Displaying articles for: March 2010

Literary Folly

April 1: Fools, April, and literature have shared a long and dangerous tradition, from the professional buffoons of Ancient Rome and the Middle Ages, through Renaissance classics by Erasmus and Shakespeare, to the works of Katherine Anne Porter and Herman Melville. Read more...

Fitzgerald's Khayyam

March 31: On this day in 1809 Edward Fitzgerald was born, and on this day in 1859 his "free translation" of The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam was published. Fitzgerald's version of the 12th-century Persian quatrains became one of the most popular works of the 19th century and one of the best-selling (and most imitated) books of poetry ever. Read more...

Goya & van Gogh

March 30: Francisco Goya was born on this day in 1746, and Vincent van Gogh was born on this day in 1856. Lawrence Ferlinghetti's "In Goya's Greatest Scenes" transports the suffering humanity depicted in Goya's "Disasters of War" to a new century and continent; Annie Dillard turns some of van Gogh's letters into 'found poems.' Read more...

Wollstonecraft & Godwin

March 29: Mary Wollstonecraft and William Godwin, two of the 18th century's most radical and prominent thinkers, married on this day in 1797. Many contemporaries reacted to news of the event with a raised eyebrow or smile, given that both bride and groom had been famously outspoken against contemporary marriage habits and laws. Read more...

Wordsworth's "Intimations"

March 27: On this day in 1802 William Wordsworth began writing "Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood." The poem contains some of his most well-known lines and ideas -- that "the child is father of the man," that "birth is but a sleep and a forgetting," that "trailing clouds of glory do we come," however these must fade: "Whither is fled the visionary gleam? / Where is it now, the glory and the dream?" Read more...

Whitman at Rest

March 26: On this day in 1892 Walt Whitman died at the age of seventy-two. The extreme and divergent opinions which surrounded Whitman in life attended his death, his vilifiers attacking both the poetry and the poet, his deifiers describing one who "walked among men, among writers, among verbal varnishers and veneerers, among literary milliners and tailors, with the unconscious majesty of an antique god." Read more...

Howl in Court

March 25: On this day in 1957, U.S. Customs agents seized 520 copies of Allen Ginsberg's Howl on the grounds of obscenity. The trial that October was before a judge who was a Sunday School teacher (and who had recently sentenced five shoplifters to a screening of The Ten Commandments), but his ruling was in favor of Ginsberg's "indictment of those elements in modern society destructive of the best qualities of human nature." Read more...

Reich, Burroughs & Orgone

March 24: Wilhelm Reich, the radical Austrian-American psychiatrist, was born on this day in 1897. Reich's influence on mid-nineteenth-century psychiatry and culture came from his "body-oriented therapy," behind which was his controversial belief, expressed in The Sexual Revolution and other books, that most of what ailed modern man could be cured by a good orgasm. Read more...

F.P.A. in "The Conning Tower"

March 23: The New York newspaperman Franklin P. Adams died on this day in 1960. In the early decades of the twentieth century, as the muckraking journalists waged battle after battle, Adams became the quintessential gentleman-journalist, ready to deflate the latest fad or most earnest issue with a quip or a couplet. His "Conning Tower" column featured not just his own wit and around-the-town comments but the contributions of such rising stars as James Thurber, Ring Lardner, Eugene O'Neill, and many of the Algonquin group. Read more...

Yondering & Pondering

March 22: On this day in 1908 the Western writer Louis L'Amour was born in Jamestown, North Dakota. L'Amour wrote 113 books, 260 million copies of which have been sold worldwide in dozens of languages. As prodigious was L'Amour's reading. In his memoir, Education of a Wandering Man (1989), he says that he read 150 books of non-fiction a year, even in his “yondering” days. Read more...

Debut Dylan

March 19: Bob Dylan's first album was released forty-eight years ago today. One of two original compositions on Bob Dylan is "Song to Woody," a tribute to Woody Guthrie and the musical-political tradition in which the twenty-year-old Dylan saw himself. In Chronicles, Dylan describes visiting Guthrie about this time, the folksinger then forcibly confined in an institution outside of New York City, suffering with a hereditary degenerative disease. Read more...

Mitty on the Mound

March 18: George Plimpton was born on this day in 1927, and James Thurber's "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" was published in The New Yorker on this day in 1939. The first of Plimpton's athlete-for-a-day books was Out of My League, his account of taking the mound to face eighteen big league all-stars; when first pitching the idea to the editor of Sports Illustrated, Plimpton had invoked Mitty's spirit and Thurber's name. Read more...

Swift, Smedley & St. Patrick

March 17: Like St. Patrick, who was first taken to Ireland from Britain as a slave, Jonathan Swift was a reluctant Irishman. The news of Swift's appointment as Dean of Dublin's St. Patrick's Cathedral was also greeted with reluctance by some, the Reverend Smedley going so far as to pen a poetic attack, nail it to the Cathedral door, and run for cover…. Read more...

Hawthorne in Salem

March 16: Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter is 160 years old today. Among Hawthorne's inspirations for the novel were two sisters who had been forced to wear forehead bands identifying their incestuous conduct, and another ancestor who was a judge at the witch trials. But the novel also comes from the author's own feeling that growing up in Salem was itself a punishment. Read more...

