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The Weird Roots of the Original Bloomsday

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Image used with permission, www.compositiongallery.com Image used with permission, www.compositiongallery.com

From the files of the River Journal's Surrealist Research Bureau

(“Yes” she cried, “yes I will, Yes!”)

When I first arrived in North Idaho I was pleasantly surprised to see a number of ads announcing upcoming Bloomsday celebrations but was soon disappointed to find no relation to the madcap, surreal Bloomsday revelries I’d grown accustomed to during my college days in Santa Barbara. Pub crawls, poetry readings, nude beach bonfire parties and marijuana-tinged discussions of James Joyce’s Ullysses and singing Irish rebel songs were a relic of a simpler, freer, if only now but dimly recalled and halfway remembered time.

In Mel Brooks’ 1968 film “The Producers,” Gene Wilder’s character Leo Bloom (named after the Joyce protagonist) asks loudly to the night with arms open wide at the Central Park fountain scene, “Oh when will it be Bloom’s Day?” And lest one miss the point, earlier in the movie the calender in Max’s office reveals the date is indeed June 16, Bloomsday.

The poets Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath were married on June 16 in honor of Bloomsday and Jefferson Airplane’s 1967 album featured the song ReJoyce, an homage to Ulysses. Even today, U2’s recent song “Breathe” references events taking place on a mysterious June 16 and Pat Conroy’s 2009 novel “South of Broad” not only features a hero named Leopold Bloom but the first chapter’s action all takes place on June 16.

Now Joyce himself picked June 16 to commemorate his first date with his soon-to-be wife, the 20-year-old chambermaid Nora Barnacle, who joined him after work for a long stroll around Dublin. In his later novel his protagonist Leopold Bloom walks about Dublin on that date doing various errands. Joyce’s attempt was to show how one man’s day-in-the-life was analogous to an epic—in this case, of course, Homer’s Odysseus in the Odyssey, with different parts of the book relating to sirens (girls of easy virtue in Nighttown) Cyclops (bar fights with one-eyed ruffians) lotus eaters (drunkards and hashish smokers) and so on. On this note I’d highly recommend the late scholar of mythology Joseph Campbell’s hard-to-find “Skeleton Key to Finnegan’s Wake” for insights.

Spokane’s own Bloomsday was not held until 1977 (May 1) though according to its founder, Don Kardong, the race itself is an odyssey (like Joyce’s) in which ordinary people are involved in heroic journeys every day of their lives. I know otherwise normal people who practically live for the annual Bloomsday run; they’ve run every race, collect t-shirts and posters, and fill brackets like it’s March Madness! More power to them. For some of us, however, it’s the original Bloomsday that calls forth fond memories. I can still recall being in a drug-addled audience in 1969 watching The Firesign Theater perform “How Can You Be in Two Places at Once When You’re Not Anywhere At All?” when at the end came a siren’s honeyed voice sacredly chanting what I later discovered to be Molly Bloom’s soliloquy:

“I was a flower of the mountain yes when I put the rose in my hair like the Andalusian girls used or shall I wear a red yes and how he kissed me under the Moorish wall and I thought well as well him as another and then I asked him with my eyes to ask again yes and then he asked me would I yes my mountain flower and first I put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will, Yes!”

Molly Bloom’s reverie (I just quoted the last few lines) is, or was until recently, the longest sentence in the English language at 4,391 words. On another topic, most of you are no doubt aware the world didn’t end on May 21 as prophesied. I was looking forward to looting with the rest of you but we still have Dec 21, 2112 to look forward to. 

‘til next time, All homage to Xena!

Image used with the permission of Composition Gallery.

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Author info

Jody Forest Jody Forest When he's not hidden behind the palatial gates of his Dover estate, Casa de Bozo, Jody is out using outdated and corny pickup lines on various gullible women.

Tagged as:

Bloomsday, James Joyce, Ulysses, Leo Bloom, Ted Hughes, Sylvia Plath, Molly Bloom

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