Monday

Oct. 7, 2013

It Is Marvellous...

by Elizabeth Bishop

It is marvellous to wake up together
At the same minute; marvellous to hear
The rain begin suddenly all over the roof,
To feel the air clear
As if electricity had passed through it
From a black mesh of wires in the sky.
All over the roof the rain hisses,
And below, the light falling of kisses.

An electrical storm is coming or moving away;
It is the prickling air that wakes us up.
If lightning struck the house now, it would run
From the four blue china balls on top
Down the roof and down the rods all around us,
And we imagine dreamily
How the whole house caught in a bird-cage of lightning
Would be quite delightful rather than frightening;

And from the same simplified point of view
Of night and lying flat on one's back
All things might change equally easily,
Since always to warn us there must be these black
Electrical wires dangling. Without surprise
The world might change to something quite different,
As the air changes or the lightning comes without our blinking,
Change as our kisses are changing without our thinking.

"It Is Marvellous..." by Elizabeth Bishop, from The Complete Poems 1927-1979. © Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1983. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of journalist, nonfiction author, and writing teacher William Zinsser (books by this author), born in New York City in 1922. He's written several books, including a couple of memoirs and books about travel, jazz, and baseball. His best-known work is On Writing Well (1976). In it he advocates a clean, spare style: "Clutter is the disease of American writing. We are a society strangling in unnecessary words, circular constructions, pompous frills, and meaningless jargon."

Today is the birthday of Australian author Thomas Keneally (books by this author), born in Sydney in 1935. When he finished school, he decided to become a priest and studied for seven years in preparation. He eventually decided that he wasn't cut out for it, and he left the seminary in 1960, before his ordination. He remains interested in spiritual subjects and social questions. He's written 10 books of nonfiction and many novels; he's best known as the author of Schindler's Ark (1982), the book on which the Steven Spielberg film Schindler's List (1993) was based. It's the story of an opportunistic, alcoholic, womanizing German businessman, Oskar Schindler, who bribed and conned Nazi officials into letting him open his own labor camp staffed by Jewish prisoners. In time, Schindler began to use his labor camp to rescue hundreds of Jews from the concentration camps. Keneally told Publishers Weekly, "Stories of fallen people who stand out against the conditions that their betters succumb to are always fascinating. It was one of those times in history when saints are no good to you and only scoundrels who are pragmatic can save souls."

It's the birthday of poet and essayist Diane Ackerman (1948) (books by this author), born Diane Fink in Waukegan, Illinois. She has a knack for blending science and literary art; she wrote her first book of poetry entirely about astronomy. It was called The Planets: A Cosmic Pastoral, and it was published in 1976, while she was working on her doctorate at Cornell. Carl Sagan served as a technical advisor for the book, and he was also on her dissertation committee. Her most widely read book is 1990's A Natural History of the Senses, which inspired a five-part Nova miniseries, Mystery of the Senses, which she hosted. She even has a molecule named after her: dianeackerone.

In 1970, she married novelist and poet Paul West. They shared a playful obsession with words that was central to their expressions of love for each other. In 2005, Paul suffered a stroke that resulted in global aphasia — an inability to process language — and reduced his vast vocabulary to a single syllable: mem. Even when he recovered the ability to speak, his brain kept substituting wrong words for the right ones, but she encouraged him not to fight his brain, but to just go with it, to say what it was giving him to say. As a result, the hundred little pet names he used to have for her before the stroke have been replaced with non sequiturs like "my little bucket of hair" and "spy elf of the morning hallelujahs." Ackerman wrote about the stroke and Paul's journey back to language in her most recent memoir, One Hundred Words for Love (2011).

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

 









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