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My first copy was dog-eared and sunbaked, the pages brittle and brown, as if the paperback had rested in the back window of an old Pontiac instead of on a library shelf. Some kind of pestilence – water bugs, I believe – had gotten to it before I did, and it was hard to tell, as I turned to that first page, which of us would get more from it.
I was an ignorant teenage schoolboy and read it because a teacher told me to, prodded as if by pitchfork down the hot, dull streets of a town called Maycomb in the desolate 1930s, and pressed into the company of a boy named Jem, a mouthy girl named Scout, and an odd little chucklehead named Dill whom, I am fairly sure, I would have beaten up and relieved of his milk money. I would have preferred the Hardy Boys, preferred to gallop alongside the Riders of the Purple Sage, but I was afraid of teachers then, and so I read. “Maycomb was an old town, but it was a tired old town . . . Somehow, it was hotter then . . . There was no hurry, for there was nowhere to go . . .”
I missed a few words, bug-eaten or besmirched, but I read on, to a shot-down rabid dog, and a neighbour, Boo Radley, in hiding, and a young black man named Tom Robinson who is wrongly accused of raping a young white woman. And, of course, there is Atticus Finch, the lawyer who offers reason, and kindness, and some thin hope. He tries to save Robinson, but, as the pages turned, I saw that it would take more than one good Alabama man to make this sorry world all right. To Kill a Mockingbird was published in 1960, but it was the middle 1970s before it reached the Roy Webb Road in Calhoun County, Alabama, and me. I began reading Harper Lee’s novel in the skimpy shade of a pine outside my grandmother’s house, fat beagles pressing against me, begging for attention, ignored. At dark, I kept reading, first on the couch, a bologna sandwich in one hand, then in my bed, by the light of a 60-watt bulb hanging from the ceiling on an orange drop cord. When my mother came in from her job as a maid and unplugged my chandelier, I replayed the story in my head until it was crowded out by dreams.
I woke the next morning, smelling biscuits, and reached for the book again. I remember this, some 35 years later, the same way I remember where I was when Elvis died. Some things are just important. And as the pages fluttered by, the ragged 50-cent paperback shook my conscience, broke my heart, and took me into its landscape forever. I believed, at the time, I was the only person in the whole world who felt like that. It was my first grown-up book, a story not pat or perfect, about children coming of age in a time when reality falls wretchedly short of ideals. Even as a lynch mob threatens Tom Robinson, Atticus Finch refuses to condemn the cruel conventions of his community and is willing to absorb the mob’s hatred himself, stoic, till a villain named Robert E. Lee Ewell strikes at his own children. Atticus is not the book’s only hero. Another steps from the closet, the shadows.
Many people see To Kill a Mockingbird as a civil rights novel, but it transcends that issue. It is a novel about right and wrong, about kindness and meanness. As a child in rural Alabama in the 1960s, I had seen such stories burn past me, somehow unreal and distant, as buses were overturned, as civil rights workers were beaten or shot from speeding cars. I did not truly feel those hatreds, or understand them, until I read that book. Now that I know this novel’s place in history, I wonder: How many readers have gone with me into those pages and returned in some way different, in some way changed? I am not talking of book sales, although Lee’s Pulitzer Prize–winning novel is one of the most popular books of all time. It has sold an estimated 40 million copies, is a staple of school curricula, and has been translated into some 40 languages.It also made a glorious transition to screen in 1962 in the Academy Award–winning adaptation written by the great Horton Foote and starring Gregory Peck.
Lee, who never wrote another novel, has been covered up to her chin in awards and citations and presented with every trophy short of a gold monkey. But her novel’s finest, most profound legacy is quieter, almost private, something between Lee and one reader at a time. You get to know readers, a little bit, if you write books for a living. You get to see the depth to which they love a book. To Kill a Mockingbird is not just the kind of book people hold in their hearts; it’s the kind people hold to their hearts, wrapping their arms around it and pressing it against their breasts as if they could feel a heartbeat in its paper. I have seen people do that to copies signed and unsigned. We writers should all be so lucky, to write a book people actually hug. Don Brown, a retired newspaper editor who works across the hall from me at the University of Alabama, told me he has picked up countless books in his life, but this one he never really put down. “I don’t think you do,” said Brown, now 73, who has a signed copy. “And I am so proud of it.” It is not a complicated book, to him. “It is a sermon,” he said, “on courage as much as anything else.”
