Tuesday

May 1, 2012

Black Sea

by Mark Strand

One clear night while the others slept, I climbed
the stairs to the roof of the house and under a sky
strewn with stars I gazed at the sea, at the spread of it,
the rolling crests of it raked by the wind, becoming
like bits of lace tossed in the air. I stood in the long,
whispering night, waiting for something, a sign, the approach
of a distant light, and I imagined you coming closer,
the dark waves of your hair mingling with the sea,
and the dark became desire, and desire the arriving light.
The nearness, the momentary warmth of you as I stood
on that lonely height watching the slow swells of the sea
break on the shore and turn briefly into glass and disappear . . .
Why did I believe you would come out of nowhere? Why with all
that the world offers would you come only because I was here?

"Black Sea" by Mark Strand, from Man and Camel. © Alfred A. Knopf, 2008. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

On this date in 1840, the first official adhesive postage stamp was issued in Great Britain. Up until the late 1830s, the recipient of the letter was supposed to pay upon delivery. Rates were inconsistent: postage was calculated based on number of sheets of paper, and the distance from sender to recipient. The rules were complicated and postage was expensive, and people often refused to pay, costing the government a lot of money. A schoolmaster named Rowland Hill developed a new system that established uniform postal rates based on weight. The sender would pay with stamps that cost a penny each. The design of the first stamp was an engraved profile of Queen Victoria on a black background, called the Penny Black. Since Britain was the first country to use prepaid postage stamps, they have never printed the name of their country on their stamps, just a portrait of the reigning monarch.

Today is the birthday of Joseph Addison (books by this author), born in Wiltshire, England (1672). Along with his friend Richard Steele, Addison was an essayist for The Tatler, a newspaper that covered London's political and social elite. When The Tatler ceased production in 1711, Steele and Addison formed The Spectator, with the intent to "enliven Morality with Wit, and to temper Wit with Morality." The Spectator offered a single, long essay every day but Sunday, on subjects ranging from fashion to literary criticism. It was narrated by the fictitious Mr. Spectator, whose "Spectator's Club" included a cast of characters to entertain, comment on affairs of the day, and teach moral lessons. One of the paper's biggest fans was Benjamin Franklin, who admitted in his autobiography that he had modeled his prose after Addison's essays.

On this date in 1707, the Acts of Union joined the Kingdoms of England and Scotland into the Kingdom of Great Britain. They had shared a single monarch for a hundred years since Queen Elizabeth I died childless, and James VI of Scotland became James I of England. The Acts of Union combined their two parliaments into one. Many Scots were unhappy with the union, but as historian Simon Schama said, "What began as a hostile merger, would end in a full partnership in the most powerful going concern in the world ... it was one of the most astonishing transformations in European history."

It's the birthday of Bobbie Ann Mason (books by this author), born in Mayfield, Kentucky (1940) and raised on a dairy farm. She wrote her Ph.D. dissertation on Nabokov, and then set out to write something completely different. She said: "Since Huckleberry Finn, or thereabouts, it seemed that all American literature was about the alienated hero... I was sick of reading about the alienated hero. I think where I wind up now is writing about people who are trying to get into the mainstream, or they're in the mainstream, just trying to live their lives the best they can. Because the mainstream itself is the arena of action."

She wrote about rural and small-town people in Kentucky in her first collection of stories (Shiloh and Other Stories) in 1982, and her first novel, In Country (1986). Her most recent novel, The Girl in the Blue Beret, was published last summer (2011).

It's the birthday of Terry Southern (books by this author), born in Alvarado, Texas (1924) author of the novel The Magic Christian, which inspired director Stanley Kubrick to hire him to co-write the screenplay Doctor Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964). Southern also wrote the screenplay for the movie Easy Rider (1969).

All 102 stories of The Empire State Building opened to the public on this date in 1931, 45 days ahead of schedule and $5 million under budget, on the corner of Fifth Avenue and 34th Street in New York City.

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

 









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