Bloomsday . . .
June 16th is Bloomsday, the date immortalized in Ulysses, the novel by James Joyce.
How the following anecdote relates to wildflowers can be found within the layers of language art Joyce built into the name, Bloom: a pun, a literary device, an exercise that holds the skeleton key to the writings of James Joyce, the skeleton key all writers share in the detail. His writing, and this holiday in honor of that writing, both allowed my own writer’s life to take root, to grow, and to bloom into this latest incarnation . . . Wildflowers of the West Village.
Joyce’s Bloom is not a flower; he is a character, an Irish Jewish everyman whose day-in-the-life in Dublin on June 16th, 1904 turned into material enough to sustain an 800-page narrative that shaped the course of Modernist fiction and culture.
Joyce wrote two slim collections of poetry Chamber Music and Pomes Penyeach), a play (Exiles), a collection of short stories (Dubliners), and three novels (A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Ulysses, and Finnegan’s Wake), each one more ambitious in scope and scale than the last. His total published output was modest compared to some other literary giants, yet the quality and depth of his poetry and prose has more than made up for his paucity of titles.
My own relationship with the writing of James Joyce has brought me to the point I am now making. I have had several literary influences during my personal evolution as a writer, and of these Joyce remains the one at the head of the stairway: Joyce is Hemingway without the shotgun, Fitzgerald without the crack up, Ellison without the creative block, McCullers without the frail and tragic streak of burden.
I first encountered James Joyce during my junior year at North Catholic high school in Pittsburgh. I took him on in the form of a spring term paper for AP English class. I chose to compose an essay based on A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man because the theme of an alienated school boy’s maturation was one with which I assumed the author as a young man could readily identify. The Jesuit elements were further from my own Marianist experience. The rhythm to the prose flowed in a way great to my instinctual taste.
I enjoyed the novel and found the atmosphere of the book influencing my budding aesthetics. I began to think more broadly and started to view language as a kind of clay that I could sculpt. Adjectives, a favorite, could be colors I could blend together in sentences of description. Despite this new view, careful research, and earnest writing, I had trouble typing up the final draft of my minor piece. What a pothole for a young prose writer to encounter: technical difficulties. I possesed no electric typewriter of my own in 1984, and my grandfather carlifted to me after a help call one that was generously manual, antique, with a worn ribbon. The machine was in such a state of repair that I spent more time extracting my fingers from between keys than I did making clean copy. The ten or twelve pages of the final legible draft took me three days to complete, which was two days too late for my English teacher’s deadline. He gave me a final grade of 67 for the paper, and the term, which was three points below the minimum passing grade of 70.
I had failed . . . failed at writing.
Twenty years later, I was living, and writing, in Philadelphia, in the neighborhood shared with the Rosenbach Museum and Library. This institution happens to own the original handwritten manuscript of Ulysses and holds an annual day-long reading in front of its building along the 2000 block of Delancey Place in Center City Philadelphia. Each June 16th, various regional politicians, business leaders, and cultural figures take turns reading passages from Ulysses in chronological order. The day finishes with an intimate call-and-response performance by the blind poets and brothers, David and Daniel Simpson, who recite, by braille, Bloom’s slipping into sleep, followed by Molly’s erotic closing monologue, performed in one-of-a-kind dramatic fashion by actress Drucie McDaniel.
During 2004, the centenary year of Bloomsday, I was invited by the Rosenbach to read a passage from the “Proteus” section of Ulysses as part of the Bloomsday 100 celebration. I had just signed a contract for my first book, Philadelphia on the Fly, so I was listed on the bill as “Angler & Author” . . . a rather unique reader’s bio. How sweet this last literary laugh was for me, the English class failure, the Joycean failure; a Dedalus who was now also a Phoenix who had become a published author and a reader at the 100th anniversary of James Joyce’s high holiday, Bloomsday.
How this anecdote relates to wildflowers can be found within the layers of language art Joyce built into the name, Bloom: a pun, a literary device, an exercise that holds the skeleton key to the writings of James Joyce, the skeleton key all writers share in the detail. His writing, and this holiday in honor of that writing, both allowed my own writer’s life to take root, to grow, and to bloom into this latest incarnation . . . Wildflowers of the West Village.
— rPs 06 16 2010