Sunday

Feb. 26, 2012

Rose Colored Glasses

by Kenneth Rexroth

Ten years, and it's still on the
Radio. La Vie en rose
Spills out of a dozen windows
Onto the canal. A woman
And her son in a vegetable
Barge sing it. A man polishing
The prow of his gondola
Sings it while his dog wags its tail.
Children playing hopscotch sing it.
Grimy half washed clothes hang overhead.
Garbage floats in the narrow canal.
More radios join in. Across
The canal, beyond the iron windows
Of the Women's Prison, a hundred
Pure voices of pickpockets
And prostitutes start to sing it.
It is just like being in church.
The next number is Ciao, ciao, bambina.

"Rose Colored Glasses" by Kenneth Rexroth, from Swords That Shall Not Strike: Poems of Protest and Rebellion. © Glad Day Books, 1968. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Playwright Christopher Marlowe (books by this author) was baptized in Canterbury, England, on this date in 1564. The son of a shoemaker, he was so intellectually gifted that he was accepted into Cambridge on a scholarship meant for men entering the clergy. He chose to write plays rather than pursue holy orders, and he was frequently absent, possibly because he was spying for Queen Elizabeth I, an occupation he may have held until the end of his life. He may have been posing as a Catholic to gather intelligence on any plots against the Protestant queen; he was almost denied his diploma because it was rumored he had converted to Roman Catholicism, and he was only granted his degree after the queen's Privy Council intervened on his behalf.

Marlowe was one of the bad boys of the Renaissance. We don't know too much about him — even less than we know about Shakespeare, which isn't much — but his plays reveal an author who was cynical about nearly everything: religion, society, and politics. He was most likely gay and an atheist in a time when it was very dangerous to be either, let alone both. But he was also a brilliant poet and dramatist, breaking away from the traditional dramatic form of rhymed couplets to work in blank verse, and inspiring Shakespeare to do the same. One of the plays he wrote while at Cambridge was Tamburlaine the Great, and it was produced in London in 1587. It did well enough that he wrote a sequel; these were the only of Marlowe's plays produced before his untimely death at 29, when he was stabbed in a dispute over a tavern bill. Marlowe also wrote Doctor Faustus, The Jew of Malta, Edward II, and The Massacre at Paris.

Today is the birthday of French author Victor Hugo (books by this author), born in Besançon (1802), the author of The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1831), about a gypsy girl and the deformed bell-ringer who loves her; and Les Misérables (1862), about Jean Valjean, a poor man who is sentenced to 20 years in prison for stealing a loaf of bread. Hugo was also a poet, playwright, and politician. By the time he died in 1885, at the age of 82, he was a national hero; journalists recorded everything he said on his deathbed, and 2 million mourners watched his funeral procession go by.

It's the birthday of the American author who's been called "a master of the English mystery": Elizabeth George (books by this author), born in Warren, Ohio (1949).

The London Times recently ranked George with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie on its all-time best "masters of crime" list. She's the author of the Inspector Lynley series, about a Scotland Yard detective and his crime-solving partner. The series includes the titles Payment in Blood (1989), Well-Schooled in Murder (1990), In Pursuit of the Proper Sinner (1999), and A Traitor to Memory (2001). Her newest book, Believing the Lie (2012), just came out last month.

Today is the birthday of John Harvey Kellogg, doctor and cereal pioneer, born in Tyrone, New York (1852). He ran the Battle Creek Sanitarium in Battle Creek Michigan to promote healthy living and eating. There, he and his brother, Will, invented several grain-based foods, cooking the grain and forcing it through rollers to make dough. They were cooking wheat one day when they were called away, and when they returned, the wheat was apparently overcooked. They decided to put it through the rollers anyway, and cereal flakes were born.

President Woodrow Wilson established the Grand Canyon National Park on this date in 1919, after a 30 year opposition from ranchers, miners, and entrepreneurs. Today, the Grand Canyon National Park covers more than 1,900 square miles; the canyon itself is 277 river miles long, 10 miles wide, and a mile deep. The park receives 5 million visitors every year.

In 1903, upon seeing the canyon for the first time, Theodore Roosevelt said: "The Grand Canyon fills me with awe. It is beyond comparison — beyond description; absolutely unparalleled throughout the wide world. ... Let this great wonder of nature remain as it now is. Do nothing to mar its grandeur, sublimit, and loveliness. You cannot improve on it. But what you can do is to keep it for your children, your children's children, and all who come after you, as the one great sight which every American should see."

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

 









«

»

  • “Writers end up writing stories—or rather, stories' shadows—and they're grateful if they can, but it is not enough. Nothing the writer can do is ever enough” —Joy Williams
  • “I want to live other lives. I've never quite believed that one chance is all I get. Writing is my way of making other chances.” —Anne Tyler
  • “Writing is a performance, like singing an aria or dancing a jig” —Stephen Greenblatt
  • “All good writing is swimming under water and holding your breath.” —F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • “Good writing is always about things that are important to you, things that are scary to you, things that eat you up.” —John Edgar Wideman
  • “In certain ways writing is a form of prayer.” —Denise Levertov
  • “Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia.” —E.L. Doctorow
  • “Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” —E.L. Doctorow
  • “Let's face it, writing is hell.” —William Styron
  • “A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.” —Thomas Mann
  • “Writing is 90 percent procrastination: reading magazines, eating cereal out of the box, watching infomercials.” —Paul Rudnick
  • “Writing is a failure. Writing is not only useless, it's spoiled paper.” —Padget Powell
  • “Writing is very hard work and knowing what you're doing the whole time.” —Shelby Foote
  • “I think all writing is a disease. You can't stop it.” —William Carlos Williams
  • “Writing is like getting married. One should never commit oneself until one is amazed at one's luck.” —Iris Murdoch
  • “The less conscious one is of being ‘a writer,’ the better the writing.” —Pico Iyer
  • “Writing is…that oddest of anomalies: an intimate letter to a stranger.” —Pico Iyer
  • “Writing is my dharma.” —Raja Rao
  • “Writing is a combination of intangible creative fantasy and appallingly hard work.” —Anthony Powell
  • “I think writing is, by definition, an optimistic act.” —Michael Cunningham
The Writer's Almanac on Facebook


The Writer's Almanac on Twitter

Subscribe to our daily newsletter for poems, prose and literary history every morning
An interview with Sharon Olds at The Writer's Almanac Bookshelf
Current Faves - Learn more about poets featured frequently on the show
O, What a Luxury

Although he has edited several anthologies of his favorite poems, O, What a Luxury: Verses Lyrical, Vulgar, Pathetic & Profound forges a new path for Garrison Keillor, as a poet of light verse. Purchase O, What a Luxury »