Friday May 6, 2016

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The East Berliner, 1989

They didn’t come for the bananas,
but everyone who came through
that hole in the wall wanted one,
the West ready with its Welkommen!
mountains of yellow.
After twenty-eight years of concrete-cold
days and only those few flowers
defiant in the cracks of denial,
imagine the yellow-fresh sight,
that spike on the tongue,
the fireworks and flares
shot through the half-language
of heavy machines shattering
the cold Baltic chill, the half-song,
half-wail of horns, sirens and shouts
and behind it all, Beethoven’s 9th,
then that East Berliner, shuffling out,
hatless and dazed in a worm-eaten brown coat
to see it, and not believe it—
the bright yellow word he’ll take home
to his wife, tight in his fist.

“The East Berliner, 1989” by Ginger Murchison from A Scrap of Linen, A Bone. © Press, 53, 2016. Reprinted with permission.  (buy now)

Today is the birthday of poet and critic Randall Jarrell (books by this author), born in Nashville, Tennessee (1914). In his critical essays, collected and published as Poetry and the Age (1953), he revitalized the reputations of Robert Frost, Walt Whitman, and William Carlos Williams. He's also responsible for bringing attention to the poetry of Robert Lowell and Elizabeth Bishop.

During World War II, he worked as a control tower operator, and he wrote about war in his books of poetry, collections Little Friend, Little Friend (1945) and Losses (1948). In Losses, he wrote: "We read our mail and counted up our missions —In bombers named for girls, we burned The cities we have learned about in school —Till our lives wore out; our bodies lay among The people we had killed and never seen. When we lasted long enough they gave us medals; When we died they said, 'Our casualties were low.'"

It's the birthday of Sigmund Freud (books by this author), born in Freiburg, Moravia (now part of the Czech Republic), in 1856. He's usually associated with Vienna, where he lived from the age of four until the Germans occupied it in 1938. He then moved to London, where he died of throat cancer in 1939. Freud wrote several books, including The Interpretation of Dreams (1899), Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious(1905), and Civilization and Its Discontents (1930).

Freud started his professional life as a medical doctor, but as a Jew, he knew his prospects in medicine were probably limited. He became interested in psychology, especially in a mental illness called hysteria, which caused patients to suffer from tics, tremors, convulsions, paralysis, and hallucinations. Freud learned that some doctors were using hypnosis to treat hysteria, and he went to France to see the use of hypnosis firsthand. Seeing that a patient could be talked out of his or her symptoms gave Freud the idea that the symptoms were a product of the mind and not the body. He learned the method of hypnosis himself and began to treat patients, but he had little success. Then one of Freud's colleagues told him about a patient named Anna O., whose hysterical symptoms had improved when she told stories about her life. The woman herself named this process of storytelling "the talking cure."

Over the next few years, he developed the idea that his patients were not conscious of all their desires and fears, that many of their own thoughts were hidden from them in their unconscious mind. He believed that their unconscious mind would reveal itself in various ways, through slips of the tongue, jokes, and especially dreams. What made his ideas so revolutionary and controversial was that he didn't just apply them to mentally ill patients, but to all human beings, even himself.

Though he's fallen out of favor in the scientific community, many of his revolutionary concepts — like the idea of the unconscious, the interpretation of dreams, and the idea of repressed feelings causing harm — have entered our culture and our literature. And even though they haven't read his books, most people are still familiar with his concepts, like the Oedipus complex, the ego, the phallic symbol, and the Freudian slip.

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