Thursday Jun. 16, 2016

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June 16

It’s Bloomsday in Dublin
and wherever Ulysses works
as an advertising man
with an unfaithful wife
as I sit here listening
to a lecture on Flannery
O’Connor, Frank O’Connor,
and the O’Hara boys, John
and Frank, I think of going
to Dublin with you buying
a toy wedding ring at
Woolworth’s and the phrase
“mock funeral” comes
to me I don’t know what it
means though I remember being
the groom at a mock wedding
with a girl named Ann in 1956
I was eight and so was she
and all the other children
were in the procession it was
the first hot night in June and
yes she said yes I will Yes

“June 16” by David Lehman from The Daily Mirror. © Scribner Poetry, 2000. Reprinted with permission.  (buy now)

Today is Bloomsday, a day to celebrate James Joyce’s novel Ulysses, whose action takes place on June 16th, 1904 (books by this author). It’s called Bloomsday because the main character in the book is Leopold Bloom, a Jewish ad salesman who lives on the north side of Dublin. Bloom is introduced in the fourth chapter of Ulysses; he eats breakfast and serves his wife breakfast in bed. Joyce wrote: “Mr. Leopold Bloom ate with relish the inner organs of beasts and fowls. He liked thick giblet soup, nutty gizzards, a stuffed roast heart, liver slices fried with crustcrumbs, fried hencod’s roes. Most of all he liked grilled mutton kidneys which gave to his palate a fine tang of faintly scented urine. Kidneys were in his mind as he moved about the kitchen softly, righting [his wife’s] breakfast things on the humpy tray. Gelid light and air were in the kitchen but out of doors gentle summer morning everywhere.”

Bloom doesn’t have much work to do on June 16th, so he spends most of his day wandering around Dublin doing errands. In the morning, he leaves his house on 7 Eccles Street, walks south across the River Liffey, picks up a letter, buys a bar of soap, and goes to the funeral of a man he didn’t know very well. In the afternoon, he eats a cheese sandwich, feeds some gulls in the Liffey, helps a blind man cross the street, and visits a couple of pubs. He thinks about his job, his wife, his daughter, his stillborn son; he muses about life and death and reincarnation. He knows that his wife is planning to cheat on him that afternoon at his house, and he spends a lot of time thinking about the days when his marriage was happier.

Bloom thinks: “Remember when we got home raking up the fire and frying up those pieces of lap of mutton for her supper with the Chutney sauce she liked. And the mulled rum [...] Sitting there after till near two, taking out her hairpins. Milly tucked up in beddyhouse. Happy. Happy.”

In the evening, Bloom wanders around the red-light district of Dublin, and eventually meets up with a young writer named Stephen Dedalus. Stephen is drunk, so Bloom takes him home with him and offers to let him spend the night. They stand outside looking at the stars for a while, and then Stephen goes home and Bloom goes inside and climbs into bed with his wife.

Joyce chose June 16, 1904, as the date for his novel because it was on that day that he went on his first date with the love of his life, Nora Barnacle.

Joyce gave the first printed copy of Ulysses to Nora, but she tried to sell it to a friend visiting from Dublin. She only read 27 pages of the book, including the title page. She once asked Joyce, “Why don’t you write sensible books that people can understand?”

On June 16, 1924, the 20th anniversary of Bloomsday, Joyce wrote in his notebook, “Twenty years after. Will anyone remember this date?” Today, it is a national holiday in Ireland. People will celebrate the book by reading passages aloud, visiting all the places mentioned in the book, and eating the favorite foods of the character Leopold Bloom. It’s one of the only holidays in the world that’s based merely upon a date in a work of fiction.

Today is the birthday of Joyce Carol Oates (books by this author), born in Lockport, New York (1938). She grew up on her parents’ farm in nearby Millersport and used the area as the inspiration for the fictional Eden County, where many of her stories are set. When she was little, her grandmother would walk with her to the Lockport Public Library. She wrote in Smithsonian Magazine about the day she got her first library card there, as a child: “What is most striking in the children’s library are the shelves and shelves of books — bookcases lining the walls — books with brightly colored spines — astonishing to a little girl whose family lives in a farmhouse in the country where books are almost wholly unknown. That these books are available for children — for a child like me — all these books! — leaves me dazed, dazzled.”

Her parents weren’t educated, but they encouraged her in her passion for books and writing. “I can’t remember when I first began to tell stories — by drawing, it was then — but I must have been very young,” she said in an interview with The Paris Review. “It was an instinct I followed quite naturally.” Her grandmother gave Joyce her first typewriter when she was 14, and she never looked back, writing novel after novel in high school and then throwing them away immediately. She was the first in her family to graduate from high school, and she went on to Syracuse University, from which she graduated valedictorian of her class. Oates published her first story, “In the Old World,” in Mademoiselle magazine in 1959, just before her senior year of college. She published her first short-story collection, By the North Gate, in 1963, and her first novel, With Shuddering Fall, in 1964.

In 2008, Oates’ husband of 47 years, Raymond Smith, died suddenly after a bout of pneumonia. She wrote a memoir, A Widow’s Story (2011), to come to terms with her grief during the six months following his death. From the memoir: “Forever after, you will recognize those places — previously invisible, indiscernible — where memory pools accumulate. All the waiting areas of hospitals, hospital rooms, and, in particular, those regions of the hospital reserved for the very ill: Telemetry, Intensive Care. You will not wish to return to these places, where memory pools lie underfoot, as treacherous as acid.”

In her 50-year career, Oates — who writes for eight hours a day — has published more than 100 books. She’s written plays, poetry, novels, memoirs, story and essay collections, and works of criticism. She’s been a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize five times. In addition to the numerous books published under her own name, she has also published suspense novels under the pen names Rosamond Smith and Lauren Kelly. Her latest book is the novel The Man Without a Shadow, and it just came out this year (2016). It’s the story of a man named Eli whose short-term memory was destroyed after he contracted encephalitis. It’s written in the present tense because Eli can only remember things that have happened in the last 70 seconds.

Joyce Carol Oates, who said: “We all have numerous identities that shift with circumstances. The writing self is likely to be a highly private, conjured sort of being — you would not find it in a grocery store.”

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