Mar. 19, 2014
The Hinge of Spring
The jackrabbit is a mild herbivore
grazing the desert floor,
quietly abridging spring,
eating the color off everything
rampant-height or lower.
Rabbits are one of the things
coyotes are for. One quick scream,
a few quick thumps,
and a whole little area
shoots up blue and orange clumps.
It's the birthday of novelist Philip Roth (books by this author), born in Newark, New Jersey (1933). He said: "Far from being the classic period of explosion and tempestuous growth, my adolescence was more or less a period of suspended animation. After the victories of an exuberant and spirited childhood — lived out against the dramatic background of America's participation in World War II — I was to cool down considerably until I went off to college in 1950. [...] From age 12, when I entered high school, to age 16, when I graduated, I was by and large a good, responsible, well-behaved boy. [...] The best of adolescence was the intense male friendships — not only because of the cozy feelings of camaraderie they afforded boys coming unstuck from their close-knit families, but because of the opportunity they provided for uncensored talk. These marathon conversations, characterized often by raucous discussions of hoped-for sexual adventure and by all sorts of anarchic joking, were typically conducted, however, in the confines of a parked car — two, three, four, or five of us in a single steel enclosure just about the size and shape of a prison cell, and similarly set apart from ordinary human society."
After college, when he was 26 years old and teaching at the University of Chicago, he published his first book, a classic story of adolescence, the novella Goodbye, Columbus (1959). It won the National Book Award. In the 50-plus years since, Roth has published more than 30 books, including Portnoy's Complaint (1969) and American Pastoral (1997). He has continued to win major awards: another National Book Award, three PEN/Faulkner Awards, two National Book Critics Circle Awards, and a Pulitzer Prize.
Roth's most recent book, and the last in his quartet, is Nemesis (2010).
Philip Roth said: "I would be wonderful with a 100-year moratorium on literature talk, if you shut down all literature departments, close the book reviews, ban the critics. The readers should be alone with the books, and if anyone dared to say anything about them, they would be shot or imprisoned right on the spot. Yes, shot. A 100-year moratorium on insufferable literary talk. You should let people fight with the books on their own and rediscover what they are and what they are not. Anything other than this talk. Fairytale talk. As soon as you generalize, you are in a completely different universe than that of literature, and there's no bridge between the two."
It's the birthday of legendary African-American comedian Jackie "Moms" Mabley, born Loretta Mary Aiken in Brevard, North Carolina (1894). Her career as a performer began when she moved to Cleveland at 14 to get away from her tragic past — her parents died in separate accidents, she was raped twice as a teenager, resulting in having two children who were taken from her, and she was being forced into a marriage with an older man. In Cleveland, she met the vaudeville team Butterbeans and Susie. She went to New York City and was very successful on the Chitlin' Circuit, earning more than $10,000 a week. In 1939, Mabley was the first female comedian to perform at the Apollo Theater.
It's the birthday of translator, writer, and soldier Richard Francis Burton (books by this author), born in Torquay, England (1821). Growing up, he loved languages, and he learned French, Italian, and Latin, and local dialects as his family traveled around Europe — his father was an officer in the British army. He hated Oxford, but he learned Arabic there and went on to fight in the East India Company and learn Hindi, Persian, and quite a few local Indian languages. He wrote about his travels in Asia, Africa, and the Americas, and he often disguised himself in local clothing. He became famous when he published A Personal Narrative of a Pilgrimage to Al-Medinah and Meccah (1855), about his experience disguising himself to make the Hajj, the Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca, which is forbidden for non-Muslims.
He wrote the definitive English translation of A Thousand Nights and a Night, (usually referred to as The Arabian Nights), and it was he who introduced The Kama Sutra to Western audiences.
Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®