Jul. 11, 2008

Opposing Forces

by Eamon Grennan

Even in this sharp weather there are lovers everywhere
holding onto each other, hands in one another's pockets
for warmth, for the sense of I'm yours, the tender claim
it keeps making—one couple stopping in the chill
to stand there, faces pressed together, arms around
jacketed shoulders so I can see bare hands grapple
with padding, see the rosy redness of cold fingers
as they shift a little, trying to register through fold
after fold, This is my flesh feeling you you're feeling.

It must be some contrary instinct in the blood
that sets itself against the weather like this, brings
lovers out like early buds, like the silver-grey catkins
I saw this morning polished to brightness
by ice overnight. Geese, too: more and more couples
voyaging north, great high-spirited congregations
taking the freezing air in and letting it out
as song, as if this frigid enterprise were all joy,
nothing to be afraid of.

"Opposing Forces" by Eamon Grennan from Matter of Fact. © Graywolf Press, 2008. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of the literary critic and teacher Harold Bloom, (books by this author) born in New York City (1930) to Jewish immigrants. His first language was Yiddish, and he started reading poetry in English before he'd ever heard English spoken. He didn't do well in high school but took the statewide Regents exams, got the highest score in the state, and that won him a scholarship to Cornell.

He went on to study literature at Yale in the 1950s at a time when there was a dress code. The students wore jackets and ties. Harold Bloom wore an old Russian leather coat and a pair of fisherman's trousers. He became famous at Yale for his great love of poetry. He memorized everything that he read. He could recite enormous, long poems.

As a professor at Yale and as a critic, Bloom has moved further and further away from the mainstream of literary criticism in this country. Most other critics look at literature as a product of history, politics, and society. Whereas Harold Bloom is one of the last who believes that great literature is a product of pure genius, and who believes that we should read not to learn about history or politics but to learn about the human soul.

In the last few years, he's begun writing books for general readers, believing that scholars have forgotten how to read for pleasure, and many of his recent books have become best sellers, including Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human and How to Read and Why, and Genius: A Mosaic of One Hundred Exemplary Creative Minds.

Today is the birthday of the man who gave us Charlotte's Web, E.B. (Elwyn Brooks) White, (books by this author) born in Mount Vernon, New York (1899). He was a writer for many years for The New Yorker magazine. He later moved with his wife to a farmhouse in Maine. E.B. White wrote, "Just to live in the country is a full-time job. You don't have to do anything. The idle pursuit of making a living is pushed to one side, where it belongs, in favor of living itself, a task of such immediacy, variety, beauty, and excitement that one is powerless to resist its wild embrace."

For all his love of the country, E.B. White is also the author of a classic about New York City, Here is New York, which people still read today.

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




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