Sunday Jun. 5, 2016

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A Snap Quiz in Body Language

We can’t hear what they’re saying, but that man
is holding that woman in his arms. Your assignment
is to deduce their thoughts from what they do.
They’ve left no apparent space between their bodies.
It could be called a close embrace, but notice
her arms are at her sides, her hands relaxed,
her face impassive, while he’s whispering
something in her ear. His upper torso
is tilted slightly forward. Hers is yielding
but not in a way suggesting sweet surrender.
Is this a seduction scene? Is she being held
for questioning? Should she call a lawyer?
He’s looking into her eyes now. How wide open
would you say they are? What does he see in them?
If he were to let her go, class, what would she do?

“A Snap Quiz in Body Language” by David Wagoner from A Map of the Night. © University of Illinois Press, 2008. Reprinted with permission.  (buy now)

It’s the birthday of novelist Margaret Drabble (books by this author), born in Sheffield, England (1939). She’s the author of 18 novels, most recently The Pure Gold Baby (2013), and in 2011 she published a collection of her short stories, called A Day in the Life of a Smiling Woman (2011). She’s also the younger sister of novelist A.S. Byatt, and their sibling rivalry is long-standing and legendary.

Drabble has earned a reputation as a chronicler of contemporary England. In her novel A Natural Curiosity (1989), one character says: “England’s not a bad country. It’s just a mean, cold, ugly, divided, tired, clapped-out post-imperial post-industrial slag-heap covered in polystyrene hamburger cartons. It’s not a bad country at all. I love it.”

It’s the birthday of American novelist and poet David Wagoner (1926) (books by this author), born in Massillon, Ohio. He grew up in Whiting, Indiana, a hardscrabble town between Gary and Chicago. His mother was a singer, though not a very good one, and he grew up listening to German leider. It was during college at Pennsylvania State University that he first met poet Theodore Roethke, who would become his mentor. Wagoner says: “He was the first living poet I saw. It had not occurred to me, until I was a senior in college, that it was possible to be a poet. And not anything else. I had written a trunkful of poetry, but I thought it was a pastime, an avocation. But when I saw a living, walking poet who was a teacher, then I thought, well, this is what I have to do. And my life changed.”

Roethke encouraged Wagoner to move from the Midwest to the Pacific Northwest and got him a job teaching at the University of Washington. The move would have a serious impact on Wagoner’s poetry. He’d published his first collection Dry Sun, Dry Wind in 1953, but when he moved to Washington in 1954, his life changed. He says: “When I came over the Cascades and down into the coastal rainforest for the first time, it was a real big event for me, it was a real crossing of a threshold, a real change of consciousness. Nothing was ever the same again.”

Wagoner writes most often about the environment of the Pacific Northwest, perhaps most famously in his poem “Lost”: “If what a tree or a bush does is lost on you / You are surely lost. / Stand still. The forest knows / Where you are. You must let it find you.”

Wagoner’s other collections of poetry include The Nesting Ground (1963), Good Morning and Good Night (2005), and After the Point of No Return (2012). He is also the author of 10 novels, including Tracker (1975) and The Escape Artist, the film version of which was produced by Francis Ford Coppola (1982). From 1978 to 2002, he served as the poetry editor for Poetry Northwest.

Just after midnight on this day in 1968, Robert Kennedy was assassinated in Los Angeles by Sirhan Bishara Sirhan, a 24-year-old Palestinian immigrant. Kennedy had just won California’s Democratic presidential primary, and was exiting through the kitchen of the Ambassador Hotel. Juan Romero, a 17-year-old busboy, was shaking his hand when Sirhan began firing. Several of the men with him tackled Sirhan, including writer George Plimpton, Olympic athlete Rafer Johnson, and football star Rosey Grier. Romero knelt by Kennedy, and put a rosary in his hand.

His brother Edward “Ted” Kennedy delivered the eulogy, his third for a dead brother:

“My brother need not be idealized, or enlarged in death beyond what he was in life; to be remembered simply as a good and decent man, who saw wrong and tried to right it, saw suffering and tried to heal it, saw war and tried to stop it. Those of us who loved him and who take him to his rest today, pray that what he was to us and what he wished for others will some day come to pass for all the world.”

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