Sunday May 17, 2015

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First Love

With love so sudden and so sweet,
Her face it bloomed like a sweet flower
And stole my heart away complete.
My face turned pale as deadly pale.
My legs refused to walk away,
And when she looked, what could I ail?
My life and all seemed turned to clay.

And then my blood rushed to my face
And took my eyesight quite away,
The trees and bushes round the place
Seemed midnight at noonday.
I could not see a single thing,
Words from my eyes did start —
They spoke as chords do from the string,
And blood burnt round my heart.

Are flowers the winter’s choice?
Is love’s bed always snow?
She seemed to hear my silent voice,
Not love’s appeals to know.
I never saw so sweet a face
As that I stood before.
My heart has left its dwelling-place
And can return no more

“First Love” by John Clare. Public Domain.  (buy now)

Today is the birthday of British author and journalist Dorothy Richardson (books by this author), born in Abingdon (1873). She’s considered one of the first modernist authors, and also the first to use a “stream-of-consciousness” style. Richardson preferred the term “interior monologue” for her method but, regardless of name, fellow modernists James Joyce and Virginia Woolf would later also adopt the style.

Her father went bankrupt when she was 17, so Richardson took a series of jobs as a governess or teacher. When her mother committed suicide, Richardson moved to Bloomsbury and worked as an assistant in a London dental office. In Bloomsbury, she met a whole host of artists, writers, and intellectuals. She also met H.G. Wells, who was married at the time; she and Wells had an affair, and Richardson became pregnant, but suffered a miscarriage. She left London then, and moved to Sussex. She had been writing and publishing columns and articles for years when she published her first novel in 1915. That book, Pilgrimage, ended up being the first in a 13-volume series that was based in large part on Richardson’s own life. In spite of using her own life for material, Richardson tried hard to keep her own presence as the author out of her books. She was critical of many male writers for this, saying, “Bang, bang, bang, on they go, these men’s books, like an L.C.C. tram, yet unable to make you forget them, the authors, for a moment.”

In the end, she may have made herself too invisible. She spent much of her life in near-poverty, and even though she was just as influential in her time as Woolf or Joyce, few people read or remember her today.

Today is the birthday of Gary Paulsen (books by this author), born in Minneapolis, Minnesota (1939). His dad was serving in the Army overseas during World War II, so Paulsen was nine before he ever met his father. He had a turbulent childhood and became self-sufficient at an early age because his parents were usually too drunk to bother buying food. “I became a street kid,” he says. “Occasionally I’d live with aunts or uncles, then I’d run away to live in the woods, trapping and hunting game to survive. The wilderness pulled at me; still does.” Paulsen ran away from home when he was 14, and joined a carnival. That was just one of a wide array of occupations: construction worker, engineer, sailor, and ranch hand are a few others. He was working nights as a satellite technician for an aerospace company out in California when he was struck by the sudden inspiration to become a writer. Paulsen has written more than 175 books, most of them for teen readers. “I’m a teller of stories,” he says. “I put bloody skins on my back and dance around the fire, and I say what the hunt was like. It’s not erudite; it’s not intellectual. I sail, run dogs, ride horses, play professional poker and tell stories about the stuff I’ve been through. And I’m still a romantic; I still want Bambi to make it out of the fire.”

On this day in 1954, the United States Supreme Court ruled on Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka. The unanimous ruling stated that racial segregation in public schools violated the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which guarantees equal protection of the laws to all citizens. The Supreme Court cases were argued between 1938 and 1950, and the ruling completed the reversal of Plessy v. Ferguson (1896), which permitted “separate but equal” public facilities.

It’s the birthday of playwright and novelist Dennis Potter (books by this author), born in Berry Hill, Gloucestershire, England (1935). When he was 26 years old, he developed a severe form of arthritis that stiffened his joints and made his skin blister. He would be in and out of hospitals for the rest of his life, and he sometimes had to lie in bed for days at a time. But he took advantage of this time to start writing seriously, starting out as a television critic for a London newspaper and then creating his own TV shows. He had incredible faith in the medium of television. He said: “I first saw television when I was in my late teens. It made my heart pound. Here was a medium of great power, of potentially wondrous delights, that could slice through all the tedious hierarchies of the printed word and help emancipate us from many of the stifling tyrannies of class and status and gutter-press ignorance.”

Most of his early TV shows were political satires that were hugely controversial in England. He went on to write innovative dramas and miniseries like Pennies from Heaven (1978) and The Singing Detective (1986). By the end of his life, he had become more disillusioned with what television had become, but he still thought it had enormous potential. He said he wrote for TV because he had “a confidence in common culture, an assumption that people are very much brighter than the market men say they are, that something in them is capable of responding to things that are very complex.”

Potter said: “The nowness of everything is absolutely wonderful. [...] If you see the present tense, boy do you see it, and boy can you celebrate it.”

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