Monday

Mar. 11, 2013

Spring Training

by Maxine Kumin

              for Victor

Some things never change: the velvet flock
of the turf, the baselines smoothed to suede,
the ancient smell of peanuts, the harsh smack
the ball makes burrowing into the catcher's mitt.

Here in the Grapefruit League's trellised shade
you catch Pie Traynor's lofting rightfield foul
all over again. You're ten in Fenway Park
and wait past suppertime for him to autograph it

then race for home all goosebumps in the dark
to roll the keepsake ball in paraffin,
soften your secondhand glove with neat's-foot oil
and wrap your Louisville Slugger with friction tape.

The Texas Leaguers, whatever league you're in
still tantalize, the way they waver and drop.
Carl Hubbell's magical screwball is still
give or take sixty years unhittable.

Sunset comes late but comes, inexorable.
What lingers is the slender hook of hope.

"Spring Training" by Maxine Kumin, from Connecting the Dots. © Norton, 1996. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of poet who said, "Any time not spent on love is wasted." That's Torquato Tasso (books by this author), born in Sorrento, Italy (1544), into a noble family.

In 1581, he published his most famous work, La Gerusalemme liberata, or Jerusalem Delivered, an epic poem about the Crusades. It was hugely popular across Europe, even as Tasso suffered from what is now thought to be schizophrenia — he was suspicious of everyone around him, and lashed out at friends and patrons. He started taking off in secret, traveling incognito around the countryside. He lost all his money and had to move from court to court, trying to get various noblemen to support him. One frustrated benefactor committed him to a madhouse, where he spent seven years. Despite his mental illness, Tasso continued writing love sonnets, plays, and epic and religious poems, and he was proclaimed poet laureate by the pope — but he died just days before he was to be crowned.

It was on this day in 1818 that Mary Shelley's novel Frankenstein was published (books by this author).

Two years before she had spent the summer in a cabin on Lake Geneva with her lover, Percy Bysshe Shelley, her sister Claire, and Claire's lover, the poet Lord Byron. It rained a lot that summer, and one night, Byron suggested they all write ghost stories. At first Mary had trouble coming up with a story, but while lying in bed, claimed to have a waking nightmare, seeing a vision of a man reanimating a creature. She wrote: "I saw the pale student of unhallowed arts kneeling beside the thing he had put together. I saw the hideous phantasm of a man stretched out, and then, on the working of some powerful engine, show signs of life, and stir with an uneasy, half vital motion." So she set to work on Frankenstein.

It's the birthday of science fiction writer Douglas Adams (books by this author), born in Cambridge, England (1952). He was unemployed, depressed, living in his mother's house, when he remembered a night from years before. He was a teenager traveling around Europe with his guidebook The Hitchhiker's Guide to Europe, and that night he was lying in a field in Innsbruck, drunk, looking up at the stars, and he thought somebody should write a hitchhiker's guide to the galaxy as well. And so years later, he wrote the radio play The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, chronicling the adventures of the kindly and boring Arthur Dent, who is still wearing his dressing gown when he is whisked away from his suburban English home just in time to escape Earth being demolished by an interstellar highway.

In 1978, the radio broadcasts were such a success that Adams turned them into a series of five successful novels: The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (1979), The Restaurant at the End of the Universe (1980), Life, the Universe and Everything (1982), So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish (1984), and Mostly Harmless (1992).

He said, "I find that writing is a constant battle with exactly the same problems you've always had."

It's the birthday of children's book author and illustrator Ezra Jack Keats (books by this author), born Jacob Ezra Katz in Brooklyn (1916). The son of impoverished Jewish immigrants from Warsaw, he wanted to be an artist, and that worried his family — but he couldn't afford art school, so he got a job painting murals for the Works Progress Administration, and designed army camouflage during World War II.

Keats had no intention of illustrating children's books, much less writing them. He began to publish illustrations in magazines like Playboy and Reader's Digest. But one children's author saw his work and asked him to illustrate her book. The first book he wrote and illustrated on his own was The Snowy Day (1962), done all in collage, about a young black boy named Peter playing in his neighborhood after a new snowfall. It was one of the first children's books to feature a black character. He went on to illustrate more than 80 children's books, and to write and illustrate more than 20 books.

He said, "I love city life. All the beauty that other people see in country life, I find taking walks and seeing the multitudes of people."

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

 









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