Jan. 2, 2011

On the Iron Range, Where I Tossed My First Book of Poems

by David Salner

I tossed my first book of poems into a trash can
outside a mine. It was a hot day the book
stirred up yellow jackets feasting on soda cans.

So I hurried into the locker room, which we called
a "dry," because that's where our coveralls
hung from a chain in the ceiling, with the legs

outstretched like the skins of large animals
still wet when we climbed back into them.
I worked in the mine, patrolling a rotary kiln,

the largest in the world, said the company,
All night it rolled like a great whale
in bearings the sixe of my house.

My partner told stories about the old days
when he drank at Tony's instead of going home
to sleep—and then passed out in the gray mud

under the filter floor. We laughed and talked
as the machines splattered mud all over us.
Later that winter—after the hunters

had divided the deer into neat packages
and the fishermen had begun putting wood stoves
into their ice-houses, and after the snowmobilers

had begun cruising under bridges
and into forbidden areas—I skied to the top
of an old tailings dump, where all I could see

were Spruce and Tamarack rising from the stillness
of an ocean frozen under feet of snow
all the way to Lake Superior—a silent ocean

in which I could no longer hear the crushers
gyrating boulders of iron
at the edge of the sleepy town. Then Christmas:

U.S. Steel laid us off by the thousands,
and I left the Iron Range,
where I'd tossed my first book of poems.

"On the Iron Range, Where I Tossed My First Book of Poems" by David Salner, from Working Here. © Rooster Press, 2010. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It’s the birthday of poet David Shapiro, born in Newark, New Jersey (1947). His family was a string quartet, and he played the violin professionally at the age of 5. He started publishing poetry as a teenager, and ended up writing a lot of poems about the trauma and liberation involved in giving up the violin. One of his early poetry collections, A Man Holding an Acoustic Panel (1971) was nominated for the National Book Award. Since then, he’s published many more poetry collections, including The Page-Turner (1973), Lateness (1977), To an Idea (1984), After a Lost Original (1994) and Inventory: New and Selected Poems (1997). He’s also published several volumes of his drawings.

He said that before he goes to sleep, he asks that lines of poetry come to him in his dreams. If they do, he gets out of bed in the middle of the night and writes down the lines. One of the poems that came to him in a dream was “Desire Lines’”, was especially exciting to him because it rhymed. He said, “I couldn't believe I could rhyme in a dream!” “Desire Lines” begins:

“I can see
I cannot see
Keats in surgery in the l9th century
I can see
I cannot see
Mars and Aphrodite
dancing in the net while the gods played and laughed at
the castanet”

In his poem “To a Muse” he wrote:
“Give me a first line, you who are far away.
The second line will almost write itself.
In times of pain, I open the dictionary.

Like a girl in the last row who will not say
The theoretical part of the dream was herself
Give me a first lie, you who are far away.

A student laughs. I died once. Red is gray.
Cheat me like a quote, deceiving Elf.
In times of pain I open the dictionary.”

It’s the birthday of British crime novelist Mo Hayder, (books by this author) born in England in 1962, who writes about Detective Inspector Jack Caffrey in graphically violent, best-selling thriller novels like Birdman (1999), The Treatment (2002), Ritual (2008), Skin (2009) and Gone (2010). She said that her mother, who’s “very anti-violence”, was so shocked after reading Birdman that “she didn’t speak for a week.”

Hayder said: “In most crime novels the violent act, usually the murder, is the engine. Take that away and there is little left to drive the story along. So I do get a little cross with authors who aren’t precise about the violence they’re using to create tension because I feel they’re being dishonest with their readers. If people don’t like the blood and violence in my books, fine, they can always close the cover and put it aside and maybe read a romance instead.”

She teaches creative writing at a university in Bath, England, where she lives with her daughter and a retired police sergeant. Her new novel, Hanging Hill, is due out this April.

From the archives:

It's the birthday of the science fiction writer Isaac Asimov, (books by this author) born in Petrovichi, Russia (1920). His family immigrated to the United States when he was three years old, and his parents opened a candy shop in Brooklyn. He spent most of his time working in the family store, and he was fascinated by the shop's newspaper stand, which sold the latest issues of popular magazines. When his father finally relented and let him read pulp fiction, Asimov started reading science fiction obsessively.

He started writing science fiction as well. He published his first story when he was 18, and published 30 more stories in the next three years. At age 21, he wrote his most famous story after a conversation with his friend and editor John Campbell. Campbell had been reading Ralph Waldo Emerson's Nature, which includes the passage, "If the stars should appear one night in a thousand years, how would men believe and adore; and preserve for many generations the remembrance of the city of God which has been shown!" Asimov went home and wrote the story "Nightfall" (1941), about a planet with six suns that has a sunset once every 2,049 years. It's been anthologized over and over, and many people still consider it the best science fiction short story ever written.

It's the birthday of playwright Christopher Durang, (books by this author) born in Montclair, New Jersey (1949). He was raised Roman Catholic, went to a high school where he was taught by monks, and thought he might become a monk himself. Instead, he became a playwright, and when he was 28 years old, he had his first big success with the play Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All for You (1979). He went on to write Beyond Therapy (1981), Baby with the Bathwater (1983), and recently, Why Torture is Wrong, and the People Who Love Them (2009).

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