Monday

Jan. 5, 2009

Illustrated Guide to Familiar American Trees

by Charlie Smith

I don't get it about the natural world.
Like, greenery,
without people in it, is supposed to do what?

City sunlight, I say, how can you beat it—
the walk to the pool after work, shine
caught in the shopkeeper's visor, bursts.

I see myself moving around New York,
snapping my fingers, eating fries.

My ex-wife's out in California.

I wish she was over on Bank Street,
up on the second floor,
and I was on the way there
to call to her from the sidewalk.

There's a cypress on that block, two honey
locusts and an oak. I love those trees
like my own brothers.

"Illustrated Guide to Familiar American Trees" by Charlie Smith, from Word Comix. © W.W. Norton & Co., 2009. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It was on this day in 1825 that the writer Alexandre Dumas fought his first duel. He was 23 years old, and he had gotten into a fight with a soldier over a game of billiards. They had a duel with swords. Not only did Alexandre Dumas lose the duel, but his pants fell off in the middle of it.

But 20 years later, he became famous as the author of The Three Musketeers (1844) and The Count of Monte Cristo (1845).

It's the birthday of journalist Herbert Bayard Swope, (books by this author) born in St. Louis in 1882. He said, "I cannot give you the formula for success, but I can give you the formula for failure — which is: Try to please everybody."

It's the birthday of novelist Stella Gibbons, (books by this author) born in 1902 in London, England. She wrote a parody of a novel by a writer named Mary Webb, a writer who wrote fatalistic, gloomy novels set in rural places, in the tradition of Thomas Hardy. Gibbons did not like that genre, so she wrote her parody, a novel called Cold Comfort Farm (1932). It's about a cheerful, modern young woman named Flora who goes to live with her brooding, dysfunctional relatives on their old-fashioned farm in rural England. Cold Comfort Farm was a great success, and it's still read today, even though the genre that it was parodying has disappeared.

It's the birthday of Umberto Eco, (books by this author) born in Alessandria, Italy (1932). He was a professor of aesthetics, visual communication, architecture, and semiotics. He wrote critical theory about pop culture. Then one day, a fiction publisher called him up and asked him if he'd like to contribute to an anthology of detective fiction. Eco had never written fiction, but as an academic, he knew what made good fiction, so he decided to give it a try. And instead of a short story, he wrote a 500-page book, a 14th-century whodunit set in a monastery, The Name of the Rose (1980). It sold 2 million copies. He went on to write Foucault's Pendulum (1988) and The Island of The Day Before (1995).

It's the birthday of the poet W.D. Snodgrass, (books by this author) born William De Witt Snodgrass in Wilkinsburg, Pennsylvania (1926). He wrote poems about his failed marriage, even though personal poetry wasn't trendy in the 1950s. But he kept doing it anyway, and his first book was published in 1959, Heart's Needle, and it won the Pulitzer Prize.

Snodgrass was one of the people who helped popularize personal poetry, so he is often labeled as one of the founders of "confessional poetry," even though he doesn't like that label. W.D. Snodgrass has also translated songs and poems from many languages, collected in the book Selected Translations (1998).

And it's the birthday of Jack Norworth, (books by this author) born in Philadelphia in 1879. Jack Norworth had never been to a baseball game, but one day in 1908, he was riding the subway and he saw a sign that said "Baseball Today — Polo Grounds," and he started thinking of baseball lyrics. He wrote them down on a piece of scratch paper, and then took them to the composer Albert Von Tilzer, another man who had never seen a baseball game, who went ahead and wrote the music. And the song became very famous: "Take Me Out to the Ball Game."

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

 









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