Jun. 26, 2013


by Carol Ann Duffy

If she were here
she'd forget who she was,
it's been so long,
maybe nurse, a nanny,
maybe a nun—

A girl I met
was willing to bet
that she still lived on -
Anon -
but had packed it all in,
the best verb, the right noun,
for a life in the sun.

A woman I knew
kept her skull
on a shelf in a room -
Anon's -
and swore that one day
as she worked at her desk
it cleared its throat
as though it has something
to get off its chest.

But I know best -
how she passed on her pen
like a baton
down through the years,
with a hey nonny
hey nonny
hey nonny no -

"Anon" by Carol Ann Duffy, from Feminine Gospels. © Faber & Faber, 2002. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of novelist Pearl S. Buck (books by this author), born in Hillsboro, West Virginia (1892). Her parents were Presbyterian missionaries in China, and Buck was born while they were on vacation in the United States. When she was three months old, they took her back to China. She learned to speak Chinese before she learned to speak English. She and her brother explored the streets and markets of Zhenjiang, watching puppet shows and sampling food. She was embarrassed by her blue eyes and blond hair, but she didn't let it hold her back. She enthusiastically joined in local celebrations, big funerals, and parties. She said, "I almost ceased to think of myself as different, if indeed I ever thought so, from the Chinese."

She fled China after civil war erupted and began writing a novel on the ship to America called East Wind, West Wind (1930). The following year, she published The Good Earth, about a Chinese peasant who becomes a wealthy landowner. At the time, Westerners saw China as one of the most exotic places on earth. Pearl Buck was the first writer to portray the ordinary lives of Chinese people for a Western audience. The novel won a Pulitzer Prize and became an international best-seller.

Buck turned out more than 85 novels and collections of short stories and adopted nine children. In 1938, she won the Nobel Prize in literature. Later, she became active in the civil rights and women's movements, and she founded the first international, interracial adoption agency in the United States.

It's the birthday of the blues musician Big Bill Broonzy, born in Scott, Mississippi, in 1898 (some sources say 1893), one of 17 children of parents born into slavery. When he was a young boy, his uncle made him a fiddle from a cigar box and taught him how to play. He moved to Chicago and started playing fiddle tunes, which did not appeal to sophisticated Chicago audiences. So, he learned to play the guitar and sing the blues. It took him several years to get the hang of it, but he began making recordings in 1927, and soon became one of the most popular blues singers in the country. He sang at Carnegie Hall in 1939, but by the late 1940s, the blues began to change with Muddy Waters' electric guitar sound and style. By 1950, Broonzy was working as a janitor at Iowa State University when Studs Terkel "rediscovered" him and had him on his radio program as a frequent guest.

He toured Europe and England in the early '50s, where his records were best-sellers, and Eric Clapton later credited Broonzy as one of his first influences.

It's the birthday of poet and memoirist Laurie Lee (books by this author), born in Stroud, Gloucestershire, England (1914). He was the 11th of 12 children in his family and grew up in a tiny English village where everyone lived in crumbling houses with huge families and no electricity or running water. He said: "We lived at the mercy of the seasons, saw little of the outside world, cooked on wood-fires, and went to bed by candlelight. I belonged to a kind of tribal community which had lasted for a thousand years, but which has since died out, and I saw the last of it."

He dropped out of high school when he was 15 and worked as an errand boy, but a few years later, he decided to go see the world, and walked to London. It took him about a month. He spent nights sleeping in fields and made money during the day playing his violin in villages and taking odd jobs. He didn't like London, though. He said, "There was a smell of rank oil, rotting fish and vegetables, hot pavements and trodden tar; and a sense of surging pressure, the heavy used-up air of the cheek-by-jowl life around me."

Lee took off to Spain, where he witnessed the Spanish Civil War. He published many books of poetry during the 1940s, but he didn't have any great success until he began to write his memoirs, for which he is best remembered, including Cider with Rosie (1959), As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning (1969), and A Moment of War (1991).

Near the end of his life, he moved back to his hometown and found out that he'd become famous. Tourists came from the cities to see the village that he'd written about in his book. Once, a tourist walking past his garden asked him if he knew where Laurie Lee was buried.

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




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