MONDAY, 26 JUNE, 2006
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Poem: "The Bear" by Jim Harrison from Saving Daylight. © Copper Canyon Press. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

The Bear

When my propane ran out
when I was gone and the food
thawed in the freezer I grieved
over the five pounds of melted squid,
but then a big gaunt bear arrived
and feasted on the garbage, a few tentacles
left in the grass, purplish white worms.
O bear, now that you've tasted the ocean
I hope your dreamlife contains the whales
I've seen, that the one in the Humboldt current
basking on the surface who seemed to watch
the seabirds wheeling around her head.

Literary and Historical Notes:

On this day in 1974, bar codes were first used in supermarket checkout lanes. In a Marsh's supermarket in Troy, Ohio, the first product to be scanned was a 10-pack of Wrigley's Juicy Fruit chewing gum. It just happened to be the first thing lifted from the cart. Today, the pack of gum is on display at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C.

It was on this day in 1870 that the first section of the Atlantic City Boardwalk opened to the public. It was a doctor named Jonathan Pitney who got the idea for developing Atlantic City into a resort. He envisioned Atlantic City as a health spa, where people from Philadelphia could come to enjoy the benefits of fresh air and ocean bathing. Soon, developers were building luxurious hotels and fine restaurants. There was just one problem: All those fancy hotels and restaurants had a hard time keeping their establishments clean, because of all the sand. A railroad conductor named Alexander Boardman also had a hard time keeping his railroad cars clean. So he came up with the idea of building a boardwalk, so that people could walk along the beach without having to step on the sand. He persuaded the city to use $5,000 of its tax revenues to build an eight-foot-wide wooden walkway from the beach into town that could be dismantled during winter. It opened on this day in 1870.

It's the birthday of civil war hero Abner Doubleday, born in Ballston Spa, New York (1819). Doubleday's distinguished career began at West Point and continued on through the Mexican War and in a campaign against the Seminole Indians in Florida. He was a staunch unionist who opposed slavery and supported Lincoln. He was stationed in Charleston Harbor in 1860, aimed the first shot fired from Fort Sumter at the outbreak of the Civil War, and went on to serve in numerous other campaigns throughout the war. Doubleday's fame, however, comes not from his being a war hero, but from the mistaken notion that he invented the American game of baseball. In fact, he was not even in the area in 1939, and never referred to the game in any of his numerous diaries.

It's the birthday of novelist Pearl S. Buck, (books by this author) born Pearl Sydenstricker in Hillsboro, West Virginia (1892). Her parents were Presbyterian missionaries, 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 was the youngest of her parents' seven children, and all but two of her older siblings had died of tropical diseases. Her parents lived in the Chinese community, and Buck learned to speak Chinese before she learned to speak English. She said, "I almost ceased to think of myself as different, if indeed I ever thought so, from the Chinese."

In 1922, she wrote a description of Chinese daily life and sent it to The Atlantic Monthly, which began to publish her articles regularly. Her first novel, East Wind, West Wind, was published in 1930 and became a small success. The following year she published The Good Earth (1931), 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.

Many critics didn't take Buck seriously because her novels were so popular. In her acceptance speech for the Nobel Prize committee, she said she didn't mind being a popular novelist. She said, "[A novelist] is a storyteller in a village tent, and by his stories he entices people into his tent. ... He must be satisfied if the common people hear him gladly. At least, so I have been taught in China."

It's the birthday of children's book author Walter Farley, (books by this author) born in Syracuse, New York (1916). From an early age, there was nothing he wanted more in the world than his own horse. Unfortunately, his parents couldn't afford one, so he spent all his time reading and writing about horses.

Between the ages eleven and fifteen, he wrote dozens of short stories with titles like "The Winged Horse," "My Black Horse," "Red Stallion," and "The Pony." He later said they were all rough drafts for the novel that he finally finished while he was a student at Columbia University, which he called The Black Stallion (1941). It's the story of a boy and a wild stallion who survive a shipwreck and become friends on a deserted island.

The book was so popular that Farley went on to write twenty novels about that horse.

It's the birthday of novelist Thomas Boyle, (books by this author) born in East Stroudsburgh, Pennsylvania (1939), author of several mystery-thriller-police-procedurals, including The Cold Stove League (1983) and Only the Dead Know Brooklyn (1985).

TUESDAY, 27 JUNE, 2006
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Poem: "Autobiographia Literaria" by Frank O'Hara from The Selected Poems of Frank O'Hara. © Vintage Books. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Autobiographia Literaria

When I was a child
I played by myself in a
corner of the schoolyard
all alone.

I hated dolls and I
hated games, animals were
not friendly and birds
flew away.

