Mar. 7, 2012

In a Parlor Containing a Table

by Galway Kinnell

In a parlor containing a table
And three chairs, three men confided
Their inmost thoughts to one another.
I, said the first, am miserable.
I am miserable, the second said.
I think that for me the right word
Is miserable, said the third.
Well, they said, it's quarter to two.
Good night. Cheer up. Sleep well.
You too. You too. You too.

"In a Parlor Containing a Table" by Galway Kinnell, from The Avenue Bearing the Initial of Christ Into the New World. © Mariner Books, 2002. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It was on this day in 1923 that Robert Frost's poem "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening" was published (books by this author), the poem he called his "best bid for remembrance."

Frost claimed that the poem came to him and he wrote it all at once, but an early draft of the poem shows that it was reworked several times.

More than 20 years later, in 1947, a young man named N. Arthur Bleau attended a reading Frost was giving at Bowdoin College. Bleau asked Frost which poem was his favorite, and Frost replied that he liked them all equally. But after the reading was finished, the poet invited Bleau up to the stage and told him a story: that in truth, his favorite was "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening." He had written the poem based on his own life, he said. One year on December 22nd, the winter solstice, he realized that he and his wife wouldn't be able to afford Christmas presents for his children. Frost wasn't the most successful farmer, but he scrounged up some produce from his farm, hitched up his horse, and took a wagon into town to try and sell enough produce to buy some gifts. He couldn't sell a single thing, and as evening came and it began to snow, he had to head home. He was almost home when he became overwhelmed with the shame of telling his family about his failure, and as if it sensed his mood, the horse stopped, and Frost cried. He told Bleau that he "bawled like a baby." Eventually, the horse jingled its bells, and Frost collected himself and headed back home to his family. His daughter Lesley agreed that this was the inspiration for the poem, and said that she remembered the horse, whose name was Eunice, and that her father told her: "A man has as much right as a woman to a good cry now and again. The snow gave me shelter; the horse understood and gave me the time."

"Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening" ends:
The woods are lovely, dark, and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

It's the birthday of novelist Bret Easton Ellis (books by this author), born in Los Angeles (1964). He published his first novel, Less Than Zero (1985), when he was 21 years old and an undergraduate at Bennington College in Vermont. It's the graphic story of wealthy Los Angeles teenagers and their world of drugs and sex. Ellis is probably most famous for his novel American Psycho (1991), about Patrick Bateman, an investment banker serial killer.

His other novels include The Rules of Attraction (1987), Lunar Park (2005), and, most recently, Imperial Bedrooms (2010).

It's the birthday of novelist Robert Harris (books by this author), born in Nottingham, England (1957). In 1987, he was working as an investigative journalist when he decided to take a vacation in Italy. He was lying on the beach, listening to the German tourists talking all around him, when he suddenly imagined that he was living in the victorious German empire. He got up and went swimming in the ocean, and by the time he came back to shore, he had an outline for a novel about what the world would be like if the Nazis had won World War II. That novel was Fatherland (1991), and it became an international best-seller.

Harris went on to write many other books, including Enigma (1995), about British code breakers during World War II, and Archangel (1998), about the search for a secret Stalin diary. His most recent novel is The Fear Index (2011).

Harris said, "It is perfectly legitimate to write novels which are essentially prose poems, but in the end, I think, a novel is like a car, and if you buy a car and grow flowers in it, you're forgetting that the car is designed to take you somewhere else."

It's the birthday of writer Rick Bass (books by this author), born in Fort Worth, Texas (1958). He was a geologist, but decided he wanted to be a writer after reading the novella Legends of the Fall by Jim Harrison. He said: "I just remember how big the emotions and content, scale, voice, everything about that story was larger and fuller than what I had read previously. [...] I believe there's a story like that for every reader. I think eventually, sooner or later, you encounter them. If they make you want to be a writer or not, who knows? There are too many variables there, but for me it did make me want to be a fiction writer." So during his lunch breaks in Mississippi, he started writing short stories. In 1987, he and his wife moved to the Yaak Valley in northwestern Montana, a remote region with more than a thousand acres of wilderness and only a few hundred year-round residents.

Since then, he has written more than 25 books of fiction and nonfiction, including Wild to the Heart (1997), Where the Sea Used to Be (1999), The Lives of Rocks (2006), Why I Came West (2008) and, most recently, Nashville Chrome (2010).

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




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