Nov. 6, 2006

Apple Season in a Time of War

by Linda Pastan

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Poem: "Apple Season in a Time of War" by Linda Pastan, from Queen of a Rainy Country. © W.W. Norton & Company. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Apple Season in a Time of War

The children are terrible
in their innocence,
and the frightened parents
can neither scold nor protect them

as the leaves continue to fall
like tiny portents
from the ancestral trees.
Weather is all

that remains unchanged,
with its accidental
almost merciful cruelties,
its winds, its falling temperatures.

But I can hear the children
whose laughter rings
like small but dangerous
hammers on an anvil.

I can hear the buzz of radio voices,
persistent as insects
on all the frequencies
of madness.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It was on this day in 1860 that Abraham Lincoln (books by this author) was elected for his first term as president of the United States. Before that, Lincoln's only experience in national politics had been a single term as a congressional representative and two unsuccessful runs for senator. There were three other men who might have gotten the Republican nomination that year, all of whom were better known, better educated, and more experienced than Lincoln. Lincoln only had the upper hand because he was from the swing state of Illinois. It also helped that the Republican convention was held in Chicago that year. Lincoln's campaign operatives arranged it so that Illinois railroads would offer special rates for train rides to the convention, thereby flooding it with Lincoln supporters.

Once he got the nomination, Lincoln basically laid low until the election. His campaign distributed printed transcripts of the Lincoln-Douglas Debates. Lincoln only attended one campaign rally, in Springfield, and he didn't even make a speech. His strategy was to let the opposition tear itself apart without stirring up any controversy of his own. And the strategy worked. Lincoln wound up winning only 40 percent of the popular vote, but he won in the Electoral College, even though he didn't receive a single electoral vote from a Southern state.

Most commentators at the time thought Lincoln had won the presidency by a stroke of luck, and they expected little of him. The Harvard professor James Russell Lowell wrote in 1863, "All that was known of him was that he was a good stump-speaker, nominated for his availability ... [and that] he had no history."

It's the birthday of the man who founded The New Yorker magazine, Harold Ross, (books by this author) born in Aspen, Colorado (1892). He was gap-toothed, his hair was always a mess, and he spoke with a Western twang. He wore ill-fitting dark suits, and James Thurber said, "[He looked like a] carelessly carried umbrella." But he became friends with people like F. Scott Fitzgerald, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Dorothy Parker, Robert Benchley, and Edna Ferber, and his group of friends helped him form an idea of the kind of wit and energy his magazine should capture.

He brought out the first issue of The New Yorker on February 21, 1925, and it took off after he hired writers E.B. White and James Thurber, who developed a distinctive style for the magazine.

Harold Ross once had his office soundproofed because he couldn't stand distractions, but then he was distracted by the silence. He hired most of his staff himself, but whenever someone had to be fired, he either left the building or hid in a coat closet.

It's the birthday of novelist James Jones, (books by this author) born in Robinson, Illinois (1921). He's best known as the author of the military novel From Here to Eternity (1951), about a soldier's life in the years leading up to the bombing of Pearl Harbor.

It's the birthday of the novelist Michael Cunningham, (books by this author) born in Cincinnati, Ohio (1952). Growing up, he wasn't particularly interested in literature until he got a crush on a girl who encouraged him to read Virginia Woolf's novel Mrs. Dalloway, and it made him want to become a writer.

He went to the Iowa Writers' Workshop and published a few stories, but then went for years without publishing anything. He said, "I was working either as a waiter, a bartender, moving around a lot, falling in love a lot and going wherever it took me." But very slowly he began writing a new novel. A friend kept encouraging him to send a chapter out for publication, so just to shut the guy up, he sent the chapter into The New Yorker as a short story, assuming it would come right back. Cunningham couldn't believe it when the magazine published the story, which became the first chapter of his first successful novel, A Home at the End of the World (1990).

He's best known for his novel The Hours (1999), which tells three interwoven stories: one about Virginia Woolf on the day she begins thinking about Mrs. Dalloway; a second about a 1950s housewife in Los Angeles, who is reading Mrs. Dalloway; and a third about a modern woman in New York City whose life resembles Mrs. Dalloway. It won the Pulitzer Prize and the PEN/Faulkner Award in 1999. It was made into a movie in 2002. His most recent book is Specimen Days (2005).

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




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