Posts Tagged ‘death’
March 6, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
- Sherwin B. Nuland, the author of How We Die, is dead.
- In Los Angeles, a group of ghost hunters are chasing the dead.
- The punk ethos of the Lower East Side is dead.
- The Dutch anatomist Frederik Ruysch died in 1731, but his deathly sketches still haunt us today: “not only did he exalt the human anatomy as a wondrous product of creation, but he presented himself as a veritable artist of death.”
- On the eastern seaboard, the hemlock is dying out. Though the tree bears only a superficial resemblance to the plant that killed Socrates, “it seems impossible to separate the hemlock tree from the hemlock plant’s poison, for a poet to keep the death of Socrates out of the picture—for death is in the forest, especially a hemlock forest, especially now.”
February 11, 2014 | by Diane Mehta
The deceptively breezy poems of Stevie Smith.
Stevie Smith’s playful, carnivalesque poems, tiny on the page but emotionally trenchant, are getting a new life—her Best Poems were reissued in December.
It’s high time. Smith’s work has been nearly forgotten, her books having fallen out of print. She is not, on the surface, tenderly lyrical or feminist enough to court contemporary readers. Born in England in 1902, she enjoyed some popularity in the sixties for oddball performances of her poems, which she often sang, or read with spooky dramatic flair, but she might just have been too original, or too variegated, for any one school of poetry to champion her work. Perhaps she has also been dismissed because she comes off as cold and hard, a person of uncertain likeability: her so-called comic verse roils with death wishes and sneering attacks on other poets. (“Let all the little poets be gathered together in classes / And let prizes be given to them by the Prize Asses,” she says in “To School!”) She has been put in with Blake, Coleridge, and Emily Dickinson. Fine company, but Smith is far more varied, unfettered, and disenchanted than all that. Her lines have scope. They contain a high-low mix of childlike diction, plain speech, formal rhymes, and heroic couplets, with a register that ricochets between folk tunes, hymnals, liturgy, nursery rhymes, and lyrical verse. She deliberately set many poems to the tunes of hymns, and sang them as such. Given all the wit and intellect that animate her poetry, why has she been forgotten?
A profoundly independent and, by all accounts, slightly peculiar woman, Smith—born Florence Margaret, and only later Stevie—lived in the same house in North London from the time she was three until her death, taking care of an aunt she treasured, without the need to insert a proper man or children into her life. She worked as a secretary in the women’s magazine business for her entire career, which perhaps is why, in her poems and in her letters, she tilts to seeing women as acutely silly. She avoided serious relationships, settling instead into easily reciprocated, caring friendships and a familial bond with her aunt. Read More »
January 30, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
Will Mary R., of Sunbury, Pennsylvania, please oblige me by giving her method of cultivating heliotrope, as it is one of my favorites, and I can never succeed in raising it. I have over two hundred plants in my parlor and sitting-room windows, and not one heliotrope.
I have a beautiful black goat named Dan, and a complete set of silver-plated harness … Dan will not allow any boy to come near him, but he loves me dearly, and I love him. I am eleven years old.
I and my brother used to have such good times fishing on these lakes in our canoes, and hunting deer in the woods, but now I am so lonely, for my only brother is dead. He went out in the woods to hunt deer, and got lost, and froze to death.
I am a subscriber to Young People, and although I am not one of the “little folks,” I find the Post-office Box very interesting, as I am very fond of children and of pets. I have a bright, intelligent pony, a Mexican dog four years old that does not weigh more than two pounds, a mocking-bird, canaries, and a lot of fancy pigeons, and two aquaria filled with fish.
In my letter printed in Young People No. 62 I intended to say that I would exchange postmarks, not for other postmarks, but for stamps and minerals. I regret that I made the mistake.
I am very much interested in “Toby Tyler” and “Mildred’s Bargain.”
I spent one summer at Cape May, and there I found a turtle that was so tame it would eat out of my hand, and drink out of a tea-spoon. I fed it on raw meat, soaked bread, and worms, but it ran away.
January 9, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
Some critics and readers have felt that you spoke about old age in an unpleasant way.
A lot of people didn’t like what I said because they want to believe that all periods of life are delightful, that children are innocent, that all newlyweds are happy, that all old people are serene. I’ve rebelled against such notions all my life, and there’s no doubt about the fact that the moment, which for me is not old age but the beginning of old age, represents—even if one has all the resources one wants, affection, work to be done—represents a change in one’s existence, a change that is manifested by the loss of a great number of things. If one isn’t sorry to lose them it’s because one didn't love them. I think that people who glorify old age or death too readily are people who really don’t love life. Of course, in present-day France you have to say that everything’s fine, that everything’s lovely, including death.
—Simone de Beauvoir, the Art of Fiction No. 35
December 19, 2013 | by Stephen Sparks
For several years during childhood, my younger brother and I shared a room. When silence eventually fell after we’d been put to bed, I often began to worry. If I couldn’t hear his breathing, if he didn’t shift in his sleep or answer my urgent whispers (“Hey … hey … ” “What?” “ … Nothing”), I willed myself motionless, listening for signs of life. If I still couldn’t hear anything, I got up, tiptoed across the room, and leaned over him. He was never not breathing. Yet I continued these fretful nocturnal journeys throughout our childhood.
As we grew older, my concern became more practical. I wondered how I would react if I found his breath had stopped, what course of action I would take, and whether I would be able to even move from the spot where I’d be helplessly rooted to the floor. I was haunted by his possible death—an absence I could not understand as a child—and by my inability to conjure a suitable reaction.
I do not fear my own death as actively as I worry about being left to cope with the death of someone I love. And while I have lost loved ones, I’ve managed, because those deaths made sense, to hover at the edges of grief. From there, I watched others muck through it, station to station. (Inevitably, I imagine each of the stages of grief less as a pilgrimage than as suburban park trail, where Denial is a set of monkey bars, Anger a stepping post, etc. Mourning, to me, is a compulsory obstacle course.) From the safety of the path, so to speak, I found myself rationalizing away what felt like an improper response to loss with the argument that we all manifest grief differently. In my case, I insisted, it was by maintaining my distance. As a consequence, I have avoided mourners. I’ve skipped out on funerals. In shameful moments, I’ve forsaken those in need. Never because I didn’t care, I insist, but because I am too weak.
And so I didn’t want to read Bough Down, Karen Green’s memoir of loss and mourning. Despite myself, I brought the book home and put it on the shelf, where I intended it to remain, a vellum-shrouded apotropaic object, its presence enough to ward off misfortune. Read More »
November 18, 2013 | by Sadie Stein
Do you have any things you would have done differently, or any advice to give?
Advice I don’t go in for. The thing is, you do not believe I know everything in this field is a cliché, everything’s already been said, but you just do not believe that you’re going to be old. People don’t realize how quickly they’re going to be old, either. Time goes very fast.
—Doris Lessing, the Art of Fiction No. 102