Nov. 24, 2007

The Nearness That Is All

by Samuel Hazo

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Poem: "The Nearness That Is All" by Samuel Hazo, from A Flight to Elsewhere. © Autumn House Press, 2005. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

The Nearness That Is All

Love's what Shakespeare never
   said by saying, "You have
   bereft me of all words, lady."
Love is the man who siphoned
   phlegm from his ill wife's throat
   three times a day for seven
      Love's what the Arabs
   mean when they bless those
   with children: "May God keep them
   for you."
         Or why a mother
   whispers to her suckling, "May you
   bury me."
            Love's how the ten-year
   widow speaks of her buried
   husband in the present tense.
Love lets the man with one leg
   and seven children envy no man
   living and none dead.
   leaves no one alone but, oh,
   lonely, lonelier, loneliest
   at midnight in another country.
Love is jealousy's mother
   and father.
            Love's how death
   creates a different nearness
   but kills nothing.
   makes lovers rise from each
   loving wanting more.
   says impossibility's possible
            Love saddens glad
   days for no bad reason.
Love gladdens sad days
   for no good reason.
   mocks equivalence.
                           Love is.

It's the birthday of the publisher and editor of The Little Review magazine, Margaret Anderson, (books by this author) born in Indianapolis (1886), who never fit in when she was growing up in the small town of Columbus, Indiana. She said, "I saw no reason why I should continue to live in Columbus, Indiana, and not breathe." So she moved to Chicago and founded a magazine called The Little Review, which she described as "A Magazine of the Arts, Making No Compromise with the Public Taste." She had a hard time getting financing, and eventually had to move in with her parents to save money, but she kept it going.

In 1918, the poet Ezra Pound was trying to get James Joyce's new novel, Ulysses, published in the U.S., but most publishers thought it was too obscene. Anderson accepted it as soon as she read the manuscript. She wrote to Pound, "We'll print it if it's the last effort of our lives." She serialized the novel over the course of three years, and later said, "The care we [took] to preserve Joyce's text intact. ... The addressing, wrapping, stamping, mailing; the excitement of anticipating the world's response to the literary masterpiece of our generation ... and then a notice from the Post Office: BURNED."

Three issues of the magazine were ultimately confiscated and burned. Anderson was charged with obscenity for publishing the book, and at the trial, the judge wouldn't let the offending material be read in her presence, because she was a woman, even though she had published it. She was convicted and had to pay a fine, and issues of The Little Review began to come out less and less frequently. The last issue came out in 1929.

Margaret Anderson said, "I believe in the unsubmissive, the unfaltering, the unassailable, the irresistible, the unbelievable — in other words, in an art of life."

It's the birthday of the novelist Laurence Sterne, (books by this author) born in Clonmel, Ireland (1713), who became a priest and supported himself and his wife by doing double duty in two different parishes, as well as substitute preaching at a third parish. He did all this preaching in spite the fact that privately he was agnostic. He knew he wanted to try writing fiction, but his friends kept telling him to put it off until he got promoted to higher office.

He finally decided he couldn't wait any more, and began to write his novel The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman (1760), a fictional autobiography in which the narrator is unable to tell his own story, because he's constantly sidetracked by various absurd digressions on all sorts of subjects. The book is also filled with black pages, excerpts of obscure theological debates, and a graphic representation of its own plotline.

Sterne participated in all the details of Tristram Shandy's marketing campaign, even specifying the dimensions of the book to make sure it could fit into a gentleman's coat pocket. His efforts paid off and the book made him famous. Sterne's work influenced many writers of the 20th century, including James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, and Samuel Beckett. Author Italo Calvino said, "[Sterne] was the undoubted progenitor of all the avant-garde novels of our century."

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