In the collected essays Critical Insights: To Kill a Mockingbird, author and English professor Edythe M. McGovern notes that a 1991 survey by the Book-of-the-Month Club and the Library of Congress Center for the Book found the novel was “most often cited as making a difference in people’s lives, second only to the Bible.”
For Southerners, especially those who were alive in the segregated South, it was a reminder of our finer nature. As so much poison spewed from so many courthouses, statehouses, political platforms, and Klan picnics, it was a kind of poultice, a story set in the 1930s that should have drawn out that meanness, and shamed the wrongdoers of the 1960s into doing the right thing. It did not. But it was, I guess, the closest thing to an antidote we, as a region, would have for a long, long time. We were not political, my family and me. My people swung hammers, poured steel, heaved sticks of pulpwood onto ragged trucks, and made a little liquor deep in the pines along the Alabama-Georgia line. The women worked hunched over the spinning frames in the mill, breathing air that was thick with cotton. Men broke down truck tyres in dirt-floor garages, their sledges ringing through the trees, and broke each other’s bones, now and then, over a woman, or an insult, or an open jug. They sinned and got saved, backslid, then did it all over again, jerking in the grip of the Holy Ghost as if they had grabbed hold of a naked wire. They did a little time, some of them, till their mamas bailed them out, but most of them just punched a time clock, fed their babies, and watched wrestling live from Birmingham on their black-and-white TVs. In late summer and early fall, they picked cotton in the fields beside black men and women, and if there was ever a conflict there, I was too dumb to see it. My mother worked on her knees cleaning the homes of the better-off white ladies in town and took in laundry. If anyone needed a prophet to tell us we were better than someone, better than anyone, I guess it was us. He came to us from Barbour County, a pugnacious little man named George Wallace who promised to protect us from the outside agitators who were coming down here to destroy our way of life.
It made no sense to me as I started school in Calhoun County in 1965. Were they going to take away our sledges? Were they going to unplug my mother’s iron? Were they going to stop us from digging a ditch? But still, we went to see him, to see the show. I remember a rally in Anniston, the county seat, remember a band playing “Dixie”, and an undulating canopy of Confederate battle flags, a whole auditorium of Stars and Bars and fluttering red. The little man got everyone all worked up. The guv’ment in Washington would not force us to go to school or otherwise have unwanted close association with coloured people, he promised. I did not really understand it much. It was, though, quite a show. Not long after that, our daddy got fairly well drunk and ran off. Things got bad for a while, till the black family that lived down the road brought my mother some food, including some good corn. I liked corn, so I liked them. I was six, I believe. I did not need Harper Lee to tell me it was wrong to treat people badly because of colour. I was raised right that way by my gentle mother. What Lee did was make me think about it, longer, deeper, as a man. I would not stand in the company of men who spouted meanness, or be a go-along, come-along racist for the sake of so-called good manners or peace in the family. It is not much, maybe, to say, to claim. But there was more to me after reading that book than before.
I hear it from people my age over and over again. Many scholars have said that To Kill a Mockingbird was never intended as a civil rights book and, powerful as its message was, did not register among the demagogues and night riders who tried, with terror and violence and the law itself, to hold back time. It was not widely banned by people in power, merely ignored. The violence of the 1960s, the murders of civil rights workers in Mississippi, the infamous bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, and more, unfolded even as the book was still being lauded in literary circles. But as those crimes smoked and then grew cold, the message in To Kill a Mockingbird lived on. Doug Jones was a college student at the University of Alabama in the middle 1970s, then a law student at the Cumberland School of Law at Samford University. He remembers that he watched the movie first, then read the book.
“It was a dose of conscience,” he said, “of right versus wrong.” Some three decades later, he was the US Attorney and then special prosecutor who convicted the two surviving Klansmen who bombed the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, killing four little girls, in 1963. They had bragged of their crime, those men, certain no-one would reach so far back in time to punish them. But Atticus, even in black and white, had endured in the mind of Jones and others who worked to make their case. “The duty of a lawyer is to seek justice,” Jones said. “You do it in a professional way, even if it is not popular. I have read that book a dozen times, sometimes read just bits and pieces, but I keep coming back to it. It lives.” The book has had such an impact on our society that some literary types have apparently forgotten that it is not, in fact, real and debate Atticus as if he were a historical figure, now mouldering in the grave. Atticus, some say, fell short. He should have championed civil rights, should have railed in that courtroom, not bowed his head and let Tom Robinson go off to prison, hopeless, to be shot down trying to escape. Others defend Atticus, spitting mad. Maybe he does live.