If anyone was looking
for me I hid behind a
tree and cried out "I am
an orphan."

And here I am, the
center of all beauty!
writing these poems!

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of novelist Alice McDermott, (books by this author) born in Brooklyn, New York (1953). She grew up on Long Island in an Irish Catholic family where most of the men worked for the Con Edison electric company. She wanted to be a writer from the time she was ten years old, but, she said, "My family, with completely good intentions, discouraged me [from becoming a writer] because it seemed so removed to them; they saw me starving in a garret and tried to steer me away from it the same way they tried to steer me away from cocaine."

McDermott has gone on to write several novels about Irish Catholic families in the suburbs around New York, including That Night (1987) and Charming Billy (1998). Her novel Child of My Heart came out in 2002.

It's the birthday of science fiction writer James Patrick Hogan, (books by this author) born in London, (1941) to a working class family. He writes science fiction based on "hard" science, which makes his books popular among scientists as well as the public. Many of his books also blend science fiction with politics. His more recent books include Mind Matters: Exploring the World of Artificial Intelligence (1998), Cradle of Saturn (1999), and The Legend that was Earth (2000).

He said, "I like playing with ideas that invite people to think. I also like old-fashioned, upbeat themes and happy endings. Although life doesn't always seem that way, I believe that in the long term things get better. I don't think we're about to overpopulate the planet, blow ourselves into oblivion, poison ourselves into extinction, degenerate into Nazis, or disappear under our own garbage. For ten thousand years the power of human reason and creativity has continued to build better tomorrows, and nothing says it has to change now."

It's the birthday of poet and children's author Lucille Clifton, (books by this author) born in Depew, New York (1936). She had six children under ten years old when her first poetry collection, Good Times (1969), was called one of the ten best books of the year by The New York Times.

It's the birthday of poet Frank O'Hara, born in Baltimore, Maryland (1926). He wanted to be a pianist when he was growing up, but while he was a student at Harvard, he met the poets John Ashbery and Kenneth Koch, and they persuaded him to write poetry too. He moved to New York City in 1951. He got a job selling post cards at the Museum of Modern Art, and he slowly worked his way up to become one of the curators.

He fell in love with the abstract art of the 1950s, and he believed that poems should be improvisational, like action paintings. At the height of his career he wrote constantly and stuffed his poems into his desk drawers, often forgetting about them.

Frank O'Hara wrote, "oh god it's wonderful/ to get out of bed/ and drink too much coffee/ and smoke too many cigarettes/ and love you so much."

It's the birthday of author and educator Helen Keller, (books by this author) born in Tuscumbia, Alabama (1880). She lost her sight and her hearing when she was twenty months old. No one knows what disease she caught, but it was probably scarlet fever or meningitis. After she recovered, she had not only become blind and deaf, she'd also become extremely angry. She flew into tantrums at the slightest provocation, kicking, screaming, and biting her family members.

But in spite of her disabilities, her parents could tell she was extremely intelligent. She invented her own simple system of sign language. She could fold laundry and could pick out her favorite outfits. And when she learned how to use a key, she managed to lock her mother in a closet, on purpose.

Helen Keller's parents read about the work that inventor Alexander Graham Bell had recently been doing, teaching deaf people how to speak. He came and met young Helen, and advised the family to hire a teacher from the Perkins Institution for children with disabilities. The teacher who eventually came to tutor Helen was a woman named Anne Sullivan. The day that Helen Keller met Anne Sullivan for the first time, she knocked out one of Sullivan's front teeth.

But Anne Sullivan stuck with the job. Helen Keller learned to read letters that Anne Sullivan spelled out on her palm, but at first, Helen could only mimic the letters that Sullivan taught her. Then, one day, Anne Sullivan spelled the word "water" on Keller's palm while Keller held her hand in the water from the well. Keller later wrote, "I stood still, my whole attention fixed upon the motions of her fingers. Suddenly I felt a misty consciousness as of something forgotten, a thrill of returning thought, and somehow the mystery of language was revealed to me." Within the next few hours, Helen learned thirty new words, and by the end of the month, she'd stopped her temper tantrums.

Within a year of Keller's breakthrough, newspapers all over the United States and Europe were writing about her achievements. When she was eight years old, she met President Cleveland at the White House. She went on to college at Radcliffe, where she wrote her autobiography, The Story of My Life, which came out in 1903.

On this day in 1829, English scientist James Smithson died. Even though he had never been to America, he left behind a will that said that if his only nephew died without any heirs, his whole estate should go to the United States of America, to found the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.

