Sep. 21, 2008

The Hungry Gap-Time

by Thomas Lux

late August, before the harvest, every one of us worn down
by the plow, the hoe, rake,
and worry over rain.

Chicken Coop confiscated
by the rats and the raptors
with nary a mouse to hunt. The corn's too green and hard,
and the larder's down
to dried apples
and double-corned cod. We lie on our backs
and stare at the blue;
our work is done, our bellies flat.
The mold on the wheat killed hardly a sheaf.
The lambs fatten on the grass, our pigs we set
to forage on their own-they'll be back
when they whiff the first shucked ears
of corn. Albert's counting
bushels in his head
to see if there's enough to ask Harriet's father
for her hand. Harriet's father
is thinking about Harriet's mother's bread
pudding. The boys and girls
splash in the creek,
which is low but cold. Soon, soon
there will be food
again, and from what our hands have done
we shall live another year here
by the river
in the valley
above the fault line
beneath the mountain

"The Hungry Gap-Time," by Thomas Lux from God Particles: Poems. © Houghton Mifflin, 2008. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of the science fiction writer H. G. Wells, (books by this author) born Herbert George Wells in 1866 in Bromley, England. Wells' parents were poor, and their marriage wasn't very happy, but they managed because his father was a professional cricket player. But when Herbert's father broke his leg, they couldn't pay for school anymore, so Herbert became an apprentice to a draper. He failed at that, and then failed at being a chemist's assistant, and each time he was out of work he would go stay with his mother, who was living away from her husband, as a housekeeper for a rich family. That family had a huge library, and Herbert would sneak into the library to read. He won a scholarship to a science school, and he learned about biology and Darwinism from Thomas Henry Huxley, grandfather of the writer Aldous Huxley. But he failed his geology exam and had to leave school. Wells had a series of medical problems — a shattered kidney, a burst blood vessel in his lung, a hemorrhage — and he often thought he was dying, but this only prompted him to write more and more, so he ended up writing more than 100 works, including The Time Machine (1895), The Invisible Man (1897), and The War of the Worlds (1898).

It's the birthday of the horror writer Stephen King, (books by this author) born in 1947 in Portland, Maine. His family moved around a lot and ended up in a small town in Maine, and it was there that his official writing career began at age 11, when he and his older brother David decided to begin a town newspaper, and it sold for five cents. In 1957, he was at the local theater watching a matinee of Earth vs. the Flying Saucers, and the manager interrupted it to announce that the Soviet Union had launched Sputnik. Stephen King says that for the first time, he saw "a useful connection between the world of fantasy and that of what My Weekly Reader used to call Current Events." He decided that the main purpose of horror was "its ability to form a liaison between our fantasy fears and our real fears." He sold a couple of stories, and he wrote a novel but it was rejected. He earned $1.25 an hour pumping gas, and then he worked at a laundromat. Eventually, he got a job teaching high school, and that job inspired him to write about a teenager named Carietta White. But he decided his story was worthless and threw it in the trash. His wife took it out of the trash, read it, and thought it was actually pretty good. She told him to keep writing, so he did, and Carrie was published (1974). It didn't get great reviews, but it sold more than 4 million copies and was made into a movie, and suddenly King had enough money to write full-time.

He has written many books, including The Shining (1977), Pet Sematary (1983), It (1986), The Green Mile (1996), and his seven-part Dark Tower series.

Stephen King said, "We make up horrors to help us cope with the real ones."

And, "The road to hell is paved with adverbs."

It was on this day in 1937 that The Hobbit was published with a printing of 1,500 copies. A few years earlier, a professor of Anglo-Saxon at Oxford, a man named J.R.R. Tolkien, was grading papers and he turned one of those papers over and wrote, "In a hole in the ground, there lived a hobbit." He didn't really know what that meant, or what a hobbit was. But in the next few years, he drew a map of the sort of world he thought a hobbit would live in, and then he started to write a story about a hobbit named Bilbo Baggins. Tolkien only managed to finish the story because he was encouraged by friends. It was passed around and eventually got to the publishing house of Allen & Unwin. Mr. Unwin gave it to his 10-year-old son, told him he would pay him a few pennies in exchange for reading it and giving him a report, and the boy was so enthusiastic that Allen & Unwin agreed to publish it. The Hobbit was so popular that they immediately issued a second printing. But since paper was rationed during the war, it was frequently unavailable for the next 10 years.

It was on this day in 1970 that the first modern op-ed page appeared in The New York Times. People sometimes think that "op-ed" stands for "opinion-editorial," but it actually stands for "opposite the editorial page." Op-eds began in the 1920s, but they were forums for newspapers' columnists, not for outside writers. The modern op-ed was created by New York Times journalist John Bertram Oakes. Oakes received a commentary letter that he thought was excellent, but it was too long to print as a letter to the editor, and it couldn't be published in the op-ed page since it wasn't by a columnist. So he got the idea for an op-ed page that would include outside opinions. Oakes spent 10 years trying to convince publishers that is was good idea. Finally the Times editors agreed, and published the first version, and it's become the model for op-ed pages worldwide.

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




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