Don Noble, professor emeritus of English at the University of Alabama, wrote it this way in Critical Insights: To Kill a Mockingbird:“Most readers, over these intervening years, have not expected sainthood from Atticus, and thus have not been miffed at his flaws. Most readers, in fact, understand the novel pretty well. Atticus is a decent man trying to do the right thing, and when we evaluate Atticus and his behaviour in the privacy of our own hearts, it might be good to remember what many mothers have told their children over the years. What if everyone did that? What if everyone behaved that way? Well, just imagine if everyone did behave like Atticus Finch in Alabama, or anywhere for that matter, in 1936. It would be a better world, I think.” As much as I loved that book, I was a bit conflicted. It is easy to love it if your people are from the aristocracy, even a faded one. In my heart, I knew my people were at least marginally closer to the Ewells, who wreaked the misery in Lee’s book, than the educated, respectable Finches. “No economic fluctuations,” Lee wrote, “changed their status.” That drew a little blood.
It may be one reason why I never sought her out, to thank her. Over my writing life, friends and others told me they were making pilgrimages to Lee’s hometown, Monroeville. It was well known she was a private person and did not do interviews, but their love of her book was so strong, they had to try to see her. Some succeeded. But partly out of genuine deference, partly because I would have felt like a clod, knocking on her door, I let her be.
Then, in 2009, I won our state’s lifetime writing award (though I wondered if that meant I was about dead). It was named, of course, for Harper Lee. “You should go see her,” people said. I asked Wayne Greenhaw, a longtime friend of Lee’s, if he thought that it would be OK for me to see her, and he said he did not think she would mind. I walked into the room to a slight, grey-haired woman in glasses, shook her hand, listened as she told me it was a pleasure to see me. I told her the pleasure was mine. Then, after untold conversations with newsmakers around this world, after a few thousand book signings, after a lifetime of small talk at early-morning television shows, literary festivals, and National Public Radio, I had nothing to say. I just wanted to listen. If I talked, I would miss something, for sure. She chatted as people came in and out of the room, made plans for lunch, and spoke briefly of one old friend, a strong, confident woman she once knew.
“She,” Lee said, “is the straw that stirs the liquor.”
Lovely. Writers talk like that.
She said she had never seen the award, so we retrieved it from the car. It is a beautiful bronze replica of the courthouse clock tower in Monroeville, about the size of a mailbox and about the weight of a sack of fertiliser. “Oh, my,” she said. “Yes, ma’am,” I said. “It’s huge.” Writers do not talk like that. For a long time, her phrase stuck in my head.
The straw that stirs the liquor.
That is her, I believe.
Heres a few links that might be of some help for John Prine study. Am currently on one, doing a round-up of his folk poetry in songs. If anyone could add to it, thanks beforehand. Those underlined red are the bigger, important ones, you can’t afford to miss.
I like the way Paul Zollo begins his introduction of John Prine in an interview post:kinda sums up any write .
