Saturday June 6, 2015

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Oh, what a weak sticker, you groan, as the batter pops
out to the infield. We’re propped
up in two beds—mine’s electric, with crib
sides, rented to ease eleven broken ribs —
watching the Red Sox, who are in the cellar
and dozing between Demerol and errors.

You yawn, the resident optimist
no family should lack, always stitching
a selvedge along the silver lining
—the luck of my unbroken pelvis—
so that when in a bizarre twist
they tie it up in the bottom of the ninth
you crow, they’re still alive and kicking!
We rouse as for the crisis of an old friend
and watch through extra innings to the end.

“Domesticity” by Maxine Kumin from The Long Marriage. © WW Norton, 1996. Reprinted with permission.  (buy now)

The first drive-in movie theater opened on this day in 1933. A young man named Richard Hollingshead Jr. was a sales manager at his dad’s auto parts store in Camden, New Jersey. In his spare time, he dreamed of creating something that would bring a little fun to the tough daily life of the Depression era. He was also thinking about his mother, who was a little bit overweight and wasn’t comfortable in movie theater seats.

Hollingshead applied for a patent in May of 1933. With an initial investment of $30,000, he opened his first theater just three weeks later, on Crescent Boulevard in Camden. Six hundred people turned out on opening night. The cost was 25 cents per car, and 25 cents per person after that, with a cap at one dollar. He called it a “Park-In” theater, and his early ad campaigns targeted families. He said, “The whole family is welcome, regardless of how noisy the children are.”

Drive-ins hit their peak in popularity in the 1950s and early 1960s. At one point, there were almost 5,000 drive-in theaters in the United States. Now there are fewer than 500.

It’s the birthday of the father of modern Russian literature: Aleksandr Pushkin (books by this author), born in Moscow (1799). He published his first poem at 15, and in his brief life he worked in nearly every literary form: lyric poetry, narrative poetry, the novel, the short story, the drama, and the critical essay. He is best known for his play Boris Godunov (1830) and his verse novel Eugene Onegin (published serially from 1825 to 1832).

In Russia today, everyone has read Pushkin, and everyone can quote him. In every Russian town, there is a street or a square or a school named after him. He’s become a kind of mythical figure. It’s common for parents say to their children, “Who do you think is going to close that door after you, Pushkin?”

It’s the birthday of poet Maxine Kumin (books by this author), born in Philadelphia (1925). She was a good student and wrote poetry from the time she was a young girl, but she was equally interested in swimming, and even trained to become an Olympic swimmer as a teenager. When she was 18, Kumin was offered a job with Billy Rose’s Aquacade, a famous traveling dance-and-swimming show; but her father considered the spectacle too risqué and refused to give his permission. He did approve of her academic talents, so she went to Radcliffe and studied literature and history. She had continued to write poetry, and she showed her poems to one of her young professors, Wallace Stegner, who at the time was still an unknown novelist. Stegner handed them back with a note in red pencil: “Say it with flowers, but, for God’s sake, don’t try to write poems.” She was so hurt that she didn’t even try to write another poem for many years.

In the meantime, she got a master’s degree in comparative literature, met and married an Army engineer, and moved to the suburbs, where she concentrated on raising her children. During her third pregnancy, she was feeling restless, and she happened upon a book called Writing Light Verse, which cost $3.95. She decided that if she hadn’t published anything by the time her child was born she would give up forever. She was six months pregnant when The Christian Science Monitor accepted one of her poems and paid her $5 for it. It was just four lines long; it read: “There never blows so red the rose / so sound the round tomato, / as March’s catalogues disclose / and yearly I fall prey to.” She began publishing light verse in magazines like Ladies’ Home Journal and The Saturday Evening Post. The Post required Kumin’s husband to send a letter from his employer certifying that her poem was original, since, she later said, “Women, along with people of color, were still thought to be intellectually inferior, mere appendages in the world of belles lettres.”

She was happy enough writing light verse, although she wished she knew some other poets. In 1957, she enrolled in a local poetry-writing workshop. One of her classmates was the poet Anne Sexton, and the two women became close friends and writing peers — they eventually installed separate phone lines in each of their homes so that they could be in constant communication. Very slowly Kumin began to have poems accepted that were not just light verse. She said, “Until the Women’s Movement, it was commonplace to be told by an editor that he’d like to publish more of my poems, but he’d already published one by a woman that month.”

Her professor at the poetry workshop recommended her for a position at Tufts, where he taught, and so she began a long career as a teacher and mentor. As a teacher, she often asked her students to memorize 30 to 40 lines of poetry a week so that they grew familiar with the sound of poetry. She said: “The other reason, as I tell their often stunned faces, is to give them an internal library to draw on when they are taken political prisoner. For many, this is an unthinkable concept; they simply do not believe in anything fervently enough to go to jail for it.”

Her books include Up Country (1972), The Long Approach (1985), Where I Live (2010), and And Short the Season (2014).

Kumin died last year at her home in Warner, New Hampshire. She was 88.

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