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Poem: "On a Fly Drinking Out of His Cup" by William Oldys. Public domain. (buy now)

On a Fly Drinking Out of His Cup

Busy, curious, thirsty fly!
Drink with me and drink as I:
Freely welcome to my cup,
Couldst thou sip and sip it up:
Make the most of life you may,
Life is short and wears away.

Both alike are mine and thine
Hastening quick to their decline:
Thine's a summer, mine's no more,
Though repeated to threescore.
Threescore summers, when they're gone,
Will appear as short as one!

Literary and Historical Notes:

It was on this day in 1914 that the Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife were shot and killed by a Bosnian revolutionary, an event that led to the start of World War I.

Ferdinand was the heir to the throne of the Hapsburg Empire, and Bosnia was one of the empire's most rebellious provinces. Many ethnic Serbians wanted to free Bosnia from Hapsburg rule and unite their country with neighboring Serbia.

Early in the morning, on this day in 1914, Ferdinand and his wife, Sophie, boarded a touring car that would carry them to Sarajevo's city hall. What they didn't know was that six Bosnian Serbs, members of an organization called the Black Hand, were planning an assassination attempt.

Ferdinand's car wasn't even half way to city hall when one of the assassins threw a grenade. The chauffeur sped up, and the bomb bounced off the side of the car, wounding twenty people in the cars behind. Ferdinand made it to City Hall unscathed, and he was greeted there as though nothing out of the ordinary had happened. The mayor began making a welcome speech, and Ferdinand interrupted him, pointing out that he'd just nearly been killed.

Instead of offering to protect the archduke with an army escort, the general in charge of security suggested they return to the train station along the straightest, widest road in the city, so that they could travel rapidly. Unfortunately, no one told the chauffeur about the change in plans. So Ferdinand and his wife got back into the car, and the chauffeur proceeded down the route that had been published in the paper that morning. Once he realized his mistake, the chauffer stopped and tried to back out of a narrow street.

The chauffeur just happened to have stopped the car a few feet away from one of the assassins, a nineteen-year-old named Gavrilo Princip, with a .38 Browning pistol in his pocket. Standing just a few feet away from the royal car, he fired only two shots, but that was enough to kill both the Austrian archduke and his wife.

One month after the assassination, Austria used the event as an excuse to declare war on Serbia, even though the nation of Serbia had nothing to do with the Bosnian Serbs who had carried out the assassination. Germany chose to back Austria in its attack. Russia declared that it would defend Serbia from the assault. By August, France had entered the war against Germany. And when Germany invaded Belgium, Great Britain got involved as well, having pledged to defend Belgium from any invaders.

That series of alliances led to the largest war ever conducted in history at that point—all set in motion by a single assassin.

Coincidentally, it was also on this day in 1919 that the Treaty of Versailles was signed, officially ending World War I.

It's the birthday of author and philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau, (books by this author) born in Geneva, Switzerland (1712), whose work marked the end of the Age of Reason and the beginning of the Age of Romanticism.

He wrote his first important work, Discourse on the Sciences and the Arts (1750), in Paris. It's theme—and, indeed, the theme of all his writing—is that man is good by nature but has been corrupted by society and civilization. He later introduced the central idea of romanticism, that in art the free expression of the creative spirit is more important than adherence to strict rules and formal traditions. In 1762, he published his most famous work, The Social Contract, which opened with the line, "Man was born free, but he is everywhere in chains." He also coined the phrase, "Liberty, Equality, Fraternity," which became the battle cry of the French Revolution.

His book Emile (1762), which advocates education for everyone, was banned in Paris and the authorities ordered Rousseau arrested. He spent the rest of his life as a fugitive, and died, friendless and ill, in 1778.

Rousseau said, "The first man who, having fenced in a piece of land, said, 'This is mine,' and found people naïve enough to believe him, that man was the true founder of civil society."

And he said, "People who know little are usually great talkers, while men who know much say little."

It's the birthday of painter Peter Paul Rubens, born in Siegen, Germany (1577). He is probably best known for his paintings of voluptuous women, from which we get the word "Rubenesque."

It's the birthday of the "father of the modern spy novel," Eric Ambler, (books by this author) born in London (1909), author of thrillers including Background to Danger (1937), Cause for Alarm (1938), and Journey into Fear (1940).

He was the first author to write stories about international espionage that were based on real life. He started writing thrillers because all of the ones he read were full of ridiculous superheroes and villains. He wanted to write about exciting events that could actually happen. He said, "Thrillers are acceptable now. ... A hundred years from now, if they last, these books may offer some clues to what was going on in our world."

