Thursday

Jan. 31, 2002

January 31

by David Lehman

THURSDAY, 31 JANUARY 2002
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Poem: "January 31," by David Lehman from The Daily Mirror: A Journal in Poetry (Scribner Poetry).

January 31

The sky is crumbling into millions of paper dots
the wind blows in my face
so I duck into my favorite barbershop
and listen to Vivaldi and look in the mirror
reflecting the shopfront windows, Broadway
and 104th, and watch the dots blown by the wind
blow into the faces of the walkers outside
& here comes a thin old man swaddled in scarves,
he must be seventy-five, walking slowly,
and in his mind there is a young man dancing,
maybe seventeen years old, on a June evening-
he is that young man, I can tell, watching him walk

It's the birthday of writer Kenzaburo Oe, born in Ose, Japan (1935). His first novel, Nip the Buds, Shoot the Kids (1958), depicts the war's effects on the idyllic life of a rural youth. Oe's life and writing changed in 1963, however, when his son was born with a cranial deformity that caused him to be permanently mentally-handicapped. The following year, Oe wrote A Personal Matter, a novel based on his experiences with his infant son. He told an interviewer, "Every time we surpass one difficulty or another, we feel as though we are a little higher than we were before. We are ascending - like a staircase, somehow…with the birth of my son, my heart opened." Many of his later books, including Teach Us to Outgrow Our Madness (1969) and My Deluged Soul (1973), were also based on his experiences as his son grew older. Oe won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1994.

It's the birthday of novelist and children's writer Mordecai Richler, born in Montreal, Canada (1931).

It's the birthday of novelist Norman Mailer, born in Long Branch, New Jersey (1923). He had his first bestseller, The Naked and the Dead, which was based upon his experiences in the Philippines in World War Two, at the age of twenty-five. He won the 1968 Pulitzer Prize for nonfiction for Armies of the Night, a narrative about the anti-war march on the Pentagon, and the 1980 Pulitzer Prize for fiction for The Executioner's Song, which chronicled the life and death of convicted killer Gary Gilmore.

It's the birthday of poet and writer Thomas Merton, born in Prades, France (1915). He had always been interested in mysticism and monasticism, and converted to Roman Catholicism in 1939. Two years later he entered the Trappist Abbey of Gethsemani, and was ordained a priest in 1949. Merton wrote more than sixty books during his lifetime, the most famous of which was Seven Story Mountain (1948), an autobiographical work about his journey from self-indulgence to self-discipline. He said: "Happiness is not a matter of intensity, but of balance and order and rhythm and harmony."

It's the birthday of novelist and short story writer John O'Hara, born in Pottsville, Pennsylvania (1905), who was one of the most popular and financially successful writers of the nineteen fifties and sixties. He grew up in a small town in which there was obvious tension between its Roman Catholic and Protestant citizens. That was the basis for his first novel, Appointment in Samarra (1934), set in a fictional small town called Gibbsville. O'Hara always wrote at night. He would watch television until 1:00 a.m., and then sit down at the typewriter for several hours. He wrote thirty-six books and more than three hundred short stories. His most famous works include Butterfield 8 (1935), and Pal Joey (1940).

It's the birthday of western novelist Zane Grey, born in Zanesville, Ohio (1872). According to all accounts, he wrote more than fifty novels, and they sold millions of copies around the world. He is best known for his Riders of the Purple Sage and he went on to write fifty-four more books, all in longhand, many of which were made into highly successful movies.

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®

 









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