Looking for something in the Sunday paper,
I flipped by accident to Local Weddings,
Yet missed the photograph until I saw
Your name among the headings.
And there you were, looking almost unchanged,
Your hair still long, though now long out of style,
And you still wore that stiff, ironic look
That was your smile.
I felt as though we sat there face to face.
My stomach tightened. I read the item through.
It said too much about both families,
Too little about you.
Finished at last, I put the paper down,
Stung by jealousy, my mind aflame—
Hating this man, this stranger whom you loved,
This printed name.
And yet I clipped it out to put away
Inside a book like something I might use,
A scrap I knew I wouldn’t read again
But couldn’t bear to lose.
“The Sunday News” by Dana Gioia from 99 Poems. © Graywolf Press, 2016. (buy now)
It's the birthday of novelist Robert Stone (books by this author), born in Brooklyn (1937). He was raised by his mother, who was schizophrenic, and when she was institutionalized, he spent several years in a Catholic orphanage. Sometimes he and his mother would drive across the country and end up in a Salvation Army somewhere, or a random hotel. He said: "My early life was very strange. I was a solitary; radio fashioned my imagination. Radio narrative always has to embody a full account of both action and scene. I began to do that myself. When I was seven or eight, I'd walk through Central Park like Sam Spade, describing aloud what I was doing, becoming both the actor and the writer setting him into the scene. That was where I developed an inner ear."
Stone dropped out of high school to join the Navy, then moved back to New York City. He worked as a copy boy at the Daily News, and during his brief stint at NYU, he met Janice Burr, the woman he eventually married. They moved to New Orleans, and Stone found work as a census-taker. He walked every neighborhood of New Orleans, asking questions. He wrote: "The closer to street level you live, the more you have lessons thrust upon you."
His time in New Orleans inspired his first novel, A Hall of Mirrors (1967). It begins: "The day before, Rheinhardt had bought a pint of whiskey in Opelika and saved it all afternoon while the bus coursed down through red clay and pine hills to the Gulf. Then, after sundown, he had opened the bottle and shared it with the boy who sold bibles, the blond gangling country boy in the next seat. Most of the night, as the black cypress shot by outside, Rheinhardt had listened to the boy talk about money — commissions and good territories and profits — the boy had gone on for hours with an awed and innocent greed. Rheinhardt had sat silently, passing the bottle and listening."
Stone served as a correspondent in Vietnam for a British magazine, which quickly folded, but he got enough material to return home and write the novel Dog Soldiers (1974). Dog Soldiers is the story of a burnt-out playwright named John Converse who leaves the fading counterculture of California to work as a correspondent in Vietnam and ends up smuggling heroin out of the country. Dog Soldiers won the National Book Award.
Stone's other books include Children of Light (1986); Prime Green: Remembering the Sixties (2007), a memoir; and Fun With Problems (2010), a book of short stories.
He said: "Writing is lonely. [...] But most of the time you are in a room by yourself, you know. Writers spend more time in rooms, staying awake in quiet rooms, than they do hunting lions in Africa. So, it's a bad life for a person because it's so lonely and because it consists of such highs and lows, and there's not always anywhere to take these emotional states. [...] It's a life that's tough to sustain without falling prey to some kind of beguiling diversion that's not good for you."
It's the birthday of poet Ellen Hinsey (books by this author), born in Boston in 1960. She's the author of three poetry collections: Cities of Memory (1996), The White Fire of Time (2002), and Update on the Descent (2009). In a 2003 interview with Poetry Magazine, she said: "Contrary to a generally held view, poetry is a very powerful tool because poetry is the conscience of a society. [...] No individual poem can stop a war — that's what diplomacy is supposed to do. But poetry is an independent ambassador for conscience: It answers to no one, it crosses borders without a passport, and it speaks the truth. That's why ... it is one of the most powerful of the arts."