Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Early Morning Visitors: Arnold Hecht and Agatha Christie woke me up this morning!

By Mary Jane Honegger
Two things woke me up this morning … one a poem ...
and the second a documentary film. 

Anthony Hecht
January 16, 1923 – October 20, 2004)
Anthony Hecht
I finally heaved myself out of bed this morning when I couldn’t stop thinking about “The Book of Yolek,” a poem included in Liz Mastin’s post earlier this week.  The poem gripped me, and when I awoke thinking about it again today, I decided to learn more about the poem and the poet.

According to online sources, Anthony Evan Hecht was an honored American poet who based many of his most poignant poems on his experiences liberating a concentration camp near Buchenwald during WWII.  He was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1968 for The Hard Hours, a collection of poems exploring his memories of the war.  

Liz included Hecht’s poem in her series, The Joy of Prosody, as an example of a poem written in the form of a sestina. In fact, Hecht combined a huge interest in poetic form with his desire to address the horrors of war; and became known for both.  In addition to the 1968 Pulitzer and other literary awards, he served as the Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 1982 through 1984.

But what interested me about Hecht's poem was Yolek himself.  I began reading tales about the Holocaust when I was about 12 years old and I continue to read them to this day.  I'm not sure why other than it is my own attempt to find a reason.  Why did people turn the other way and let it happen?  Why did millions of people decide it was okay to murder innocent men, women and children?  By now I know we'll never understand, but reading this poem about a 5-year old boy reminds me never to forget.  And that, I think, is what Anthony Hecht wanted when he wrote this poem about little Yolek.   

Interesting Facts - Anthony Hecht
While in college, before the war, Hecht decided to become a poet, a decision that distressed his parents.  They tried to discourage him by having a family friend, Ted Geisel (better known as Dr. Seuss) persuade him to change his choice of career.  The plea didn’t deter him and after the war he used the G.I. bill to study with other poets.

Hecht and fellow poet John Hollander are credited with creating the double dactyl, a particularly complicated one-sentence poem with 44 syllables, eight lines, and two four-line stanzas.  Oh, and by the way, the first line must be a rhyming nonsensical phrase, the second line should introduce the subject, and one line in the second stanza (usually the sixth) must be a six-syllable, double-dactylic word.

Whew!  I think I’ll stick to prose.

Agatha Christie
Thoughts about a documentary film chronicling the life of the bestselling mystery writer of all time, Agatha Christie, also disrupted my sleep.  The PBS documentary revealed facts about Christie that I had never known … or didn’t remember, at any rate.  The one that struck me the most concerned how the prolific writer got her start.

While she was an aspiring writer from an early age, working in a pharmacy during WWI sparked her interest in the use of poison as her favorite method of causing someone’s demise.  She perfected the genre and began churning out books at an astonishing rate. 

With sales of over 2 billion novels translated into 45 languages, Agatha Christie is cedited with being the best selling author of all time. Throughout her life, she wrote 80 novels and short story collections as well as a dozen plays. Her play The Mousetrap is the longest running play in theater history. She penned some nonfiction, a few poems, and an autobiography. Christie also wrote six romance novels under the pseudonym Mary Westmacott.

She introduced her most famous character, detective Hercule Poirot , in her first novel, The Mysterious Affair of Styles.  She later introduced a second famous crime-solver, Miss Jane MarpleMiss Marple appeared in twelve of her novels and twenty short stories.  Many of her stories have been shown in film and on television, including Murder on the Orient Express and Death on the Nile. 

I was interested that Christie did not write about her experiences as a nurse and a licensed pharmacologist during the war, which I'm sure readers would find fascinating; but instead used her personal knowledge about poisons to enrich her fiction ... and commit the perfect murder.  When she took that job to stay busy and help with the war effort while her pilot husband was off fighting the war, I'm sure she didn't have a single clue that it would become her springboard to fame and fortune and the sale of billions of books.

Note to self and others: don’t give up.  You may find inspiration for your writing anywhere … in the chaos of war like Hecht, or in the mindless repetitiveness of everyday tasks like filling a bottle with pills like Christie.  An incredible idea may spark when you are filling the dishwasher, selling vacuums door-to-door, or chasing a two-year old down the aisle of the local supermarket.  It may come when you get lost on a freeway in California, when you have to start over again, or when you find your mailbox stuffed with MediCare Supplemental Plans the week before your 65th birthday.  

Interesting Facts - Agatha Christie
Agatha Christie's first book was rejected by six publishers.
When she killed off her most famous detective, Hercule Poirot, in her 1975 book, Curtain, The New York Times ran a full page obituary. Hercule Poirot remains the only fictional character ever given such treatment by the newspaper.

Her novel, Endless Night, is narrated by a young working-class male.  She wrote it when she was 76.

Poison was Christie's most common choice of deadly weapon, but she did allow some creativity.  In addition to using poison to dispatch her characters, Christie’s fictional victims were: strangled by a raincoat belt, strangled by a ukulele string, jabbed in the neck with a venom-tipped dart, stabbed with a corn knife, stabbed with an ornamental Tunisian dagger, drowned in an apple tub, crushed by a bear-shaped marble clock, and electrocuted by a chessboard rigged to deliver the fatal charge upon completion of the third move of the Ruy Lopez opening.

1 comment:

Elizabeth S. Brinton said...

What a wealth of fascinating information you have provided us with this week. Thank you so much. I absolutely adore the picture of Agatha Christie at work. Great tweed jacket with a pin on the lapel, every hair in place with the help of a net, and I can just imagine the sturdy brown shoes.