Response to Omaha–Kipling, Twain, Harte, Sandburg

The following are from Omaha: a Guide to the City and Environs, written and Compiled by The Federal Writers’ Project, Works Progress Administration, State of Nebraska, in 1935. It was part of the American Guide Series.

Rudyard Kipling (1889)

“[In Omaha, Kipling] was shocked at the tricks of the embalming trade, the caskets with plate-glass windows, and the burial garments exhibited to him by the obliging undertaker. ‘Bury me,’ he explained, ‘cased in canvas like a fishing-rod, in the deep sea; burn me on a back-water of the Highli with damp wood and no oil; pin me under a Pullman car and let the lighted stove do its worst; sizzle me with a fallen electric wire or whelm me in the sludge of a broken river dam; but may I never go down to the Pit grinning out of a plate-glass window, in a backless dress-coat, and the front half of a black stuff dressing-gown; not though I were ‘held’ against the ravage of the grave for ever and ever. Amen!'”

Mark Twain

“In 1902 the Omaha Public Library banned Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn from the juvenile department in the library on the grounds that the book was bad for the impressionable minds of small boys. […] In response to a telegram sent by the Omaha World-Herald regarding the ban, Mark Twain wrote, “I am tearfully afraid this noise is doing much harm. It has started a number of hitherto spotless people to reading Huck Finn, out of a natural human curiosity to learn what this is all about—people who had not heard of him before; people whose morals will go to wreck and ruin now. The publishers are glad but it makes me want to borrow a handkerchief and cry. I should be sorry to think it was the publishers themselves that got up this entire little flutter to enable them to unload a book that was taking too much room in their cellars, but you never can tell what a publisher will do. I have been one myself.”

Bret Harte (1874, to his wife)

“As I rode into Omaha this morning the streets were dumb with snow, and winter, savage and pale, looked into the windows of the cars. […] Imagine a hotel as large and finely appointed as the Occidental in San Francisco, and think of there being such a one in Omaha. Yet here I am—in a very pretty furnished parlor of the ‘Grand Central’ on the very outpost of the West, the cars of the Union Pacific starting on their long overland trip but a few blocks away. […] Verily the West is wonderful.”

Sandburg worked briefly as a coal heaver in Omaha.

Carl Sandburg

Omaha (1920)

Red barns and red heiffers spot the green
grass circles around Omaha–the farmers
haul tanks of cream and wagon-loads of
cheese.

Shale hogbacks across the river at Council
Bluffs–and shanties hang by an eyelash to
the hill slants back around Omaha.

A span of steel ties up the kin of Iowa and
Nebraska across the yellow, big-hoofed Missouri
River.

Omaha, the roughneck, feeds armies,
Eats and swears from a dirty face.
Omaha works to get the world a breakfast.

Sunset from Omaha Hotel Window (1918)

Into the blue river hills
The red sun runners go
And the long sand changes
And to-day is a goner
And to-day is not worth haggling over.

Here in Omaha
The gloaming is bitter
As in Chicago
Or Kenosha.

The long sand changes.
To-day is a goner.
Time knocks in another brass nail.
Another yellow plunger shoots the dark.

Constellations
Wheeling over Omaha
As in Chicago
Or Kenosha.

The long sand is gone
and all the talk is stars.
They circle in a dome over Nebraska.

January in Review (2012)

-It was a pretty slow month on the blog last month. There are two reasons for this. First, I spend eight days in Key West for the Key West Literary Seminar. (Here’s the recap of my time there.) Second, I received an offer late in the month to take the reins as Online Editor for Prairie Schooner! I accepted. Technically I don’t start until today–and the paperwork hasn’t been started either, so hopefully I’m not jinxing that–but I’ve been getting a feel for the job over the last week or so. I’m very excited to take over the position from Timothy Schaffert. The new website is up and running, and we have an awful lot of cool things in the works. It’s a very exciting time to be involved with the journal.

-The edits for my novel are coming along. I’m hopeful to have it ready for my top readers here in the next month or so. Nothing monumental to announce, but I feel like the book is coming along. It’s tightening up in ways that lead me to believe that it’s close to being done, at least. Of course, the feedback I get from my readers will probably blow a few things wide open again.

-I did add my 2011 Year in Photos post last month, in case you missed it.

-Just two months until the new baby arrives. Eep.

Dispatch from The Uninitiated

“Maria Eigler knew what she liked. She built a world around herself that reflected her preferences. She loved conversation and children and music. She liked to make hearty food and see all of it eaten, to make up beds and see them slept in, to have a full, vibrating house. She tolerated conceit in people she cared for, but found it the most contemptible trait among others. Maria was not pretentious, but she didn’t stoop to putting on an air of ignorance either. She was a wise and deceptively cultured woman. It didn’t surprise Jacob to learn that Maria attended a women’s seminary when she was young, in Missouri. She studied Greek drama for two years before she married August. It was Grenville Dodge who moved them to Council Bluffs, before they moved themselves across the river. Maria would sometimes say a phrase in Greek, to show where an English word came from, like alphabet or apology or muse or martial. The way she talked about Greek drama, all the time in her buoyant kinderfrau voice, she made it sound like those plays could explain everything in life. Love, betrayal, war, language, fate, death. And if you were lucky enough to get the chance to really study them, and understand what they meant, then you’d be well off. You’d know enough to maybe let everything else in the world well enough alone.”

Just Finished

This Side of Brightness by Colum McCann. What a beautiful book. Very affecting and well done. The book begins with a focus on the sandhogs who tunneled under the East River to build the subway tunnel connecting Brooklyn and Manhattan, which I found incredibly fascinating. McCann gets a lot of attention for Let the Great World Spin, but don’t miss out on this remarkable book either.

Bohemian Girl by Terese Svoboda. A coming-of-age novel about a young girl left to fend for herself in the Nebraska wilderness in pioneer times. The book kind of read as a survey course in early Nebraska history at times, although it has its moments too. There are lots of interesting characters that come and go throughout the book. The most interesting ones never stayed as long as I would have liked them to.

Leaf House by Karen Brown. This story collection, Brown’s second, won the most recent Prairie Schooner Book Prize in Fiction. I was lucky enough to get a preview of the manuscript in order to interview her for the PS blog. (Here’s the interview, if you’re interested.) It’s a very good book—Brown is an awesome young writer—and I’m eager to see how the final version comes out.

Now Reading

The Third Reich by Roberto Bolaño.

Up Next

The Marbled Swarm by Dennis Cooper.