Sunday May 3, 2015

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National Pastime

Though we know
                          everything is bounded
by time,
              there is, after all,
                                         baseball,
in which time has its function,
                                                       but does not rule.
I remember one game, years ago,
                                           in the ninth inning,
the home team, down seven runs, scored eight,
and after two were out.
                                            So it’s possible, even though
we think we know,
                                            that we do not know,
and Bonds will hit the game winning, three-run jack,
and the fans,
                           the local ones anyway,
                                                                     will go home satisfied.
The limits are vague, or undefined, or possibly misunderstood.
Which is not to say
                                            there are secret ways out
or exceptions to the body’s slow decline.
                                                                    Still,
it gives you a place to doubt from,
                                                       a perspective that,
like the curve, will move in, or out, or not,
                                                                    but works,
regardless.

“National Pastime” by Bill Mayer from Articulate Matter. © Paroikia Press, 2012. Reprinted with permission.  (buy now)

It's the birthday of the man who wrote, "A prince never lacks legitimate reasons to break his promise": Niccolò Machiavelli (books by this author), born in Florence (1469). He had an early career in politics when Italy wasn't a unified country, but rather a collection of allied city-states. It was an unstable time, and he lost his post when the government was overthrown by the Medici family. He wrote The Prince in 1513 as an instruction manual on obtaining and holding onto power, in hopes that he could impress the powerful Medicis and earn a political position. In his treatise, he wrote that morality was irrelevant when it came to running a state. He didn't advocate evil for its own sake, and believed rulers should stick to the good whenever possible. But he also said they should be willing to perform evil acts when it became necessary to hold onto their power and maintain the security of the state.

Machiavelli's attempt to impress the Medicis backfired, and they may never have even read The Prince until after his death. His name became associated with cutthroat tactics and violence, and he never held another government job.

Today is the birthday of the photojournalist Jacob Riis (books by this author), born in Ribe, Denmark (1849). He moved to New York in 1870. He got a job as a police reporter, working the night shift among the crowded tenements of poor immigrants, and he set out to improve their conditions. When flash photography was invented in 1887, he took photographs of the slums of New York and wrote companion essays to form a book, How the Other Half Lives (1890), and it helped bring about housing reforms.

It's the birthday of Israeli poet and novelist Yehuda Amichai (books by this author), born Ludwig Pfeuffer in Würzburg, Germany, in 1924. He moved to Palestine in 1936 and later became an Israeli citizen. He was one of the first poets to write in colloquial Hebrew. He wrote: "A man needs to love and to hate at the same moment, / to laugh and cry with the same eyes, / with the same hands to throw stones and to gather them, / to make love in war and war in love."

It’s also the birthday of William Inge (books by this author), born in 1913 in Independence, Kansas. He came to be known as the “Playwright of the Midwest,” and credits his keen understanding of human nature to growing up in a small town: “I’ve often wondered how people raised in our great cities ever develop any knowledge of humankind. People who grow up in small towns get to know each other so much more closely than they do in cities.”

While working as a drama critic for the St. Louis Star-Times, Inge met Tennessee Williams, who invited him to a production of The Glass Menagerie. Inge was inspired to write a play of his own, Farther Off from Heaven (1947), which Williams recommended for production. He wrote a string of hits — Come Back, Little Sheba (1950), Picnic (1952), Bus Stop (1955), and The Dark at the Top of the Stairs (1957) — all of which would later be turned into movies. He enjoyed less success and acclaim in the 1960s, however, with the sole exception being his screenplay for Splendor in the Grass (1961). He won an Oscar for it, but his five final plays were box office flops, and he killed himself in 1973, convinced he could no longer write.

It’s the birthday of poet, novelist, and memoirist May Sarton (books by this author), born Eleanor Marie Sarton in Wondelgem, Belgium, in 1912. Her father was a science historian, and her mother was an artist, and the family moved to Boston, Massachusetts, when May was three years old. She received a scholarship to Vassar, but by this time she had fallen in love with the theater and her dream was to act and direct, so she declined the offer. While studying acting and voice, she wrote poetry, and a series of her sonnets was published in Poetry magazine in 1930, when she was 18 years old. By 1935, she had decided that writing, not acting, was her life’s work. She wrote more than 50 books: poetry, novels, memoirs, and journals. Her memoir Journal of a Solitude (1973) has been called “the watershed in women’s autobiography.”

In World of Light, a 1979 documentary about Sarton, she said, “I don’t write poems very often and when I do, they come in batches and they always seem to be connected to a woman, in my case, a muse who focuses the world for me and sometimes it’s a love affair and sometimes it’s not.” She wrote a novel, Mrs. Stevens Hears the Mermaids Singing, in 1965, which is often referred to as her “coming out” novel. She worried, with good reason, that writing about homosexuality would pigeonhole or even dismiss her as a “lesbian writer,” and for many years to come, that’s exactly what happened.

By 1990, she was unable to write anymore as a result of a stroke, but she produced three journals and a volume of verse over the last five years of her life, by dictating them into a tape recorder.

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

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