Friday

Mar. 22, 2013

The Country

by Billy Collins

I wondered about you
when you told me never to leave
a box of wooden, strike-anywhere matches
lying around the house because the mice

might get into them and start a fire.
But your face was absolutely straight
when you twisted the lid down on the round tin
where the matches, you said, are always stowed.

Who could sleep that night?
Who could whisk away the thought
of the one unlikely mouse
padding along a cold water pipe

behind the floral wallpaper
gripping a single wooden match
between the needles of his teeth?
Who could not see him rounding a corner,

the blue tip scratching against a rough-hewn beam,
the sudden flare, and the creature
for one bright, shining moment
suddenly thrust ahead of his time—

now a fire-starter, now a torchbearer
in a forgotten ritual, little brown druid
illuminating some ancient night.
Who could fail to notice,

lit up in the blazing insulation,
the tiny looks of wonderment on the faces
of his fellow mice, onetime inhabitants
of what once was your house in the country?

"The Country" by Billy Collins, from Nine Horses: Poems. © Random House, 2003. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of composer and songwriter Stephen Sondheim (books by this author), born in New York City (1930). His musicals include A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (1962), A Little Night Music (1973), Sweeney Todd (1979), and Into the Woods (1987).

He said, "I prefer neurotic people. I like to hear rumblings beneath the surface."

It's the birthday of the poet Billy Collins (books by this author), born in New York City (1941). He wrote his first poem at the age of seven when he was driving with his parents and looked out the river and saw a sailboat on the East River.

He continued to write poems even after he became an English professor. He wrote a couple of books before his breakthrough in 1988, when he published The Apple That Astonished Paris. He gained a following throughout the next decade, and by 1999, The New York Times called him "the most popular poet in America," pointing out that three of his four books were in the top 16 best-sellers on Amazon.com, competing with Walt Whitman, Robert Frost, and songwriters like Jewel and Jim Morrison.

His books include The Art of Drowning (1995), Sailing Alone Around the Room: New and Selected Poems (2001), and most recently, Horoscopes for the Dead (2011).

Billy Collins said: "I don't think people read poetry because they're interested in the poet. I think they're read poetry because they're interested in themselves."

It's the birthday of the novelist who wrote "I just pointed my rifle at him ... and let him have the big one right through the third button on his shirt. If he ever figured to sew that particular button on again he was going to have to scrape it off his backbone." That's Louis L'Amour (books by this author), born in Jamestown, North Dakota (1908). He was the author of many novels, including How the West Was Won (1963) and The Quick and the Dead (1973).

It's the birthday of the best-selling novelist in the world, James Patterson (books by this author), born in Newburgh, New York (1947). He was an executive for J. Walter Thompson, one of the largest ad agencies in the world. But he decided to retire and devote himself to writing. He has published more than 70 novels, and according to recent data, he outsells Stephen King, Dan Brown, and John Grisham combined.

It's the birthday of translator Edith Grossman (books by this author), born in Philadelphia (1936). Her parents were Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe, but Grossman became obsessed with the Spanish language. She said: "My high school Spanish teacher just reached me. I said whatever this woman is doing I want to do."

Grossman won a Fulbright grant in 1963 to study Spanish poetry, and then took a job as a professor of Spanish literature in New York City. In the mid-1980s, she set out to translate Gabriel García Márquez's novel Love in the Time of Cholera. She knew that one of Márquez's favorite English authors was William Faulkner, so she decided to use Faulkner's style as a guide for her translation. She said: "I didn't use any contractions in the narration, and I used Latinate words, polysyllabic words, instead of German monosyllables. Any time I could, I chose a longer word rather than a shorter word, as if Hemingway had never lived." When Grossman's translation of Love in the Time of Cholera came out, it was such a success that Grossman was able to quit teaching and begin translating full time. She has since translated all of the books that Márquez has published since 1990, and he calls her "my voice in English."

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

 









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