e c l e c t i c a n o n f i c t i o n
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You'll Never Be Going Back Home
My mother used to refer to our old shepherd-collie mix, Donald, as a "rogue." Donald strayed through the Virginia mines in the hills above our neighborhood, and after a two- or three-day excursion, he'd return home full of cockleburs, his feet caked in red clay. She'd bathe him in our bathtub, where later that night my brother and I would also get clean, and soon Donald would appear shiny and new again. I'd look at his eyes, so happy and loving. What I couldn't see in those eyes, though I know he adored me, his boy-master, was a tincture of discontent. He just had to be roaming. Four years into our love, he roamed away for good, our Donald.
My Family on the Roads
Now, one Saturday, Gov drove my mother and me in the new car 100 miles southwest into the Illinois country-side, to Starved Rock. This is a sandstone monolith rising 125 feet above the Illinois River. There the Ottawa tribe besieged a group from the Peoria tribe in 1769, after a Peoria brave assassinated the great Ottawa chief, Pontiac—and the Peorias up on the bluff all starved to death.
On Collaborative Translation
We all know that to take a work of literary art, a song, for example, and to carry it over and reproduce or replicate it approximately in another language may in an ideal world be done best by a writer who has learned both languages from a poem uttered in one language, the same mother—as if the writer were imbibing, say Hebrew or Hungarian, in the very milk while from one breast of the mother, and English with the milk from her other breast. That would be our ideal, but rare indeed—how many bilingual mothers are there who nurse literary an infant? And how many bilingual mothers will be found who have not themselves been suckled by a bilingual mother?
Teaching to Read, Reading to Teach
When I was in school in the 1970s, the poets I admired—Robert Lowell, John Berryman, Randall Jarrell—had come of age under the sway of The New Criticism, the movement founded in 1939 by John Crowe Ransom, Lowell's and Jarrell's teacher at Kenyon College. The New Critics, according to one biographer, "focused their attention on the work of art as an object in and of itself, independent of outside influences," and counted among those influences any writing about the work or the artist's life. Why anyone would want to isolate literature in this way puzzles me. I love reading reviews and craft interviews, and am fascinated by how writers turn the raw material of their experience into art. I can't separate my enjoyment of that art from my interest in its ingredients, and don't want to.