Rebecca West

March 15: On this day in 1983 Dame Rebecca West died at the age of ninety. Cicily Fairfield took her pseudonym from the passionate, outspoken heroine of Ibsen's Rosmersholm; from her early days writing about suffragettes to her last days writing about Watergate and Marshall -- a seventy-year career of novels, essays, journalism, literary criticism, and non-fiction books on a range of topics -- she lived up to her choice. Read more...

Scopes, Darrow & Mencken

March 13: On this day in 1925 the Tennessee Legislature passed a law that made it illegal "to teach any theory that denies the Story of Divine Creation of man as taught in the Bible," setting in motion the Scopes Trial. This gave the spotlight to Clarence Darrow, who died on this day in 1938, and to H. L. Mencken: "Clarence Darrow's great speech yesterday seems to be precisely the same as if he had bawled it up a rainspout in the interior of Afghanistan…." Read more...

Counting Kerouac

March 12: Jack Kerouac was born on this day in 1922, and on this day in 1948, his twenty-sixth birthday, he enthusiastically noted in his journal his progress on The Town and the City, his first published novel: "Guess what?! -- on my birthday today, wrote 4500-words(!) -- scribbling away till six-thirty in the morning next day. A real way to celebrate another coming of age. And am I coming of age?..." Read more...

The Pun Factory

March 11: On this day in 1923, James Joyce wrote to his patron, Harriet Weaver, that he had just begun the book which would sixteen years later become Finnegans Wake: "Yesterday I wrote two pages," Joyce reports, "the first I have written since the final 'Yes' of Ulysses…." When she finally saw the first installment, Weaver was not impressed: "I do not care much for the output from your Wholesale Safety Pun Factory…." Read more...

"Always Dearest Scott…"

March 10: On this day in 1948, Zelda Fitzgerald and eight other patients were killed in a fire at the Highland Mental Hospital in Asheville, North Carolina. Zelda had been in and out of institutions for eighteen years; for much of that time, as the popular press had elevated them to the legendary glitter-couple and then reduced them to a Jazz Age parable, the Fitzgeralds struggled to grasp what had happened to the people they had once been. Read more...

Being Buk

March 9: On this day in 1994 Charles Bukowski died. Bukowski published over fifty books of poetry and prose in a career spanning a half-century. Although ever true to his blue-collar Barfly themes, Buk eventually shared poetry readings with Ginsberg and Ferlinghetti, taking to them four bottles of good French wine rather than the two six-packs of beer. Read more...

Women's Day

March 8: This is International Women's Day, so designated by the United Nations in 1977, now honored in most countries, and a national holiday in some. The idea for such a day was first proposed in the early 1900s by several Socialist or Workers alliances. March 8th was designated as IWD due to a convergence of international events on or about this day, from New York City protest marches to the Russian Revolution. Read more...

Surviving the Sistine

March 6: Michelangelo was born on this day in 1475. On top of the painting and sculpture, Michelangelo was a poet, his 300 extant pieces reflecting a variety of themes. "When the Author Was Painting the Vault of the Sistine Chapel" tells more of the agony than the ecstasy of artistic creation: "A goiter it seems I got from this backward craning like the cats get there in Lombardy, or wherever…." Read more...

Akhmatova & Stalin

March 5: Anna Akhmatova died on this day in 1966. "I've had everything," Akhmatova told Robert Frost late in life, " -- poverty, prison lines, fear, poems remembered only by heart, and burnt poems. And humiliation and grief." Most of the grief was directly or indirectly caused by Joseph Stalin, who died on this day in 1953. Read more...

Hemingway's Old Man

March 4: Ernest Hemingway finished writing The Old Man and the Sea on this day in 1952. That day he wrote his publisher describing his book as "the best I can write ever for all my life." A follow-up letter three days later said that the story represented "an epilogue to all my writing and what I have learned, or tried to learn, while writing and trying to live." Read more...

The Shoals of Dissipation

March 3: F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Beautiful and Damned was published on this day in 1922. Fitzgerald described his story one of a couple who are "wrecked on the shoals of dissipation," though they go down showing "the exquisite perfection of their boredom, the delicacy of their inattention, the inexhaustibility of their discontent." Most modern commentators describe the story biographically: "It were almost as if Fitzgerald were reading his own palm." Read more...

Lawrence in Ashes

March 2: On this day in 1930 D. H. Lawrence died in Vence, France. Lawrence was so scoffing of medical (or any other) science that he refused to name or accept his tuberculosis, or to submit to any of the "magic mountain" treatments. He was buried without ceremony, a simple phoenix symbol done in seashore pebbles marking the spot; what happened to his remains five years later is part of literary legend, and so bizarre that it became a television episode of "Ripley's Believe It or Not." Read more...

Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch is the winner of the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. James Parker calls this Dickensian coming-of-age novel "an enveloping…

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Poems That Make Grown Men Cry

And women too.  Luminaries from Colin Firth to Nick Cave and Jonathan Franzen chose the poems that bring them to tears, and the result is a stunning collection of poignant verse from writers like Auden, Whitman, Bishop, Larkin, Neruda and many others.  Warning: choking-up hazard.

The King of Pain

Trapped beneath his entertainment system, reality TV mastermind Rick Salter reflects on his life and tries to piece together the events of the previous evening. Seth Kaufman’s romp is an outrageous meditation on pain and entertainment in a deranged world in which the two are often interchangeable.

The Good Inn

Frank Black, frontman for the Pixies, has written a transgressive historical fiction with shades of Thomas Pynchon (focused as it is on the history of explosives and cinematic pornography), all set in a hallucinatory Edwardian Europe.