Mar. 22, 2007


by Ron Koertge

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Poem: "Blue" by Ron Koertge from Fever. © Red Hen Press. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)


The director changes the sheets
himself, tucks in a fitted bottom,
turns back the top one, and sighs.

"This is a threesome," he says, "so
it's you over here, Suzanne. You down
there, Bob. And Meg, wherever, okay?"

It's pretty early, but we try hard.
Once it was cops and jail time. Now it's
Aids and all that stuff.

But if you're careful it pays the bills
and then some. It's almost never as
sick as the stuff you see on TV,

and every now and then it's really
lovely, one of those kindnesses
nobody understands.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of the poet Billy Collins, (books by this author) born in Queens, New York (1941). He's one of the few modern poets whose books have sold more than 100,000 copies. He thinks the reason that most modern poetry isn't popular is that it lacks humor. He said, "It's the fault of the Romantics, who eliminated humor from poetry. Shakespeare's hilarious, Chaucer's hilarious. [Then] the Romantics killed off humor, and they also eliminated sex, things which were replaced by landscape. I thought that was a pretty bad trade-off, so I'm trying to write about humor and landscape, and occasionally sex."

He was in his 40s when published his first book, The Apple That Astonished Paris (1988), but by the end of the century he was arguably the country's most popular poet. His new and selected poems, Sailing Alone Around the Room (2000), has sold almost 200,000 copies. His collection The Trouble with Poetry came out in 2005.

It's the birthday of one of the few translators who has become something of a literary celebrity herself, Edith Grossman, (books by this author) born in Philadelphia (1936). Her parents were Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe, but for some reason Grossman became obsessed with the Spanish language when she was in high school. She said, "My high school Spanish teacher just reached me. I said whatever this woman is doing I want to do."

Grossman won a Fulbright grant in 1963 and went to Spain to study medieval Spanish poetry. But when she began to read the poetry of Pablo Neruda and César Vallejo, Grossman decided that contemporary Latin American literature was too interesting to ignore. She began translating contemporary Spanish novels, and then in the mid-1980s, she got her big break when she got a chance to translate Gabriel García Márquez's novel Love in the Time of Cholera.

She knew that one of Márquez's favorite English authors was William Faulkner, so she decided to use Faulkner's style as a guide for her translation. She said, "I didn't use any contractions in the narration, and I used Latinate words, polysyllabic words, instead of German monosyllables." When Grossman's translation of Love in the Time of Cholera came out, it was such a success that Grossman was able to quit teaching and begin translating full time. She has since translated all of the new books that Márquez has published.

In 2003, she published a translation of the Spanish classic Don Quixote. Grossman wasn't sure she could do it until she finished the first sentence. Her version of the sentence is, "'Somewhere in la Mancha, in a place whose name I do not care to remember, a gentleman lived not long ago, one of those who has a lance and ancient shield on a shelf and keeps a skinny nag and a greyhound for racing."

When it came out in 2003, it was hailed as the best English translation of the novel in decades, perhaps the best American translation of the novel ever completed.

It's the birthday of the lyricist and composer Stephen Sondheim, born in New York City (1930). He wrote his first musical when he was 15. When he was 27, he was offered a job writing lyrics for a new musical that would be a modern retelling of Romeo and Juliet, set in New York City. Sondheim wasn't sure he wanted to write lyrics without music, but he decided to take the job anyway, and the result was West Side Story (1957), which got mixed reviews on Broadway, but became a huge hit as a movie.

Sondheim went on to compose the music and lyrics for many more musicals, including Sweeney Todd (1979) and Sunday in the Park with George (1981), among others.

It's the birthday of novelist Louis L'Amour, (books by this author) born in Jamestown, North Dakota (1908). He was the author of many novels, including How the West Was Won (1963) and The Quick and the Dead (1973). One of the hardest-working and best-selling novelists ever, he wrote 101 books in his lifetime, and there are almost 200 million copies of his books in circulation worldwide. L'Amour's first big success was Hondo (1953), about a love triangle between a cowboy, an Apache warrior, and a young widow living on a remote Arizona ranch.

L'Amour was obsessed with the accuracy of his novels, and filled his personal library with more than 8,000 reference books, including hundreds of personal diaries by cowboys and pioneers. Whenever he wrote about a particular place, he always went there to see exactly what kinds of plants were growing, and what the geological formations looked like. He once said, "When I say there is a rock in the road in one of my books, my readers know that if they go to that spot they'll find that rock."

In Ride the Dark Trail (1972), L'Amour wrote, "I just pointed my rifle at him ... and let him have the big one right through the third button on his shirt. If he ever figured to sew that particular button on again he was going to have to scrape it off his backbone."

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




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