Thursday Feb. 19, 2015

0:00/ 0:00

Just Around the House, Early in the Morning

The text of today’s poem is not available online.

“Just Around the House, Early in the Morning” by Mary Oliver from Swan. © Beacon Press, 2010. Reprinted with permission.  (buy now)

President Franklin Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 on this date in 1942. The order authorized the removal of any or all people from a military area, as deemed necessary by the military. Japan had bombed Pearl Harbor several weeks earlier, and residents of the West Coast felt especially vulnerable. There was a great outcry to do something about the tens of thousands of resident aliens from Germany, Italy, and especially Japan who lived on the West Coast. Roosevelt told the Secretary of War to execute the order as reasonably as possible, but apart from those vague instructions, he didn’t take much active interest in how the order was carried out. As a result, the military deemed most of the West Coast to be a “military area,” and over the course of the next several months, some 120,000 people — more than half of them American citizens — were sent to internment camps. Roosevelt rescinded the order in December 1944 and began the six-month process of releasing the detainees and shutting down the camps. In 1981, the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians concluded that EO 9066 was a “grave injustice” that had resulted from “race prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of political leadership.” In 1988, President Reagan offered survivors an apology and $20,000 each.

It’s the birthday of scientist Svante August Arrhenius, born in Vik, Sweden (1859). He founded the Stockholm Physical Society, a group of scientists of varied interests such as geology, meteorology, and astronomy.

Even though his own training was in electrochemistry, Arrhenius developed an interest in what he and his colleagues coined “cosmic physics”: the study of the relationship between the oceans, the land, and the atmosphere. In an attempt to develop a theory about the cause of the Ice Age, Arrhenius created the first model of the effect of carbon dioxide on climate. He presented a paper, titled “On the Influence of Carbonic Acid in the Air upon the Temperature of the Ground,” to the Stockholm Physical Society in 1895. He showed that global temperatures were tied to increases and decreases in carbon dioxide. He published a nontechnical book on the subject in 1908, called Worlds in the Making. In it, he described his “hot-house theory” of the atmosphere. He also pointed to the burning of fossil fuels as a cause of increased atmospheric CO2. For this reason, he’s credited with being the first scientist to examine the effects of industry on global warming. At that time, however, he predicted that the rise in global temperature would be a positive thing, resulting in a more equable climate that would produce greater crop yields and help mitigate global hunger.

As prescient as it was, Arrhenius considered his study of climatology and geophysics to be merely a hobby. His main work was in the fields of physical chemistry and immunology. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in chemistry in 1903, for his work on the electrolytic theory of dissociation.

It’s the birthday of novelist and poet Stephen Dobyns (books by this author), born in Orange, New Jersey (1941). As a boy, he liked reading science fiction, and one day he accidentally started reading John Steinbeck’s novel The Moon is Down because he thought it was science fiction. He was surprised to discover that he liked it anyway, and he began to read more novels. He disliked poetry — he mostly read 19th-century poems in school, and he felt that only the smart kids understood them, and he didn’t care enough to be one of the smart kids. Then as a teenager, he heard an album of poetry being read aloud to jazz, and for the first time he felt a connection.

He went to college and then to the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. He abandoned his first novel because he thought it was terrible. He worked as a reporter for the Detroit News, and wrote feature stories for the San Diego Reader, which he said taught him more about writing than the MFA program. He continued to work on both fiction and poetry. He said: “In my 20s and moving into my 30s, it was difficult to forgive myself for writing badly. […] Even though it was bad, it was still on the page and you can revise it. Once I understood that, I could write more easily without beating my head all the time.” He published a book of poetry, Concurring Beasts (1972), and a year later his first novel, A Man of Little Evils (1973). Since then, he has published many books of poetry and fiction, including the Charlie Bradshaw detective novels. His books include Cold Dog Soup (1985), Velocities (1994), Saratoga Strongbox (1998), Eating Naked (2000), Winter’s Journey (2010), and The Burn Palace (2013).

He said: “Writing is a job, a craft, and you learn it by trying to write every day and by facing the page with humility and gall. And you have to love to read books, all kinds of books, good books. You are not looking for anything in particular; you are just letting stuff seep in.”

It’s the birthday of writer Siri Hustvedt (books by this author), born in Northfield, Minnesota (1955). She is the author of numerous works of fiction and nonfiction, including The Sorrows of an American (2008), The Summer Without Men (2011), and the memoir The Shaking Woman: A History of My Nerves (2010).

She said, “Great books are the ones that are urgent, life-changing, the ones that crack open the reader’s skull and heart.”

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