❚Straight from the streets of Maywood he came, a mailman with a chain of masterpieces. It’s Chicago, 1970, and word starts circulating around this close-knit folk music scene that there’s a new guy who must be heard to be believed. A songwriter who seems to have emerged fully formed with a voice like Hank Williams and songs that resound like some miracle collaboration between Woody Guthrie and Hemingway. His name’s Prine. And almost as soon as the denizens of the Windy City learned of him, the secret was out, and John Prine belonged to the world. ☗ ( read interview at : http://bluerailroad.wordpress.com/john-prine-the-bluerailroad-interview/ )
☗ Friday, April 09, 2010 Popular Artists Celebrate John Prine With New CD : Today’s avant-roots renaissance owes a great debt to John Prine’s laconic, ever-questioning poetic quality – a debt that is warmly repaid by Broken Hearts & Dirty Windows: Songs of John Prine : http://ohboyrecordsblog.blogspot.com/2010/04/popular-artists-celebrate-john-prine.html
☗ JOHN PRINE’S MUSIC IN DETAIL : http://www.jpshrine.org/music/index.html
☗ Complete list of John Prine songs : http://www.whosdatedwho.com/music/songs/john-prine.htm
☗ Casey Chambers interview : http://thecollegecrowddigsme.blogspot.com/2007/06/interview-john-prine.html
☗ REVERB interview http://www.heyreverb.com/2009/06/12/interview-john-prine/
☗ library of Congress with Poet Laureate Ted Kooser, who introduces him in as ” SOMEBODY WHO I HAVE WAITED TO MEET FOR 35 years – http://www.loc.gov/today/cyberlc/feature_wdesc.php?rec=3677
☗ FOLK MUSIC.COM : http://folkmusic.about.com/od/artistskr/p/JohnPrineBio.htm
☗ WORD PRESS TAGS :- http://en.wordpress.com/tag/john-prine/
☗John Prine: American Legend– Roger Ebert: http://blogs.suntimes.com/ebert/pages-for-twitter/john-prine-an-american-legend.html
I guess that’s much about what I thought was an indispensable part of Prine’s collectibles. One thing he has about him is that he draws you towards the words and you say I should perhaps listen to it again- once you read Prine it’s the same as saying “How the hell can a person go to work in the morning
And come home in the evening and have nothing to say” – ANgel From Montgomery
cheers. will get back on the finished product soon.
There are sealed destinations within, that can’t be spelled on a shared map,
It’s like a tomb underneath the soul that lives in spirit and exists in a warp;
some carry the stillness till goodbye world, quietness then beyond a sky’s secret,
while some meet gravediggers of the soul’s soil, who open the hidden garret.
For bohemians and mavericks I met, along the whiskey teeth of harvest corn
For a while we bond like tight-tied sheaves, but dry away to a bankrupt morn’
The last grain of sugar got swept by an innocent broom, fraught ants’ helter-skelter
You are my world sans curtains; you allowed this guest a loyal rent in your shelter
Chosen key of mine, you opened a thief’s hidden pain, to brace my weedy wings
Blest friend of mine, thrill of a poem, hidden verses flow like newborn tidings,
Loved song of mine, voice of a sunday choir, my buried music was ne’er so heard;
Sweet companion for this earth’s time, feel mine till long heaven’s safest gird.
Sardar Khuswant Singh, Controversial, Maverick, Blunt whatever……. I first read him in his prose of ” The pORTRAIT OF A LADY” & ” The Mark of Vishnu in class 7 or 8. Ever since ” The Grand old man of Indian writing, has at intermittent slots come around through his columns & books. Below is just a 2 minute read excerpted from an article I read today…Had a very pleasant feel coming from a DO or DIE 95-year-old. Pick some of your like….
“Baagh-e-bahisht se mujhe hukm-e-safar diya tha kyon?Kaar-e-Jahaan daraaz hai, ab mera intezaar kar (Why did you order me out of the garden of paradise? I have a lot left to do; now you wait for me).
I’ve lived a reasonably contented life. I’ve often thought about what it is that makes people happy—what one has to do in order to achieve happiness.
◆ First and foremost is good health. If you do not enjoy good health, you can never be happy. Any ailment, however trivial, will deduct something from your happiness.
◆ Second, a healthy bank balance. It need not run into crores, but it should be enough to provide for comforts, and there should be something to spare for recreation—eating out, going to the movies, travel and holidays in the hills or by the sea. Shortage of money can be demoralising. Living on credit or borrowing is demeaning and lowers one in one’s own eyes.
◆ Third, your own home. Rented places can never give you the comfort or security of a home that is yours for keeps. If it has garden space, all the better. Plant your own trees and flowers, see them grow and blossom, and cultivate a sense of kinship with them.
◆ Fourth, an understanding companion, be it your spouse or a friend. If you have too many misunderstandings, it robs you of your peace of mind. It is better to be divorced than to be quarrelling all the time.
◆ Fifth, stop envying those who have done better than you in life—risen higher, made more money, or earned more fame. Envy can be corroding; avoid comparing yourself with others.
◆Sixth, do not allow people to descend on you for gup-shup. By the time you get rid of them, you will feel exhausted and poisoned by their gossip-mongering.Since I have no faith in God, nor in the day of judgement, nor in reincarnation, I have to come to terms with the complete full stop.
