Literary daybook, Sept. 16

Real and imaginary events of interest to readers.

By the Salon Books Editors

Published September 16, 2002 7:00PM (EDT)

Today in fiction

On Sept. 16, Rusty Regan disappears.
-- "The Big Sleep" (1939)
by Raymond Chandler

From "The Book of Fictional Days"
Know when something that did not really happen
occurred? Send it to

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Today in literary history
On this day in 1672, Anne Bradstreet, the first published poet of the American colonies, died. Bradstreet enjoyed a relatively privileged life in England, but at the age of 18 she, her husband and her parents sailed with John Winthrop for the Puritan settlement at Massachusetts Bay. Her first book of poems, "The Tenth Muse Lately Sprung Up in America," was first published back in England in 1650 -- by her brother-in-law and apparently without her knowledge, Bradstreet expressing embarrassment that the world should see the "ill-form'd offspring of my feeble brain." These poems are sometimes candid and immediate, but more often in a conventional style and on accepted topics -- her husband, her children, her faith, etc. -- but later poems can show a different attitude:

"I am obnoxious to each carping tongue,
Who sayes, my hand a needle better fits,
A Poets Pen, all scorne, I should thus wrong;
For such despighte they cast on female wits:
If what i doe prove well, it wo'nt advance,
They'l say its stolen, or else, it was by chance."

John Berryman's first fame was for "Homage to Mistress Bradstreet," a series of 57 eight-line verses in which he comments on, converses with, courts and assumes the voice of a woman locked away by gender and circumstance. The historical Bradstreet wrote about a disastrous fire; Berryman's Bradstreet writes, "I sniff a fire burning without outlet,/ consuming acrid its own smoke. It's me." The following is Section 31, in which Berryman has Bradstreet moving away from "the proportioned, spiritless poems" and toward him:

"-- It is Spring's New England. Pussy willows wedge
up in the wet. Milky crestings, fringed
yellow, in heaven, eyed
by the melting hand-in-hand or mere
desirers single, heavy-footed, rapt,
make surge poor human hearts. Venus is trapt --
the hefty pike shifts, sheer --
in Orion blazing. Warblings, odours, nudge to an edge --"

-- Steve King

To find out more about "Today in Literary History," contact Steve King.

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