Wednesday Jan. 13, 2016

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Poe's Anvil

At the drive-in theater where they sell junk
on Sundays we saw a man and his wife standing
by a pick-up truck trying to sell his anvil.
It sat up in the truck’s bed— it was black,
heavy, and elegant like a mammoth’s tusk.
And his name was written on it like a signature,
in iron that once ran like ink. His name was Poe.
I talked with him and he recalled briefly
days when his anvil stood outside a shed,
a workshop like a harbor set in a sea
of green tomato fields, and inside
he had a coal fire and a bellows and he watched
the tractor replace mules and the car
replace wagons. He tired of horse-shoes,
wagon wheels and plows, of hitches, harrows,
and lugs, of axles, crankcases and flywheels,
and he sat somewhat amused (and dying, his wife
told us), presiding over the sale of his own
monument, which he wanted someone to go on
hammering on, and in the midday city sun
the theater’s white screen was blank
like a faded quilt or Moby Dick’s stretched skin.

“Poe’s Anvil” by David Ray from Music of Time: Selected and New Poems. © The Backwater Press, 2006. Reprinted with permission.  (buy now)

It’s the birthday of short-story writer Lorrie Moore (books by this author), born in Glens Falls, New York (1957). She’s the author of the short-story collections Like Life (1990) and Birds of America (1998). She skipped a grade in school when she was growing up, and the difference in age between her and her classmates made her feel especially small and shy. She said: “I felt so completely thin that I was afraid to walk over grates. I thought I would fall down the slightest crevice and disappear.”

She started writing in college and published her first story in Seventeen magazine. She was so happy that she then proceeded to send them everything she’d ever written. She said: “They couldn’t get rid of me. I was like a stalker. I sent them everything, and of course they didn’t want anything more from me.”

It was only after she told her parents about her publication that she found out they had both wanted to be writers themselves. Her father went up into the attic and brought down stories that he’d once submitted to The New Yorker, and her mother admitted that she’d given up journalism for nursing.

In grad school, she realized she had to decide whether she wanted to devote her life to writing or to the piano, which had been her first love. She said: “The typewriter and the piano were actually similar ideas, for my mind and for my hands. I was completely unaccomplished musically [but] I was having ecstatic experiences in the practice room and wasn’t getting any writing done. So I had to choose.” She chose writing, and published her first book of short stories by the time she was 26 years old.

Lorrie Moore’s first book was Self Help (1985), in which the stories were written in the style of how-to manuals, including “How to Be an Other Woman,” “How to Talk to Your Mother,” and “How to Be a Writer.”

“How to Be a Writer” begins: “First, try to be something, anything, else. A movie star/astronaut. A movie star/missionary. A movie star/kindergarten teacher. President of the World. Fail miserably. It is best if you fail at an early age — say, 14. Early, critical disillusionment is necessary so that at 15 you can write long haiku sequences about thwarted desire.”

When she was once asked in an interview why she writes so often about characters who make lots of jokes, she said: “I feel that when you look out into the world, the world is funny. And people are funny. And that people always try to make each other laugh. I’ve never been to a dinner party where nobody said anything funny. If you’re going to ignore that [as a fiction writer], what are you doing?”

Moore’s most recent book is a collection of stories called Bark (2014), published in 2014.

It’s the birthday of the novelist Jay McInerney (books by this author), born in Hartford, Connecticut (1955). His father was an international sales executive with the Scott Paper Company, and he had to move around a lot, so young Jay grew up in a series of cities around the world, including London, Vancouver, and Pittsfield, Massachusetts. He attended 18 elementary schools before he finally started high school.

After college, he wound up in New York City, where he worked for Random House and got involved in the glamorous nightlife of fashion parties and dance clubs. One day, a co-worker introduced him to the writer Raymond Carver, and Carver told McInerney that if he ever wanted to be a writer he had to get out of the city and away from all the parties so that he would be able to think, and that’s what he did. He moved to Syracuse, New York, and in six weeks he wrote his first novel, Bright Lights, Big City (1983). It has sold more than a million copies.

It begins: “You are not the kind of guy who would be at a place like this at this time of morning. But here you are, and you cannot say that the terrain is entirely unfamiliar, although the details are fuzzy.”

He’s written several other novels, including Brightness Falls (1992) and The Good Life (2006). His most recent book is The Juice: Vinous Veritas (2012), a collection of essays about wine.

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