Feb. 13, 2008

Dream Home

by William Reichard

It's south of here because, mostly,
everything is; what is north is smaller,

thicker, more compact to keep out
the cold. Down there, where it's

warmer, it spreads out luxuriously
across a flattened mountain top.

There's a lake below, more mountains
beyond. The scenery is guaranteed.

Down there, our lives would be
something to marvel at: breakfast

on the terrace every day, a swim
in the afternoon, dinner by candlelight

every night. Down there, life would be
just like it is in the movies, the old movies,

at least: elegant yet simple, in an age
that must remain unquestioned.

Up here, it's much more complicated.
Or, it's just not so clear. Or classy.

Dinner is served in front of the television,
and most of the year, you can't

eat outside. Enter every day for your
chance to win!
cries the television promotion.

And we do, oh Lord. Yes we do.

"Dream Home" by William Reichard, from This Brightness: Poems. © Mid-List Press, 2007. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It was on this day in 1974 that author Alexander Solzhenitsyn (books by this author) was exiled from the Soviet Union. He was convicted of treason on the 12th, sent out of the country the very next day, and it would be 20 years before he ever set foot in Russia again.

Starting in the early 1960s, Solzhenitsyn had made himself an enemy of the state by clandestinely publishing novels based on his experiences in Stalin's forced labor camps. He would write a novel in secret and then his friends would smuggle the manuscript out of the country to be published abroad. He built a huge following in the West and won a Nobel Prize in literature in 1970, but he was always on the verge of being caught.

In December of 1973, the KGB discovered a draft of The Gulag Archipelago, Solzhenitsyn's seminal work; the first book to document the camps' existence and to capture the full scope and horror of what happened there. Writing this book was the crime that got him exiled. He moved with his family to a little farm in Vermont and continued to write, working seven days a week, almost the entire day. He felt a responsibility to tell stories, not just for his craft, but for the people whose lives and deaths had inspired him. In his 1980 book The Oak and the Calf: Sketches of Literary Life in the Soviet Union, he writes, "They are dead. You are alive. Do your duty. The world must know all about it!"

It's the birthday of William Roughead, (books by this author) considered one of the greatest true-crime writers. Born in Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1870, Roughead was a lawyer who developed a fascination with murder trials early in his career. In 1889, while still a teenager, he played hooky from his apprenticeship to attend the trial of murderess Jessie King, the last woman ever hanged in Edinburgh. From that year until 1949, Roughead could be seen in the audience of every major murder trial held in the Edinburgh High Court.

He began writing about these trials for legal journals, but his frank, pulpy prose lent itself to popular reading and in 1913 he published his first anthology of crime stories, Twelve Scots Trials. He hated the title. In the preface to his 1922 book, Glengarry's Way and Other Studies, he wrote, "Of those three fateful words two at least were unhappily chosen. 'Scots' tended to arouse hereditary prejudice. ... 'Trials' suggested to the lay mind either the bloomless technicalities of law reports or the raw and ribald obscenities of the baser press. Had they been a 'baker's dozen' the game would have been up indeed."

Roughead published more than 13 anthologies of crime, his writing influencing the likes of Henry James and Joyce Carol Oates. In an article for The New York Review of Books, Oates wrote, "Roughead's influence was enormous. ... He wrote in a style that combined intelligence, witty skepticism, and a flair for old-fashioned storytelling and moralizing; his accounts of murder cases and trials have the advantage of being concise and pointed, like folk tales."

It's also the birthday of cartoonist Sidney Smith, born Robert Sidney Smith in 1877 in Bloomington, Illinois. He began drawing for the Bloomington paper at the age of 18, and by 1917 he was on the staff of the Chicago Tribune. That year, he took up an editor's challenge to create a comic strip about utterly average Americans. The result was "The Gumps," the first newspaper comic to use a continuing, soap opera-style storyline, influencing successors from "Gasoline Alley" to "For Better or For Worse."

It was fantastically successful. "The Gumps" became the first comic strip to kill off a main character in 1929 and the first to make the move to radio in 1934.

The American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers was founded today in New York City in 1914. The founding membership included some of the most popular musicians of the day, including Irving Berlin, John Philip Sousa, and the composer Victor Herbert. The group was formed to protect intellectual property and help musically inclined writers make a living off their art. Technically, there were already laws on the books that should have done this, but many of them weren't being enforced.

According to ASCAP lore, it was Victor Herbert who realized what a problem enforcement had become when he walked into a hotel one evening and heard one of his own songs being played. Knowing he hadn't given permission or been paid for his music, Herbert set out to create a union that would stand up for the rights of musicians and composers.

The first office of the ASCAP was little more than a closet in New York's Fulton Theater Building. The office furniture consisted of a table and a single, broken chair. Today, the organization has more than 300,000 members, and it collects and distributes millions in royalties.

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




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