Feb. 27, 2010


by Jason Shinder

Goodbye again. Say there is a little song in my head

and because of it I can't sleep or change my mind
about the future. Now the song runs all the way down

to the beach where I sit as if the sky

were my room now. No one, not even you,
can hear me singing. Not even me.

As if the music rose from the mouth of the ocean.

No mouth. Like rain before it reaches us.
Like wind twirling dresses on the clothesline.

Who has no one has the history of the ocean.

Lord, give me two more days. So that
the last moments may be with someone.

"Ocean" by Jason Shinder, from Stupid Hope. © Graywolf Press, 2009. Reprinted with permission (buy now)

It's the birthday of the poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, (books by this author) born in Portland, Maine (1807). Longfellow wrote many long, narrative poems that are still well known to this day, including "Evangeline" (1847) and "The Courtship of Miles Standish" (1858). He also translated Dante's Divine Comedy. Poem: "Ground Waters" by Alison Apotheker, from Slim Margin. © Word Press, 2008. Reprinted with permission.

It's the birthday of John Steinbeck, (books by this author) born in Salinas, California (1902). He is the author of the epic novel The Grapes of Wrath (1939) and also Of Mice and Men (1937).

It's the birthday of the Kiowa novelist and poet N. Scott Momaday, (books by this author) born in Lawton, Oklahoma (1934). He started writing, and he was working on a project about the sacred Sun Dance doll of the Kiowa tribe. He tried to write a book of poems based on the experience, but a teacher suggested he turn the poems into fiction, and that became his first novel, House Made of Dawn (1968), which won the Pulitzer Prize.

It's the birthday of the writer who said, "Truth disappears with the telling of it": Lawrence Durrell, (books by this author) born to a British father and Irish mother in Jullundur, India (1911). He's best known for his experimental tetralogy The Alexandria Quartet.

When Durrell was 11, his parents sent him off to England to boarding school so he could get a proper British education. He hated living in England and said, "English life is really like an autopsy. It is so, so dreary." Cambridge rejected him, and he left the country and spent most of the rest of his life abroad.

Before he could make a living solely from his writing, he sold real estate, played jazz piano in nightclubs, raced fast cars, ran a photography studio, worked as a teacher, edited various publications, worked for the British Information Office, worked in public relations and as a press attaché for the British government. In the span of 15 years, he lived Paris; Kalamata, Greece; Cairo; Alexandria; Cordoba, Argentina; Belgrade, Yugoslavia; and Cyprus. Briefly he was a special correspondent for The Economist magazine. He eventually returned to France and settled there.

It was in Paris in the late 1930s that Lawrence Durrell met Henry Miller. He'd read Henry Miller's Book Tropic of Cancer, been totally impressed, and written Miller a fan letter. The two men met up, became fast friends, and started editing a literary magazine together. They would exchange letters for the next five decades. Durrell's early books were very much imitations of Miller's writing.

The Alexandria Quartet, Durrell's best-known work, is a set of four experimental books, each of which covers the same set of events but from a different narrative viewpoint. Durrell explained that he hoped to write a book about love and memory and space that would blend Einstein's theory of relativity with ideas of Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung and Indian mysticism and Chinese philosophy. He said the story "is a four-dimensional dance, a relativity poem." Rather than being structured by chronology, the story is structured by memory and geography.

The four books are Justine (1957), Balthazar (1958), Mountolive (1958), Clea (1960). The first novel is narrated by a young Englishman, a struggling writer and schoolteacher who recounts his love affair with a rich and beautiful married Jewish woman in Alexandria whom everyone else also seemed to be in love with. In it, he narrates: "A city becomes a world when one loves one of its inhabitants." And, "A woman's best love letters are always written to the man she is betraying."

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




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