Tuesday

Sep. 7, 2004

My Mother's Pansies

by Sharon Olds

TUESDAY, 7 SEPTEMBER, 2004
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Poem: "My Mother's Pansies," by Sharon Olds, from Blood, Tin, Straw (Random House).

My Mother's Pansies

And all that time, in back of the house,
there were pansies growing, some silt blue,
some silt yellow, most of them sable
red or purplish sable, heavy
as velvet curtains, so soft they seemed wet but they were
dry as powder on a luna's wing,
dust on an alluvial path, in a drought
summer. And they were open like lips,
and pouted like lips, and they had a tiny fur-gold
v, which made bees not be able
to not want. And so, although women, in our
lobes and sepals, our corollas and spurs, seemed
despised spathe, style-arm, standard,
crest, and fall,
still there were those plush entries,
night mouth, pillow mouth,
anyone might want to push
their pinky, or anything, into such velveteen
chambers, such throats, each midnight-velvet
petal saying touch-touch-touch, please-touch, please-touch,
each sex like a spirit-shy, flushed, praying.


Literary Notes:

It's the birthday of novelist and short-story writer Jennifer Egan, born in Chicago, Illinois (1962). She had stories published in The New Yorker, and won a short-story award from Cosmopolitan magazine, before her first novel appeared in 1995. The novel was The Invisible Circus. She followed it up a year later with a collection of short stories, Emerald City and Other Stories (1996). Her novel Look at Me (2001) was nominated for a National Book Award.


It's the birthday of novelist and journalist Joseph (Joe) Klein, born in New York City (1946). He started out as a reporter in Boston, moved on to an editor's desk at Rolling Stone and Newsweek, a columnist's berth at The New Yorker, and an on-air political consultant spot for CBS News. In 1996, the novel Primary Colors was published anonymously, setting off a flurry of speculation about its author. The author was obviously a Washington insider, since the novel was so closely based on the presidential campaign of Bill Clinton. Finally, a computerized stylistic analysis, combined with a handwriting analysis of the novel's corrected proofs, revealed Klein as the author. His latest book is The Natural: The Misunderstood Presidency of Bill Clinton (2002).


It's the birthday of novelist and teacher Sir Malcolm Bradbury, born in Sheffield, England (1932). In 1970, he and Angus Wilson established the first creative writing program in Great Britain at the University of East Anglia. For the first year, they only had one pupil, Ian McEwan, who went on to win the Booker Prize for his novel Amsterdam. Malcolm Bradbury, who said: "I take the novel extremely seriously. It is the best of all forms: open and personal, intelligent and inquiring. I value it for its skepticism, its irony, and its play."


It's the birthday of American poet Isabella Gardner, born in Newton, Massachusetts (1915). She started her career as an actress, then went on to become the associate editor of the prestigious magazine Poetry. He books of poetry include Birthdays From the Ocean (1954), West of Childhood: Poems, 1950-1965 (1965) and Isabella Gardner: The Collected Poems (1990).


It's the birthday of English poet Dame Edith Sitwell, born in Scarborough, Yorkshire, England (1887). She was also a well-known eccentric, who like to appear in elaborate Elizabethan costumes and who once gave a performance of her poetry by reading it through a megaphone. Late in her life, she became a popular guest on English television. She said: "I am not eccentric. It's just that I am more alive than most people. I am an unpopular electric eel set in a pond of goldfish."


It's the birthday of Queen Elizabeth the First of England, born in Greenwich, England (1533). She was the daughter of King Henry the Eighth and his second wife, Anne Boleyn. She became queen in 1558, and during her reign, England established its dominance as a sea power with the defeat, in 1588, of the Spanish Armada. Elizabeth also presided over a remarkable flourishing of literature in England. It was during her reign that Shakespeare rose to prominence and established himself as the greatest poet and playwright in the English language. Her reign ended in 1603.

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