Thursday, November 20, 2008

William Wharton and Sharon Olds

It's come to my attention that one of my favorite writers, William Wharton, has died recently. Wharton is best known for his first novel Birdy (possible spoiler alert), an eccentric, moving, emotionally charged novel about the relationship of two young men growing up in the 50's and 60's. Birdy is obsessed with birds, his love at times going beyond what can be safely described as psychologically healthy. Al, his best friend, recounts his life and the story of his attempt to bring him back from the brink when he is damaged
seemingly beyond repair during war .

Even more relevant for me personally was his second book Dad, which I read while my own father was going through a long, painful process of dying. It was a comfort and revelation, as sometimes only a book can be. A novel doesn't have to be by a Tolstoy or Proust to move us to the point of changing our world. This book did that and it's impossible to say how grateful I was.

Wharton himself lived a wonderful, tragic, eccentric life. I intend to post about him in some depth at the blog, Eleventh Stack, that I contribute to at my job and so will notify folks when that goes up. Though all the obituaries internationally praised him (oddly, he was beloved in Poland, having a number of works recently translated from English to Polish, including a sort of sequel to Birdy entitled Al, without ever having been published in English), he is one of those authors I believe will rapidly slip into obscurity.

I'd like to deliver one blow against the darkness for him before it finally descends.

This week is the birthday of Sharon Olds, one of the best mainstream poets writing in America today. Much of her work is intensely personal but, like all great authors, she manages to universalize the details so they resonant powerfully for her readers. Here is a poem that at once contains elements representative of her work and yet takes a somewhat different stylistic approach. Here the particular seems literally universal and there is a humor on display more overtly than is usually the case.


After we flew across the country we
got into bed, laid our bodies
delicately together, like maps laid
face to face, East to West, my
San Francisco against your New York, your
Fire Island against my Sonoma, my
New Orleans deep in your Texas, your Idaho
bright on my Great Lakes, my Kansas
burning against your Kansas your Kansas
burning against my Kansas, your Eastern
Standard Time pressing into my
Pacific Time, my Mountain Time
beating against your Central Time, your
sun rising swiftly from the right my
sun rising swiftly from the left your
moon rising slowly from the left my
moon rising slowly from the right until
all four bodies of the sky
burn above us, sealing us together,
all our cities twin cities,
all our states united, one
nation, indivisible with liberty and justice for all.
Sharon Olds

Cover Art by Harland Ristau

This week's issue from the Lilliput archives is #65, from February 1995. To put things in gentle perspective, on February 23rd, 1995, the Dow Jones average closed at 4003.33, the first time it ever closed over 4000. Poetry, at that time, may also have been a tad more innocent, though I'm not sure if you can tell from the following. Enjoy.



And I saw it through the barred
window, your hand with bits
of light in it. I licked them like a horse
and grew wings no sun can kill.
Ali Kress



Gregory Vincent S. Thomasino


Paint Sadness

down a

on tree

Suzanne Bowers



He would have to tell this one to Dad.
He started to pick up the phone
and dial the number,
smiling all the while.

Then he remembered.
When everyone asked him
who he was going to call
he was afraid to answer.
Daniel J. McCaffrey


Guardrail Graffiti (A Found Poem)

Bart Solarcyzk


Bird Haiku #14

Wings extended across the ground
a dead sparrow
flies into eternity.
David Rhine


In memory of Suzanne Bowers and Harland Ristau.



Charles Gramlich said...

"Dad" sounds like something I'd really enjoy. Gonna look it up.

Anonymous said...

"Birdy" and "Dad" made into movies ...

... have seen "Dad" and only clips of "Birdy"

if movies are your "thing"


Issa's Untidy Hut said...

Charles, let me know what you think when you get to "Dad" ...

Saw "Birdy", it was ok, captured some of the feel of the book. I couldn't bring myself to watch "Dad."

It just meant too much to me.