◆ Seventh, cultivate a hobby or two that will fulfil you—gardening, reading, writing, painting, playing or listening to music. Going to clubs or parties to get free drinks, or to meet celebrities, is a criminal waste of time. It’s important to concentrate on something that keeps you occupied meaningfully. I have family members and friends who spend their entire day caring for stray dogs, giving them food and medicines. There are others who run mobile clinics, treating sick people and animals free of charge.
◆ Eighth, every morning and evening devote 15 minutes to introspection. In the mornings, 10 minutes should be spent in keeping the mind absolutely still, and five listing the things you have to do that day. In the evenings, five minutes should be set aside to keep the mind still and 10 to go over the tasks you had intended to do.
◆Ninth, don’t lose your temper. Try not to be short-tempered, or vengeful. Even when a friend has been rude, just move on.
◆ Above all, when the time comes to go, one should go like a man without any regret or grievance against anyone.
Iqbal said it beautifully in a couplet in Persian: “You ask me about the signs of a man of faith? When death comes to him, he has a smile on his lips.”
Originally uploaded by rangamchiru
I press my hands on my eyes
And will that you come to me.
Your semblances shimmer and rise;
Yet ’tis never your self I see,
Never the exquisite grace
And the bright, still flame of you.
So, when I meet you face to face,
Always I know you anew!
Faint visions I saw, instead
Of your brows direct and wise,
Of the little lilt of your head
And your dark-lashed, sky-clear eyes,
Of the soft brown braids demure,
The poise as of quiet light,
The perfect profile, sweet and pure,–
Never I dream you aright!
And new in endless ways,
By your blessed heart unplanned,
It is mine to surprise each sweeter phase,
Adore you, and understand;
For through every delicious change in you
Truth burns with a clear still flame;
And, though always I know you anew,
Always I find you the same!
You and I dreaming
Planned the far-away,
Cities and hedgerows,
Distant summer day,
When, the sun sinking,–
But oh, a distant sun!–
We would be thinking,
“Think what we have done!”
You and I whispering
Held the isles in fee
By a chain of grasses,
By your smile to me,
Visioning some clime–
But long years between–
When we should say, sometime,
“Think what we have seen!”
You and I wondering
Of our old age,
Turned a page pondering,
And turned a page …
Now, my hands pluck ravelled
Strands I can’t untie.
Yet–you always travelled
Farther than I!
Perpetual Light, by William Rose Benet
“Ah, do not turn to me that face which is no longer
of this world!…
There are enough angels to
serve the mass in Heaven!
Have pity on me, who
am only a man without wings,
who rejoiced in this
companion God had given me,
and that I should
hear her sigh with her head resting on my shoulder!…
the bitterness like the bitterness of
myrrh… And for you age is already come.
But how hard it is to renounce when the heart is
The sky, blue sky
The dark shroud alibi
Unable to hide its indepth abyss
Releases, wet colorless hues
What repenting gladiators feel that the sky doesn’t?
The sky, red sky colorplay, receding
Horizon’s hairline or a balding sunshine expressing
A thousand brushes failure
What legends of artistes could that hue-mix capture?
If the sky could be true to its emotions
And show us
Why my soul would you not live through transformations,
And celebrate thus?
[The Beautiful hills of the North-eastern part of India are engulfed by clouds of Militancy, Discrimination, human trafficking, drugs etc.. while the heavily corrupted governments sit numb. Despite the overwhelming proven potential of its Seven Sisters or the seven states that form the demography, it is still far away from the realities of the present day.
# Simplest story for a Heart-close subject. ]
He and she are from a familiar society,
Wore clothes in the present century
Guzzle and gorged out of contemporary cutlery
But their schools were spider to cobweb factory
Their mind’s stomach forced with cold rice and borrowed curry
Their newspapers taught the divisions of equality
For their government functioned in regurgitated theory
The cabinet ate of public money and destructive artillery,
So when he and she faced the pace in bitter reality
They failed norms of the plural fraternity
Years before, he loved normal songs but sang depression and agony
Years before, she loved love movies but viewed a silent hated destiny
Years after, he found people who used him bad forget his misery
Years after, she found people who used her worst forget her apathy
Fortunately they survived their emergency,
And are now working the battle for liberty
He picked up the gun and followed his redeeming way
She picked up the pen and wrote all that she could not say
Metal or the water, the bullet or ink,
Paroxysmal ways for them to act and think
Thankfully justified by circumstance,
Or they would lose even this one unforced chance.