Jun. 6, 2008

Farmhouses, Iowa

by Baron Wormser

Invariably, a family in each one
And someone opening the fridge to fetch
A carton of milk, someone sitting in
A chair and shelling peas, someone looking

Out a window at a barn, two willow trees.
Solitude broods like a pursuing shadow;
A radio fades in and out -the voice
Eager yet eerie. Three ages anchor

The oaken dinner table: Mom and Dad
Up-before-dawn weary, Grandma perturbed
About half-thawed rolls, the children recounting
School stories, then silent. In the parlor
A whiskey tumbler rests beside a Bible.
The old collie whimpers when a car goes by.

"Farmhouses, Iowa" by Baron Wormser, from Scattered Chapters. © Sarabande Books, 2008. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of Alexander Pushkin, (books by this author) born in Moscow (1799). He's considered the greatest Russian poet of all time. His mother was descended of a slave from Cameroon who had been bought as a gift for Peter the Great. His father was a small-time nobleman. Alexander was short — only 5'6" — and left his side whiskers and his long fingernails ungroomed.

He liked women with small feet, the opera, and smoked sturgeon. He once called his wife his "113th love." He had extreme mood swings that scholars say would today be diagnosed as manic-depressive. His poems about the monarchy earned him enforced exile to the south in 1820. He liked to sit in bed with a notebook on his knees and compose poems.

He was quick to anger and a participant in numerous duels. His final one was with a French nobleman who fancied Pushkin's wife — and Pushkin died from the wound he received in the fight. He was only 38. His most famous work is Eugene Onegin (1823).

It's the birthday of Thomas Mann, (books by this author) born in Lubeck, Germany (1875), the son of a Brazilian Catholic mother and German Lutheran grain merchant. He was a lackluster student, studying science at gymnasium, then went to work as a clerk for an insurance company. He wrote in his free time and later attended a university to prepare for a career in journalism. He moved to Italy for a year with his older brother Heinrich, also a writer, and during this time his first collection of short stories, Little Herr Friedemann (1898), was published. In Italy he also began to write the novel Buddenbrooks, which appeared in 1901.

He exiled himself from Germany when Hitler came to power, and then Hitler revoked Mann's German citizenship. He moved to Switzerland in 1933. In 1940, he became an American citizen and lived in Santa Monica, California, for most of the rest of his life.

He won the Nobel Prize in 1929. His many novels include Mario and the Magician (1929), The Beloved Returns (1939), and Dr. Faustus (1947).

He said, "A writer is somebody for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people."

It's the birthday of the poet, novelist, and children's author Maxine Kumin, (books by this author) born in Philadelphia (1925). She won the Pulitzer Prize for a book inspired by her New Hampshire farm titled Up Country: Poems of New England (1972). In college, an instructor handed back comments on her poetry that read: "Say it with flowers, but for God's sake don't try to write poems." She didn't, for a long time, until she got serious about it again in her 30s, in the middle of her third pregnancy. She said, "The grit of discontent, the acute misery of early and uninformed motherhood worked under my skin to force out the writer."

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