Sep. 8, 2006

Undelivered Mail

by Rhina P. Espaillat

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Poem: "Undelivered Mail" by Rhina P. Espaillat from Playing at Stillness. © Truman State University Press. Used with permission. (buy now)

Undelivered Mail

Dear Daughter,
       Your father and I wish to commend you
on the wisdom of your choices
and the flawless conduct of your life

Dear Poet!
       Where is the full-length manuscript
you promised us? Your check is waiting
The presses are ready
and the bookstores are clamoring for delivery

       This convention is tedious
beyond belief: the hotel is swarming
with disgustingly overexposed women
far too young to have dignity
or any minds at all

Dear Patient:
       The results of your blood tests reveal
that your problem stems from
a diet dangerously low
in pizza and chocolate

Dear Mom,
       You were right about everything
and I was an idiot not to listen

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of novelist Grace Metalious, (books by this author) born in Manchester, New Hampshire (1924). She wrote the scandalous novel Peyton Place (1956) about a small New England town that is filled with sex, rape, murder, and suicide.

Metalious was a stay-at-home mother of three children, and she wrote the novel to help her husband pay the bills. She got the idea for the book in the middle of the night, and wrote it in ten weeks. It was the first work of fiction she ever published. She based part of the book on a town secret about a woman who murdered her father, and when the book became a best-seller, the locals in her town were horrified. It was banned in libraries across the country and the public library in her hometown didn't have a copy until the 1990s.

After her death, the book was made into a TV series that became the first ever long-running primetime soap opera, and all primetime serials since then have been based on its example.

It's the birthday of novelist and playwright Michael Frayn, (books by this author) born in London, England (1933). He's best known as the author of the play Noises Off (1982), about a group of terrible actors performing a sex comedy called Nothing On. In the first half of the play, the audience sees what's happening on the stage, and in the second half of the play the audience sees what's happening backstage.

It's the birthday of Ann Beattie, (books by this author) born in Washington, D.C. (1947). It was in grad school that she showed some short stories she'd been writing to one of her professors, the writer John O'Hara, and he started sending her stories out for publication. After a few acceptances, he suggested she try submitting to The New Yorker. She got an encouraging rejection letter, so she kept submitting. It took her twenty-two tries before The New Yorker took one of her stories, but it wasn't so bad because it had taken her only a few hours to write each of those twenty-two stories. She published both her first collection, Distortions, and her first novel, Chilly Scenes of Winter, in 1976.

Her most recent collection, Follies, came out in 2005.

Ann Beattie said, "People forget years and remember moments."

It was on this day in 1952 that Ernest Hemingway (books by this author) came out with his last novel, The Old Man and the Sea.

After he published his first two novels, The Sun Also Rises (1926) and A Farewell to Arms (1929), he was considered the best living American writer, and he was probably the most famous writer in the world. But he began to write less and less fiction in the 1930s. He went on long hunting and fishing expeditions. He became an intrepid journalist, covering the civil war in Spain. He covered the invasion of Normandy on D-Day and the liberation of Paris, and he was one of the only armed journalists fighting alongside the other soldiers.

After participating in the war, he had a hard time getting back to writing. He said, "[It's] as though you had heard so much loud music you couldn't hear anything played delicately." He finally published his first novel in ten years in 1950, Across the River and Into the Trees, about World War II. It got terrible reviews.

Hemingway had been working on a long novel that he called The Sea Book. It had three sections, which he called "The Sea When Young," "The Sea When Absent," and "The Sea in Being," and it had an epilogue about an old fisherman. He wrote more than eight hundred pages of "The Sea Book" and rewrote them more than a hundred times, but the book still didn't seem finished. Finally, he decided to publish just the epilogue about the old fisherman, which he called The Old Man and the Sea.

It won the Pulitzer Prize, and two years later Hemingway won the Nobel Prize for Literature. He didn't publish another novel in his lifetime.

It was twenty years ago, on this day in 1986, that Oprah Winfrey's television show became nationally syndicated, broadcasting in a hundred and thirty-eight cities. It became the most popular daytime talk show of all time. Ten years later Winfrey got the idea to start a televised book club. She has gone on to pick more than fifty books for her book club, and none has sold less than 500,000 copies after being selected. People who study reading trends believe that Winfrey was persuading millions of people to begin reading for pleasure for the first time in their lives.

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




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