He was a British solder during World War II. He was assigned to write documentaries to boost the morale of troops, and he wrote the highly regarded full-length film The Way Ahead (1944). When he was discharged he continued to write movie scripts, including The Cruel Sea (1953), which was nominated for an Academy Award. Topkapi (1964) was a movie based on his novel The Light of Day (1962).

It's the birthday of fiction writer Mark Helprin, (books by this author) born in New York City (1947). His novels include Winter's Tale (1983), Memoir from Antproof Case (1995), and A Soldier of the Great War (1991). He writes about characters who go on adventures, have crises, and come to appreciate the beauty of life. He said, "I have no agony or resentments. Boredom and alienation don't mean a thing to me."

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Poem: "Square Dancing with Sister Robert Claire" by Michael Cleary from Halfway Decent Sinners. © Custom Words. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Square Dancing with Sister Robert Claire

First week of junior high, Kel wised off to her
same as he'd done to the one all year before.
I can still see it. Her so short, the uppercut put
all her weight under the whack of her pudgy fist
against the V of his chin. Kel arching a back-dive, landing
legs up, desks dominoing halfway up the row.
Sweet Jesus, she was tough, but bless her the first one
who liked boys best and didn't carry a grudge.

But she sure as hell wasn't one of the almost pretty nuns
you could almost imagine out there in the world.
Picture pie-faced Lou from Abbott and Costello,
lumpy-looking in any duds but now add a thick black
floor-length habit with dozens of folds, hidden pockets.
Around her waist rosary beads big as marbles
dangling to where knees would be.
Hair, ears, and neck under a stiff white wimple,
she waddled the aisles like a wooly toad.

One week she dragged us into the gym
and the alien world of square dancing—and girls.
Shedding blazers, ties, and shoes, we were cornered.
In sweat socks and knee socks, we shuffled like prisoners,
allemande left and dosido stranger than dominus vobiscum.
Robert Claire stood on a chair trying to clap rhythm
into our dumb feet, sometimes leaping down, landing
light as a blackbird. She'd skip and twirl among us
arm over arm until her habit billowed like a gown,
face aglow, God's clumsy children urged toward lessons
of possibility and romance she brought from a life before.
Reluctantly, we learned to move together, touch, let go.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of the aviator and author of The Little Prince (1943), Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (books by this author) born in Lyon, France (1900). He came from an old aristocratic family that had fallen on hard times. Saint-Exupéry was a poor student, but when he was twelve, he took a ride in an airplane and fell in love. When he was twenty-one, he was called up for military service in Morocco, where he received his pilot's license.

After his military experience, he signed up to be an airmail carrier. At the time, it was a death-defying job to take, flying mail from France to Africa in frail planes with open cockpits. He flew without instruments except for a compass and an altimeter, navigating by landmarks and the stars. In 1929, the airmail business sent him to South America as well. He turned his experiences as an aviator into two novels: Southern Mail (1929) and Night Flight (1932), both of which were best sellers.

He flew some missions for France at the start of World War II, but when France fell to the Germans, he sailed for the United States and arrived in New York City on the last day of 1940. He planned to stay for four weeks, but he wound up living in New York for two years. It was one of the hardest periods of his life. He'd survived numerous airplane crashes in the previous twenty years, and those crashes had taken a toll on his health. He spoke little English, and deeply missed his home country and the family and friends he'd left behind. And so, to cheer himself up in his period of exile, he began to write a children's book that became The Little Prince.

The Little Prince is narrated by a pilot who has crashed in the desert, where he meets a strange little boy who claims to have come from an asteroid where he took care of a single rose. The little boy asks the pilot to draw him a sheep, and the two begin a series of conversations, mainly about why it is that grownups are so difficult to get along with.

When The Little Prince came out in 1943, it didn't sell many copies. The following year, Saint-Exupéry was presumed dead when his plane disappeared while he was flying a reconnaissance mission for the Allies. After Saint-Exupéry's mysterious disappearance, sales of The Little Prince skyrocketed. Today, it still sells more than 100,000 copies a year.

FRIDAY, 30 JUNE, 2006
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Poem: "The Farm" by Donald Hall from White Apples and the Taste of Stone. © Houghton Mifflin Company. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

The Farm

Standing on top of the hay
in a good sweat,
I felt the wind from the lake
dry on my back,
where the chaff
grew like the down on my face.

At night on the bare boards
of the kitchen,
we stood while the old man
in his nightshirt gummed
the stale crusts
of his bread and milk.

Up on the gray hill
behind the barn, the stones
had fallen away
where the Penacook marked
a way to go
south from the narrow river.

