Mar. 30, 2007


by Rosie King

FRIDAY, 30 MARCH, 2007
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Poem: "Visitation" by Rosie King, from Sweetwater, Saltwater. © Hummingbird Press. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Sweetwater, Saltwater

We dress you in purple silk,
pearls in gold shells at your ears.

We sing to you, pray
to be led beside the still waters.

At nightfall, as we leave you,
rain pours over black umbrellas.

One grandchild, tall as her mother,
stands on the steps holding lilies,

her own face
wet with rain,

her own way of looking
into the night: free ...

you're free now
she murmurs;

lightly, in the marrow,
she carries you.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of novelist Jon Hassler, (books by this author) born in Minneapolis, Minnesota (1933). He grew up in Plainview, Minnesota, and began working at the local grocery store when he was eleven years old. He later said, "I've always thought of the Red Owl Grocery Store in Plainview, Minnesota, as my training ground, for it was there that I acquired the latent qualities necessary to the novelist, namely ... the fun of picking the individual out of a crowd and the joy of finding the precise words to describe him. I dare say nobody ever got more nourishment than I did out of a grocery store."

He taught at high schools and community colleges for twenty years before he began writing seriously. His first novel, Staggerford, came out in 1977, when Hassler was 42 years old.

It's the birthday of novelist Tom Sharpe, (books by this author) born in London (1928). After his father died, he served time in the Marines, graduated from Cambridge, and then went to South Africa, where he worked in the shanty-towns and wrote anti-apartheid plays. Only one of them was produced, The South African. After its first performances in London, Sharpe was imprisoned and deported by South African authorities. He's spent the rest of his life teaching and writing in England, where wrote several novels that make fun of British academia, including a trilogy about an unconventional lecturer at a technical college named Henry Wilt—Wilt (1977), The Wilt Alternative (1979) and Wilt on High (1985).

Tom Sharpe said, "There's nothing worse than an introspective drunk."

It's the birthday of playwright Sean O'Casey, (books by this author) born John Casey in Dublin (1880). He wrote three classic plays about lower-class Dublin families during times of revolution and violence in Ireland: The Shadow of a Gunman (1923), Juno and the Paycock (1924), and The Plough and the Stars (1926).

Sean O'Casey said, "And, "All the world's a stage, and most of us are desperately unrehearsed."

It's the birthday of the woman who wrote Black Beauty (1877), Anna Sewell, (books by this author) born in Yarmouth, England (1820). When she was 14 years old, she fell while running and injured her ankles so badly that she had trouble walking for the rest of her life. She became dependent on horses for transportation, and drove her father to and from work every day on the family's horse-drawn carriage.

She didn't start writing Black Beauty until the final years of her life, when she was confined to her house because of her ankle injuries. Black Beauty is subtitled "The autobiography of a horse, Translated from the original equine." It's narrated by the horse himself, who was based on one of the horses Anna grew up with. The novel is full of detailed passages about how to care for horses, and it was largely thanks to Sewell that several laws against the mistreatment of horses were established in England.

Anna Sewell said, "There is no religion without love, and people may talk as much as they like about their religion, but if it does not teach them to be good and kind to man and beast, it is all a sham."

It's the birthday of Francisco José de Goya who was born in a small town in northeast Spain called Fuendetodos (1746). He was a successful artist in his 40s when he caught a mysterious illness that left him completely deaf, which forced him to quit his job. He later considered his deafness a kind of blessing, because it gave him an excuse to start painting things that he hadn't been commissioned to paint, like bullfights and the inmates of an insane asylum.

But at the height of his career, in 1808, Napoleon's army invaded Spain, and Napoleon's brother was installed on the Spanish throne. What followed was a six-year war of insurgency. Goya was allowed to keep his position as court painter, and he painted respectful portraits of French generals. But at the same time, he began to work in secret on a series of etchings that depicted war atrocities he had witnessed. The series became known as "Disasters of War." He went on to paint some of the darkest paintings of the 19th century, paintings that look like nightmares. His work had a huge influence on the Expressionist and Surrealist schools of painting in the 20th century.

And it's the birthday of Vincent Van Gogh (books by this artist) was born in Zundert, Holland (1853). As a young man, he was deeply religious and went off to do missionary work in a coal-mining region in Belgium. One day he decided to give away all of his worldly goods and live like a peasant. But his religious superiors thought he was having a nervous breakdown. They kicked him out of the mission and he had to go home. Van Gough wrote in a letter to a friend, "They think I'm a madman, because I wanted to be a true Christian."

It was then that he started to draw and paint. He taught himself with art books and by studying the masters. He was especially interested in painting the daily life of peasants. He finally decided to move to the village of Arles in the south of France, because he said, "I want to look at nature under a brighter sky." It was in Arles that he began to develop the style he became known for, in which the images of flowers and trees and landscapes were exaggerated by extremely rough brush strokes and vivid colors.

Vincent Van Gogh said, "I have a terrible need of — shall I say the word — religion. Then I go out and paint the stars."

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