Jun. 10, 2009


by Robyn Sarah

The yearbooks are out today, with the ink
barely dry on their gleaming pages,
the faint puke-smell of the new bindings.

On the bus, shagged and curly heads converge over
the disappointing spread of candid shots
on centre facing pages - random snaps
where everyone who matters is blurred or too tiny
or was looking the wrong way when the shutter clicked,

and after they've each checked out their own
and each other's mug shots, and those of an acknowledged
hunk or two ('Too bad guys, doesn't he look
retarded in that picture?') you can almost
feel the thought rise: Is that it then?
four years reduced to this thin, already-
thumbed album of postage-stamp grins
and badly cropped halftones in a grey collage
of moments no one remembers?

Tomorrow they'll tote it back to school though,
to whip from their graffitied bags
in the mandatory feeding frenzy
for autographs — everyone's, please.
Now and only for a second
is let-down palpable in the air,
like a half-formed bubble wobbling
on the wand, then sucked back.
In a moment they'll swarm to their feet
and pull the bell (each at least once)
as they stream for the door, flashing shoulder-
freckles, wrist-bangles, navels like thumbprints in
June-white midriffs, damp wisps at the nape
wafting back a fine vapour
of girl sweat and spray cologne.

"Annual" by Robyn Sarah, from A Day's Grace: Poems 1997-2002. © The Porcupine's Quill, 2003. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of Saul Bellow, (books by this author) born Solomon Bellows in Lachine, Quebec, in 1915, two years after his parents emigrated from Russia. He was born in Canada, but when he was young he was smuggled across the border into Chicago, and so he grew up as an illegal immigrant. His dad was an onion importer and a bootlegger. His mom was religious, and she hoped he would be a rabbi or maybe a concert pianist. But when he was eight years old, he read Uncle Tom's Cabin and he decided he would become a writer. He wrote two novels that didn't sell very well. But then he won a Guggenheim Fellowship and moved to Paris to write. And while he was there, he realized how much he loved Chicago. So he started a new novel whose opening lines are: "I am an American, Chicago born — Chicago, that somber city — and go at things as I have taught myself, free-style, and will make the record in my own way." That was The Adventures of Augie March (1953),which became his first real success and won the National Book Award. He continued writing plays, nonfiction, and more novels, including Henderson the Rain King (1959), Herzog (1964), and Humboldt's Gift (1975).

He said, "In expressing love we belong among the undeveloped countries." And, "You never have to change anything you got up in the middle of the night to write." And, "I discovered that rejections are not altogether a bad thing. They teach a writer to rely on his own judgment and to say in his heart of hearts, 'To hell with you.'"

It's the birthday of Judy Garland, born Frances Ethel Gumm in 1922 in Grand Rapids, Minnesota, where her father operated the only movie theater in town. She starred in The Wizard of Oz (1939), Meet Me In St. Louis (1944), Easter Parade (1948), and many more movies.

It's the birthday of the children's author and illustrator Maurice Sendak, (books by this author) born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1928. His parents were Polish immigrants, and as Maurice was growing up, many extended family members died in the Holocaust. So his parents were constantly grieving for their family back in Poland, and they were worried about Maurice, who was a very sick child. He almost never went outside — most of what he knew about the world outside his bedroom came from visiting family members, from the view through his window, and from books. His dad read to him before bed every night, and his mom was constantly hovering around, making sure he was all right. So when he eventually became an illustrator, he oftentimes painted a moon in the background as a symbol of his watchful mother. He started drawing, got a job in high school drawing the Mutt and Jeff  cartoon strip into comic books, and went on to art school. When he was 19, he illustrated a physics book, Atomics for the Millions (1947). Then he worked for years designing the window displays for FAO Schwartz while he took night classes at art school.

And eventually he started writing and illustrating his own books for children, books about normal kids who end up in surreal settings where strange things happen, books like Where the Wild Things Are (1963) and In the Night Kitchen (1970). Maurice Sendak has illustrated more than 90 books. He said: "You cannot write for children. They're much too complicated. You can only write books that are of interest to them."

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