May 16, 2010

On the Way to the Farm I Think of My Sister

by Joyce Sutphen

There's a different highway now
coming across different fields
west of the old double lane.

Once you're on it, you don't have to stop
for anything, except congestion in July
when everyone else is heading

North. You'd like it: driving at 80 mph
with the music forty years past when
you left the planet ... but no more

gasoline at 29 cents a gallon! No more
Beatles (John and George—both dead),
v no more cows in the stanchions, no more hay
in the barn. Otherwise, everything is
pretty much the way you remember it.

"On the Way to the Farm I Think of My Sister" by Joyce Sutphen, from First Words. © Red Dragonfly Press, 2010. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It was on this day in 1836 that 27-year-old Edgar Allan Poe (books by this author) married his 13-year-old cousin, Virginia, in a ceremony in Virginia. On the marriage license, they listed her age as 21. Their wedding was at a Presbyterian Church in Richmond, Virginia, and then the couple headed 20 miles south for a honeymoon in Petersburg, along the Appomattox River.

It was by all accounts a mutually adoring and loving relationship, though some scholars have speculated that the couple never actually consummated their marriage. She became ill with tuberculosis and soon was an invalid. The state of her health, which would improve and then worsen, plunged Edgar Allan Poe into dark depression. He wrote to his friend: "Each time I felt all the agonies of her death — and at each accession of the disorder I loved her more dearly & clung to her life with more desperate pertinacity. I became insane, with long intervals of horrible sanity."

In her early 20s, the tuberculosis symptoms flared up again, and this time people held little hope for her recovery. One person who visited her bedside wrote: "Mrs. Poe looked very young; she had large black eyes, and a pearly whiteness of complexion, which was a perfect pallor. Her pale face, her brilliant eyes, and her raven hair gave her an unearthly look." Virginia told Edgar that after she died she would be his guardian angel. She lived to be 24 years old.

Most Poe scholars agree that Virginia was the inspiration for his great poem "Annabel Lee," about the death of a beautiful young woman whom he loved.

The poem begins:

It was many and many a year ago,
    In a kingdom by the sea,
That a maiden there lived whom you may know
    By the name of Annabel Lee;
And this maiden she lived with no other thought
    Than to love and be loved by me.

It's the birthday of Studs Terkel, (books by this author) born Louis Terkel in New York City (1912). He had a hard childhood — his father was sickly and his mother was strict. His family moved to Chicago, where his mother managed a hotel.

Studs Terkel served in WWII as a speechwriter, then came back to Chicago and got his own radio show, The Wax Museum. But he was blackballed from commercial radio for his leftist politics, so he got a job playing records at WFMT, where he stayed for 45 years.

Terkel went around interviewing ordinary people and writing oral histories, including Division Street: America (1966), Hard Times: An Oral History of the Great Depression (1970), and Working: People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do (1974). He died in 2008, at the age of 96.

He said, "I'm celebrated for celebrating the uncelebrated."

It's the birthday of American poet Adrienne Rich, (books by this author) born in Baltimore, Maryland, in 1929. She's written more than 20 collections, including The Diamond Cutters and Other Poems (1955) and Diving into the Wreck (1973), and is known for her feminism and her politically charged poetry. She said: "For more than 50 years I have been writing, tearing up, revising poems, studying poets from every culture and century available to me. I have been a poet of the oppositional imagination, meaning that I don't think my only argument is with myself. My work is for people who want to imagine and claim wider horizons and carry on about them into the night, rather than rehearse the landlocked details of personal quandaries or the price for which the house next door just sold."

She said, "Poetry is an art of translation, a connective strand between unlike individuals, times, and cultures."

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