Aug. 22, 2013

Oldest Map of the World

by Kelle Groom

There's a circle in the center,
a clockface, an eye, but it's the ring of water

surrounding earth that I dove through for the first time
(I'd always been too claustrophobic, afraid I'd drown

or the force would snap my neck), but it's like
Perrier, light and bubbling, electrical, so that when

I come through on the other side, I'm laughing.
Fifty miles from Baghdad is the view from Babylon

where the US military builds a helipad and parking lots
on top of what was once one of the seven wonders,

and here we found the first map of the world, made of clay,
so small, it fits in the palm of a hand,

the Euphrates emptying into your wrist,
and to the north, fingers shade the triangles of mountains.

"Oldest Map of the World" by Kelle Groom, from Five Kingdoms. © Anghinga Press, 2010. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of Dorothy Parker (books by this author), born Dorothy Rothschild in West End, New Jersey (1893). She's remembered as one of the greatest wits of the 20th century, even though she only wrote a few books of poetry and short stories. She started her career in an era when slick magazines were one of the most popular forms of entertainment. The writers for these magazines wrote in a jaded, wisecracking tone of voice, and it was Dorothy Parker who proved that women could wisecrack just as well as men.

Parker was four feet and 11 inches tall, and she loved to swear. The drama critic Alexander Woollcott described her as, "A blend of Little Nell and Lady Macbeth."

She was the only woman who belonged to the famous group of New York writers who met every day at the Round Table of the Algonquin Hotel to trade witticisms and gossip.
Parker's first book of poems, Enough Rope (1926), was a best-seller, and the collection of her writings, Portable Dorothy Parker, has been in print since 1944.

It's the birthday of science fiction writer Ray Bradbury (books by this author), born in Waukegan, Illinois (1920). When he was 12 years old, a traveling carnival came to town, and Bradbury met a magician named Mr. Electrico, who talked to him about reincarnation and immortality, and those ideas excited Bradbury so much that he withdrew from his friends and devoted himself to his imagination. He said: "I don't know if I believe in previous lives, I'm not sure I can live forever. But that young boy believed in both, and I have let him have his [way]. He has written all my stories and books for me."

One night, Bradbury was out for a walk when a policeman pulled up on the side of the road to ask what he was doing. He said, "I was so irritated the police would bother to ask me what I was doing — when I wasn't doing anything — that I went home and wrote [a] story." That story became a novella called The Pedestrian and eventually grew into his first and best-known novel, Fahrenheit 451 (1953), about a man named Guy Montag who lives in a future world in which books are outlawed and burned wherever they're found. Montag is one of the firemen whose job it is to burn the books. One night, he takes a book home that he was supposed to destroy and reads it. The act of reading persuades him to join an underground revolutionary group that is devoted to keeping literature alive.

It's the birthday of Annie Proulx (books by this author), born in Norwich, Connecticut (1935). She was virtually unknown until the early 1990s, when she burst on to the literary scene, publishing her first novels, Postcards (1992) and The Shipping News (1993) when she was in her late 50s. She said she doesn't regret becoming a writer later than most people because, she said, she knows a lot more about life than she did 20 years ago. She said: "I think that's important, to know how the water's gone over the dam before you start to describe it. It helps to have been over the dam yourself."

To write her book Postcards (1992), Proulx traveled back and forth across America, stopping in all the places where her homeless main character worked and lived. After she finished that novel, she stumbled upon a map of Newfoundland. She said, "Each place-name had a story-- Dead Man's Cove, Seldom Come Bay and Bay of Despair, Exploits River, Plunder Beach. I knew I had to go there, and within 10 minutes of arriving, I'd fallen in love." She explored the island, examined maps, and went to bed every night with a Newfoundland vernacular dictionary. The result was her novel The Shipping News (1993), which became a best-seller and won the Pulitzer Prize.

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