Lucky, whom he drags along on a rope. There is hardly any other action, and Godot never arrives.

The play got mostly bad reviews, but Harold Hobson, critic for the Sunday Times, wrote about the production for the next seven Sundays. The play became the talk of London.

It's the birthday of Rupert Chawner Brooke, born in Warwickshire, England (1887). He signed up for the Royal Naval Division in World War I and died soon after his enlistment, on April 23, 1915, from blood poisoning he got from an infected mosquito bite on his lip. But just before he died, he wrote a war poem called "The Soldier," which became a classic. It included the lines "If I should die, think only this of me:/That there's some corner of a foreign field/That is for ever England."

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




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