Nov. 15, 2011

Falling Leaves and Early Snow

by Kenneth Rexroth

In the years to come they will say,
"They fell like the leaves
In the autumn of nineteen thirty-nine."
November has come to the forest,
To the meadows where we picked the cyclamen.
The year fades with the white frost
On the brown sedge in the hazy meadows,
Where the deer tracks were black in the morning.
Ice forms in the shadows;
Disheveled maples hang over the water;
Deep gold sunlight glistens on the shrunken stream.
Somnolent trout move through pillars of brown and gold.
The yellow maple leaves eddy above them,
The glittering leaves of the cottonwood,
The olive, velvety alder leaves,
The scarlet dogwood leaves,
Most poignant of all.

In the afternoon thin blades of cloud
Move over the mountains;
The storm clouds follow them;
Fine rain falls without wind.
The forest is filled with wet resonant silence.
When the rain pauses the clouds
Cling to the cliffs and the waterfalls.
In the evening the wind changes;
Snow falls in the sunset.
We stand in the snowy twilight
And watch the moon rise in a breach of cloud.
Between the black pines lie narrow bands of moonlight,
Glimmering with floating snow.
An owl cries in the sifting darkness.
The moon has a sheen like a glacier.

"Falling Leaves and Early Snow" by Kenneth Rexroth, from The Collected Shorter Poems. © New Directions Publishing Corporations, 2003. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Today is the birthday of columnist Franklin Pierce Adams (books by this author), born Franklin Leopold Adams in Chicago in 1881. He started his newspaper career in 1903, at the Chicago Journal. His column "The Conning Tower," syndicated in several New York papers beginning in 1914, and signed with his initials "F.P.A.," made him one of the most-quoted columnists during its long run. He occasionally featured the work of other writers in his column, including Edna St. Vincent Millay, Groucho Marx, and Robert Benchley. "The Conning Tower" is credited with launching the careers of Dorothy Parker and James Thurber after Adams featured their verse. Parker dedicated Not So Deep as a Well, her 1936 poetry collection, to F.P.A. and said, "He raised me from a couplet."

Adams wrote, "Years ago we discovered the exact point, the dead center of middle age. It occurs when you are too young to take up golf and too old to rush up to the net."

And, "Having imagination it takes you an hour to write a paragraph that if you were unimaginative would take you only a minute."

It's the birthday of poet Marianne Moore (books by this author), born in Kirkwood, Missouri (1887). She studied history, law, and politics at Bryn Mawr College, and though she didn't major in science, she took some courses in biology and developed an appreciation for animals as well as an almost scientific precision in her use of language. She started publishing her poems professionally in 1915, moved to New York City in 1918, and became friends with other poets, such as William Carlos Williams, Ezra Pound, Wallace Stevens, and T.S. Eliot. She became something of a character among the literati of New York, appearing at parties in a black cape and tricorn hat. She favored the tricorn because it concealed the defects of her head, which she claimed resembled a hop-toad's. She was a great fan of sports, and she wrote the liner notes for Cassius Clay's spoken word album, I Am the Greatest! (1963). She threw out the first pitch for the Yankees' 1968 season, and soon after had the first of a series of strokes that would eventually claim her life in 1972.

She once told a New York Times interviewer, "I never knew anyone with a passion for words who had as much difficulty in saying things as I do. I seldom say them in a manner I like. Each poem I think will be the last. But something always comes up and catches my fancy."

It's the birthday of artist Georgia O'Keeffe (books by this author), born in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin (1887). She had her first exhibition in 1916, at photographer Alfred Stieglitz's 291 Gallery, without her knowledge. She had sent some of her charcoal drawings to a friend, who in turn showed them to Stieglitz, who hung them in his gallery. Within two years, he had convinced her to move to New York from Texas, where she'd been living and teaching. He encouraged her to devote herself to painting, promising to support her for a year if she did so, and he promoted her work enthusiastically, mounting one-woman shows at least once a year. By 1918, they were in love, and in 1924, they were married. She painted lush flowers, dramatic cityscapes, and bleached bones; he photographed her, more than 500 times over the years, his intimate portraits of her graceful, angular face telling a pictorial love story. "He photographed me until I was crazy," she later said.

Stieglitz and O'Keeffe wrote each other letters, a great many letters, sometimes three or four a day: 25,000 pages passed between them from 1915 to 1946. "I'm getting to like you so tremendously that it sometimes scares me," O'Keeffe wrote in 1916. " ... Having told you so much of me — more than anyone else I know — could anything else follow but that I should want you ..." He wrote to her in 1917, "How I wanted to photograph you — the hands — the mouth — & eyes — & the enveloped in black body — the touch of white — & the throat — but I didn't want to break into your time ..." The first volume of their correspondence, titled My Faraway One and covering the years from 1915 to 1933, was published earlier this year.

O'Keeffe's other great love was the landscape around Taos, New Mexico. She took her first trip there in 1929, and returned every summer to paint. After Stieglitz's death in 1946, she moved to New Mexico permanently. She gave up painting in oils when her eyesight failed in the mid-1970s, but continued to work in pencil and watercolor for several more years. In 1982, she began sculpting with clay, which she continued until two years before her death in 1986, at the age of 98.

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




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