Oct. 5, 2008

A Woman Feeding Gulls

by David Wagoner

They cry out at the sight of her and come flying
Over the tidal flats from miles away,
Sideslipping and wheeling
In sloping gray-and-white interwoven spirals
Whose center is her
And the daily bread she casts downwind on the water
While rising to spread her arms
Like wings for the calling of still more gulls around her,
Their cries intermingling at the end of daylight
With the sudden abundance
Of this bread returning after the hungry night
And the famine of morning
And the endlessly hungry opening and closing
Of wings and arms and shore and the turning sky.

"A Woman Feeding Gulls" by David Wagoner from Traveling Light: Collected and New Poems. © University of Illinois Press, 1999. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of Flann O'Brien, (books by this author) born Brian O'Nolan in County Tyrone, Ireland (1911), and best known in his time as Myles na Gopaleen, the writer of a clever and often satirical column for The Irish Times. Today he is most famous for his postmodern novels At Swim-Two-Birds (1939) and The Third Policeman (1967).

He was one of 11 children in a Gaelic-speaking family, and he didn't learn English until he began school. He went to University College Dublin, the same school as James Joyce, but he spent most of his time there playing billiards and drinking in the pubs. He managed to secure a job with the Irish Civil Service, which he maintained all his life. His comic masterpiece, At Swim-Two-Birds is about a man writing a novel about a man writing a novel about a man writing a novel, and in that third layer of text, the characters come to life and revolt against the author who created them.

O'Brien creates three separate openings in the novel: one about a devil named "Pooka," another about a man born at the age of 25, and a third about the legendary Irish hero Finn McCool. He writes that "a satisfactory novel should be a self-evident sham to which the reader could regulate at will the degree of his credulity. … Characters should be interchangeable as between one book and another. The entire corpus of existing literature should be regarded as a limbo from which discerning authors could draw their characters as required, creating only when they failed to find a suitable existing puppet."

He was one of the first people to celebrate Bloomsday in Dublin, a holiday celebrating James Joyce, but he could also be harsh talking about Joyce. In an Irish Times column for Bloomsday, he wrote:

Joyce was illiterate. He had a fabulously developed jackdaw talent of picking up bits and pieces, but it seems his net was too wide to justify getting a few kids' schoolbooks and learning the rudiments of a new language correctly. Every foreign-language quotation in any of his works known to me are wrong. His few sallies at Greek are wrong, and his few attempts at a Gaelic phrase are absolutely monstrous. Anybody could have told him the right thing. Why did he not bother to ask?

It's the birthday of the Czech dramatist and president Vaclav Havel, (books by this author) born in Prague (1936). In the 1960s, he wrote a series of absurdist plays that attacked the Communist Party, including The Garden Party (1964) and The Memorandum (1965). He said, "If you want to see your plays performed the way you wrote them, become President."

It's the birthday of the architect Maya Lin, born in Athens, Ohio (1959), who was an architecture student at Yale when she entered the national competition for the design of a Vietnam Memorial, and won it. She beat out her own professor, who gave her a B- in his class. Today, more than a million people travel from across the country to see it each year.

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




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