Apr. 12, 2012

Thinking of Madame Bovary

by Jane Kenyon

The first hot April day the granite step
was warm. Flies droned in the grass.
When a car went past they rose
in unison, then dropped back down. . . .

I saw that a yellow crocus bud had pierced
a dead oak leaf, then opened wide. How strong
its appetite for the luxury of the sun!

Everyone longs for love's tense joys and red delights.

And then I spied an ant
dragging a ragged, disembodied wing
up the warm brick walk. It must have been
the Methodist in me that leaned forward,
preceded by my shadow, to put a twig just where
the ant was struggling with its own desire

"Thinking of Madame Bovary" by Jane Kenyon, from Otherwise: New & Selected Poems. © Graywolf Press, 1996. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of writer Jon Krakauer (books by this author), born in Brookline, Massachusetts (1954). He was raised in Oregon, where he took up mountain climbing. He worked as a carpenter and a commercial salmon fisherman to support his climbing habit, and after he'd done three Alaska climbs he was asked to write an article about it, which turned him on to magazine writing.

In 1993, he got an assignment from Outside magazine to write about the story of a young man who'd graduated from college, changed his name, left his family and savings behind, walked into the Alaskan wilderness to make a new life, and perished four months later. That became his Krakauer''s first book, Into the Wild (1996), a best-seller that was later made into a movie.

The year that book was published, Krakauer took on another assignment from Outside to ascend Mount Everest for an article that was supposed to be about the commercialization of climbing. But a blizzard struck during the expedition, and eight of 23 people died. Krakauer continued to report throughout the disaster, filling nine notebooks with his observations with a special pen that could write in extreme cold. The only day he failed to write was the day he reached the summit, drastically sleep- and oxygen-deprived; although he attempted to take some notes early that morning, they were illegible and insensible. Realizing that his own memories were unreliable, Krakauer interviewed the surviving climbers.

He returned, wrote a very long article as promised, and vowed to put the subject out of his mind completely. But after discovering that his article had included a mistake about one of the climbers who'd died, he began to obsess about how he hadn't been able to tell the full, complicated story in his article. In nearly three months, writing 14 to 20 hours a day, he finished Into Thin Air (1997), which became another best-seller.

Flaubert's first novel, Madame Bovary, was published on this day in 1857 about a woman who has multiple affairs to stave off the boredom of her empty existence. The novel caught the attention of the authorities, and Flaubert was charged with corrupting public morals. He was acquitted, and the publicity from the trial made the book a best-seller.

It's the birthday of Gary Soto (books by this author), born in Fresno, California, in 1952, the son of Mexican-American factory workers, with an abusive alcoholic stepfather. It was in his college library, at the age of 19, that he pulled down a book from a shelf at random, and read the Edward Field poem "Unwanted, " the last stanza from which reads, "Warning: This man is not dangerous, answers to any name/Responds to love, don't call him or he will come." It expressed "exactly how I felt at the time, unwanted," Soto said, and he decided on the spot to try writing poetry.

Soto started keeping a journal, took a creative writing class, and published his first book when he was 25: The Elements of San Joaquin (1977), a collection of poems about his father and factory workers like him. It helped to earn him a professorship at Berkeley.

Last year, he published his first e-book, a young adult novel called When Dad Came Back.

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




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