May 8, 2008


by Patrick Phillips

After the biopsy,
after the bonescan,
after the consult and the crying,

for a few hours no one could find them,
not even my sister,
because it turns out

they'd gone to the movies.
Something tragic was playing,
something epic,

and so they went to the comedy
with their popcorn
and their cokes—

the old wife whispering everything twice,
the old husband
cupping a palm to his ear,

as the late sun lit up an orchard
behind the strip mall,
and they sat in the dark holding hands.

""Matinee" by Patrick Phillips, from Boy. © University of Georgia Press, 2008. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of Thomas Pynchon, (books by this author) born in Glen Cove, New York (1937), the author of large books of fiction, including Gravity's Rainbow (1973), Mason and Dixon (1997), and the 1,085-page Against the Day (2006). He studied physics engineering at Cornell, left to serve in the Navy, and then returned to study literature, where fellow students report that he attended lectures given by Vladimir Nabokov. He applied to Berkeley's graduate school of math, but his application was rejected.

He is well known for his reclusiveness and elusiveness. After his first novel, V., was published in 1963 and Time magazine sent a photographer to his home in Mexico City, Pynchon reportedly evaded the reporter by jumping out his window, riding a bus to the mountains, and staying there while he grew a beard — and when he returned natives called him Pancho Villa. In 1997, a CNN crew stalked Pynchon in his Manhattan neighborhood and was able to capture him on film. He became upset, called the station, and asked that he not be pointed out to viewers in any of the footage. He said, "Let me be unambiguous. I prefer not to be photographed." When they asked him about his reclusiveness, he said, "My belief is that 'recluse' is a code word generated by journalists ... meaning, 'doesn't like to talk to reporters.'"

When he received the National Book Award in 1974 for Gravity's Rainbow, he sent comedian Irwin Corey to the ceremony to accept the prize.

He has, however, made two cameo appearances on the animated television series The Simpsons. In one of them, Marge has become an author and Pynchon provides a blurb for her book. Pynchon appears on the show and says, "Here's your quote: Thomas Pynchon loved this book, almost as much as he loves cameras!" Then he yells at cars passing by, "Hey, over here, have your picture taken with a reclusive author! Today only, we'll throw in a free autograph!"

He lived for a period in Los Angeles, now resides in New York City, in Manhattan's Upper West Side. He is married to his literary agent, Melanie Jackson, and the couple has a son, who was born in 1991.

It's the birthday of novelist and critic Edmund Wilson, (books by this author) born in Red Bank, New Jersey (1895), the son of an attorney who succumbed to mental illness and a woman who went deaf shortly thereafter. He went to Princeton and then worked for The New York Evening Sun, Vanity Fair, The New Republic, and The New Yorker. Wilson wrote all sorts of opinions about major writers of his day. He was an early appreciator of Hemingway, and he said in 1922 that "F. Scott Fitzgerald has been left with a jewel which he doesn't know quite what to do with." He wrote that Yeats, Proust, and Joyce "break down the walls of the present and wake us to the hope and exaltation of the untried, unsuspected possibilities of human thought and art."

He said that "Marxism is the opium of the intellectuals" and that "No two persons ever read the same book."

It's the birthday of Gary Snyder, (books by this author) born in San Francisco (1930). He started out as one of the Beat writers of the 1950s and he's had a long steady career as a poet, an environmental activist, a Zen Buddhist, and a hero to the counterculture. He's one of first American poets since Henry Thoreau to think so much about how a person ought to live — and to make his own life a model. His book Turtle Island won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 1975.

While he was a student, he spent his summers working as a forest ranger, a logger, and a seaman, and in 1955 he worked at Yosemite National Park on the trail crew. He said, "I had given up on poetry. … Then I got out there and started writing these poems about the rocks and blue jays. I looked at them. They didn't look like any poems that I had ever written before. So I said, these must be my own poems." They became his first book, Riprap (1959).

In 1956, he left the San Francisco Beat scene and went to Japan. He spent most of the next 12 years in a monastery studying Buddhism. He went to India too, where he and Allen Ginsberg and others had a conversation about hallucinogens with the Dalai Lama. His friend Alan Watts wrote, "He is like a wiry Chinese sage with high cheekbones, twinkling eyes, and a thin beard, and the recipe for his character requires a mixture of Oregon woodsman, seaman, Amerindian shaman, Oriental scholar, San Francisco hippie, and swinging monk, who takes tough discipline with a light heart."

He said, "As a poet I hold the most archaic values on earth. They go back to the Neolithic: the fertility of the soil, the magic of animals, the power-vision in solitude, the terrifying initiation and rebirth, the love and ecstasy of the dance, the common work of the tribe."

And he said, "True affluence is not needing anything."

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




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