Dec. 17, 2012


by Jim Harrison

Most of my life was spent
building a bridge out over the sea
but the sea was too wide and it didn't
go anyplace. I'm proud of the bridge
hanging in the pure sea air. Machado
came for a visit and we sat on the
end of the bridge which was his idea.
Now that I'm old the work goes slowly
but the material keeps coming as I hang
here in the air. Ever nearer death I like
it out here high above the sea bundled
up for the arctic storms of late fall,
the resounding crash and moan of the sea,
the hundred foot depth of the green troughs.
Sometimes the sea roars and howls like
the animal it is, a continent wide and alive.
What beauty in this the darkest music
which imitates the sky's thunder
over which you can hear the lightest music of human
behavior, the tender connection between men and galaxies.
So I sit on the edge, wagging my feet above
the abyss, the fatal plummet. Tonight the moon
will be in my lap. This is my job, to study
the universe from my bridge. I have the sky, the sea,
the faint green streak of Canadian forest on the far shore.

"Bridge" by Jim Harrison. Reprinted with permission of the poet.

It's the birthday of writer Erskine Caldwell (books by this author), born in Moreland, Georgia (1903). His father was an itinerant Presbyterian preacher, and Caldwell lived in a series of poor rural communities in the South. He said: "I could not become accustomed to the sight of children's stomachs bloated from hunger and seeing the ill and aged too weak to walk to the fields to search for something to eat. In the evenings I wrote about what I had seen during the day, but nothing I put down on paper succeeded in conveying the full meaning of poverty and hopelessness and degradation as I had observed it."

Caldwell published his two most famous books back to back: Tobacco Road (1932) and God's Little Acre (1933). Both were stories of destitute Southern workers — Tobacco Road was about sharecroppers, God's Little Acre about mill workers. Both books were sexually explicit and full of profanity, and were widely condemned and banned across the South. Margaret Mitchell, the author of Gone With the Wind, criticized Caldwell (and William Faulkner) for selling a vision of the South that Northerners wanted to read. God's Little Acre was banned in Boston, and the Georgia Literary Commission recommended that anyone caught reading it be sent to jail, but it became one of the best-selling books of the 20th century. Caldwell's books have sold more than 80 million copies.

His other books include We are the Living (1933); You Have Seen Their Faces (1937), with his second wife, Life photographer Margaret Bourke-White; A Place Called Estherville (1949), and With All My Might (1987).

It's the birthday of novelist Penelope Fitzgerald (books by this author), born in Lincoln, England (1916). Her family was literary, but not rich — the study was the only warm room in her house. She said: "I was brought up in a journalist's home and in a family where everyone was publishing, or about to publish, something."

She didn't start writing a novel until she was 58 years old. Her husband was dying of cancer, and she thought that writing and sharing a novel with him would be a way to keep him entertained. He died in 1976, and one year later, she published The Golden Child (1977). She went on to write eight more novels, including Offshore (1979), which won the Booker prize; The Gate of Angels (1990); and The Blue Flower (1995).

She said: "I believe that people should write biographies only about people they love, or understand, or both. Novels, on the other hand, are often better if they're about people the writer doesn't like very much."

It's the birthday of Hmong writer Kao Kalia Yang (books by this author), born in Ban Vinai refugee camp in Thailand (1980). Her family moved to Minnesota when she was six years old. She planned to become a doctor. Then, during college, she did a study abroad program in Thailand that focused on global poverty. She said: "When I came back to America and college, I knew I could survive poverty in my life without being selfish. This is how I knew I could write." So she continued on to an MFA program, and she wrote a memoir about growing up Hmong in America, called The Latehomecomer (2008).

She said, "I became involved with writing like it is a love affair."

It was on this day in 1892 that The Nutcracker ballet premiered at the Maryinsky Theater in St. Petersburg, Russia. The ballet was based on a story by Alexandre Dumas, which in turn was based on The Nutcracker and the Mouse King, a much darker story by E.T.A. Hoffman. The score for the ballet was composed by Peter Tchaikovsky. The production was a huge failure with both critics and audience. Tchaikovsky died less than a year later, and had no idea that The Nutcracker would become a classic — many people consider it the most popular ballet in the world.

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




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