Sep. 18, 2008

Zimmer in Grade School

by Paul Zimmer

In grade school I wondered
Why I had been born
To wrestle in the ashy puddles
With my square nose
Streaming mucus and blood,
My knuckles puffed from combat
And the old nun's ruler.
I feared everything: God,
Learning, and my schoolmates.
I could not count, spell, or read.
My report card proclaimed
These scarlet failures.
My parents wrung their loving hands.
My guardian angel wept constantly.

But I could never hide anything.
If I peed my pants in class
The puddle was always quickly evident,
My worst mistakes were at
The blackboard for Jesus and all
The saints to see.
        Even now,
When I hide behind elaborate mask,
It is always known that I am Zimmer,
The one who does the messy papers
And fractures all his crayons,
Who spits upon the radiators
And sits all day in shame
Outside the office of the principal.

"Zimmer in Grade School" by Paul Zimmer from Crossing to Sunlight Revisited: New and Selected Poems. © The University of Georgia Press, 2007. Reprinted with permission.(buy now)

It's the birthday of Samuel Johnson, (books by this author) born in Lichfield, England, in 1709, who wrote A Dictionary of the English Language (1755). As a young man, he went to Oxford, where he had to walk barefoot because he couldn't afford to repair his shoes. One night another student left a new pair of shoes outside his door. Johnson was so furious that other students thought he was a charity case, and so discouraged by being poor, that he left school. He started writing, and he wrote for years while he battled depression and physical problems. He made friends with a man named James Boswell, who eventually wrote a detailed biography of Samuel Johnson, which is why we know so much about him. The biography is so precise about Johnson's specific tics, outbursts, and obsessive behaviors that it was used to posthumously diagnose Johnson with Tourette syndrome.

In part thanks to Boswell's biography, Johnson is also one of the most quoted men of his century.

He said, "Bachelors have consciences, married men have wives."

And, "Books like friends, should be few and well-chosen."

And, "Your manuscript is both good and original, but the part that is good is not original and the part that is original is not good."

It's the birthday of the poet Paul Zimmer, (books by this author) born in Canton, Ohio, in 1934. His father was a shoe salesman, and he grew up with the dream of becoming a catcher for the Cleveland Indians. He gave up on baseball when he was 19, but he said, "I have been a catcher all my life. Warehouse manager, technical writer, soldier, bookstore buyer, editor, publisher, husband, father, gardener, poet — I have borne the catcher's attitude to all these tasks. I have given signals, received pitches, watched the field, kept my eye on the ball, avoided most cheap shots, backed up bases, stayed busy, chattered encouragement, made decisions."

Zimmer has published many books of poetry, and these include The Republic of Many Voices (1969) and The Great Bird of Love (1989). His memoir After the Fire (2002) reflects on his love of jazz, baseball, poetry, and his wife.

Today is the birthday of the novelist and short-story writer William March, (books by this author) born William Edward Campbell in Mobile, Alabama, in 1893. He was one of 11 children. His family couldn't pay for his education, so when he was 14, he left school to work in the office of a lumber mill, and then a law office. He saved up money to go back to high school and then to law school, but in 1916, in the middle of his degree, he had to drop out because he just couldn't afford it. A year later, he joined the U.S. Marines, and his company was part of every major engagement of WWI. He earned some medals for his bravery, and he went back home, but he struggled with depression, paranoia, and schizophrenia. And since he couldn't bring himself to talk about his experiences in the war he decided to write about them instead — first stories, and then a novel, Company K (1933). He wanted to convey the chaos of war, so each of the platoon's soldiers takes a turn speaking. Graham Greene wrote that Company K "has the force of a mob protest; an outcry from anonymous throats. It is the only war book I have read which has found a new form to fit the novelty of the protest." William March wrote five more novels, including The Looking-Glass (1943) and The Bad Seed (1954).

It was on this day in 1851 that The New York Times published its first issue. It was founded by George Jones, a banker, and Henry Jarvis Raymond, who was a politician and then worked for the New York Tribune before he got fired. Raymond was so bitter about being fired that he hoped to make a newspaper that was successful enough to drive the Tribune out of business. They set up their office in a decrepit brownstone, and they didn't have lamps yet so they had to put the paper together by candlelight. But the windows didn't have glass yet, so the candles kept blowing out. The paper reached a circulation of 10,000 within 10 days. The first issue proclaimed, "We publish today the first issue of the New-York Daily Times, and we intend to issue it every morning (Sundays excepted) for an indefinite number of years to come." It's now been in print for 157 years.

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