• Arthur Rimbaud, a French poet, was also a critic. If he disliked what he heard at a poetry reading, he would climb on a table behind the poet and urinate on the poet’s poems. Rimbaud is a favorite of punk poet Patti Smith — who faced her own critics. She was so disliked by the female factory employees with whom she worked early in her life that they once pushed her head into a urine-filled toilet bowl — an event she wrote and sang about in what many people consider the very first punk record: “P*ss Factory.” She discovered Rimbaud while looking in a bookstore near the factory. Unfortunately, the other female factory employees thought that Rimbaud must be a Communist because he wrote in a language other than English.
• Critic Edmund Wilson did not do a lot of things that more recent intellectuals do. In fact, as Mr. Wilson’s fame and requests for his time and creativity grew, he created a postcard on which he listed (and checked as a reply to a request he would not satisfy) the things that he would not do. These things included giving interviews, appearing on television, participating in symposia, writing articles or books on order, and writing forewords or introductions.
• Actors react differently to critics’ reviews. After appearing in a play together, Charlton Heston and Sir Laurence Olivier received good and bad reviews. Mr. Heston said, “Well, I guess you’ve just got to forget the bad reviews.” Sir Laurence replied, “No, you’ve got to forget the good ones.” (Children’s book author Avi sometimes tells this anecdote; he is of course aware that authors get good and bad reviews.)
• Lesbian humorist Ellen Orleans found publishing her first book a real eye-opener. For one thing, an editor said that she used the punctuation mark known as the ellipsis (…) way too often. Ms. Orleans didn’t believe her until the editor took one of her articles and used a green highlighter to mark every ellipsis — making the article look like it had lain in a pool of antifreeze.
• Robert Louis Stevenson based the title characters of his Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde on William Brodie, a Scottish deacon and cabinetmaker in Edinburgh who led two lives. During the day, he was a respected citizen; at night, he was a thief and a blackguard. Eventually, he was caught and sentenced to be hung until dead. However, he made a plan for escaping the gallows. He placed a silver tube in his throat so that he could continue to breathe even while dangling from a rope. Also, he bribed the hangman to hang him with a short rope so that his neck would not break. Finally, he hired a French doctor to bring him to after the hanging. Unfortunately for him, his scheme didn’t work. The French doctor was unable to revive him, and Mr. Brodie’s dual career came to an end.
• While attending public school in a small town in Idaho, future young adult author Chris Crutcher was not a reader. One day, his teacher came into the classroom looking very sad, and she said that she had bad news. In a small town, when someone says they have bad news, it usually means that someone — probably someone you know — has died. The teacher then announced, “Robert Frost died yesterday.” Before thinking, Chris blurted out, “Good — he can’t write any more poems we have to read.” In response, his teacher smacked him on the head. (Corporal punishment was allowed in public schools back then.) That evening at the supper table, Chris’s father said, “I have some bad news. Robert Frost died yesterday.” This time, Chris said, “Oh, man. Bummer.”
Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved
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