By the side of the lake
my dead uncle's rowboat rots
in heavy bushes.
Slim pickerel glint
in the water. Black horned pout
doze on the bottom

Literary and Historical Notes:

It was on this day in 1857 that Charles Dickens gave his first public reading, (books by this author). He did this for several reasons: to get away from marital discord at home, because he loved to perform in front of an audience, and because he could make more money reading than he could by writing. His first reading, of A Christmas Carol, was held at Saint Martin's Hall in London, and it was so successful that Charles Dickens became one of the first authors to go on huge, international book tours, performing his own work. He even went to America, where one of the people who saw him perform was Mark Twain.

It was on this day in 1936 that the novel Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell was first published, (books by this author). When she handed the manuscript over to editors, it was in terrible shape, with more than a thousand pages of faded and dog-eared paper, poorly typed and with penciled changes. But they loved the story. They asked Mitchell to change the original title, "Tomorrow Is Another Day," because at the time there were already thirteen books in print with the word "Tomorrow" in the title. They also asked her to change the main character's name from Pansy to Scarlett.

Mitchell later said, "I just couldn't believe that a Northern publisher would accept a novel about the War Between the States from the Southern point of view." But Gone with the Wind broke all publication records. The year it came out, employees at the Macmillan publishing company received Christmas bonuses for the first time in nearly a decade.

It's the birthday of poet Czeslaw Milosz, (books by this author) born in Szetejnie, Lithuania (1911). Milosz studied law rather than literature in college because, he said, "There were so many girls studying literature it was called the marriage department." In 1931 he cofounded a literary group that was so pessimistic about the future it was nicknamed the "Catastrophists." The group predicted a coming world war, but nobody believed them. He worked for Polish Radio for a while, but he got fired when he let Jews broadcast their opinions on the air. Another radio station sent him to cover the invasion of Poland by Nazi forces in 1939. After the invasion, he found a job as a janitor at a university, secretly writing anti-Nazi poetry for underground publications. He witnessed the genocide of the Jews in Warsaw, and was one of the first poets to write about it in his book of poems Rescue (1945).

After the war, Milosz got a job working as a diplomat for communist Poland, though he wasn't a party member. One night in the winter of 1949, on his way home from a government meeting, he saw several jeeps filled with political prisoners, surrounded by soldiers. He said, "It was then that I realized what I was part of." He defected in 1951, and made it to Paris even though his passport had been confiscated.

He moved to the United States and began teaching at the University of California at Berkeley in 1960. He kept writing poetry in Polish, even though almost no one was reading it. His books had been banned in Poland, and his poems weren't translated into English until 1973. Then, in 1980, he got a phone call at 3:00 in the morning telling him that he'd won the Nobel Prize for literature.

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Poem: "The History of My Life" by John Ashbery from Your Name Here. © John Ashbery. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

The History of My Life

Once upon a time there were two brothers.
Then there was only one: myself.

I grew up fast, before learning to drive,
even, there was I: a stinking adult

I thought of developing interests
someone might take an interest in. No soap.

I became very weepy for what had seemed
like the pleasant early years. As I aged

increasingly, I also grew more charitable
with regard to my thoughts and ideas,

thinking them at least as good as the next man's.
Then a great devouring cloud

came and loitered on the horizon, drinking
it up for what seemed like months or years.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It was on this day in 1858 that a paper by Charles Darwin about his theory of evolution was first presented to a public audience. Darwin, (books by this author) had actually come up with the theory twenty years before that, in 1837. Back then, he drafted a thirty-five-page sketch of his ideas and arranged with his wife to publish the sketch after his death. For the next twenty years, he told almost no one about the theory.

Part of his reluctance to share his theory of evolution was that he was not known as a biologist, and he assumed that no one would take such a radical theory seriously from such an amateur. He was also reluctant to publish his ideas because he didn't want to create a controversy by offending anyone's religious beliefs.

But then, in 1851, his oldest and favorite daughter Annie died of typhoid, and suddenly Darwin began to worry about the future of all his children. So, to help assure his children's well-being, Darwin began writing a book about evolution, which he hoped would become a scientific classic. He had struggled to complete a quarter of a million words when, on June 18, 1858, he learned that a man named Alfred Russel Wallace was about to publish a paper about a similar theory. In order to get credit, Darwin had to present an extract of his work to a scientific society in two weeks.

On Almost the same day, he received news that his household was struck by an epidemic of scarlet fever. His children and several nursery maids came down with the disease. Most everyone recovered, but Darwin's youngest son, Charles, died. And so Charles Darwin wasn't even in attendance when his theory of evolution was first presented to a public audience on this day in 1858. He was at home, grieving the death of his son.

It's the birthday of crime writer James M. Cain, (books by this author) born in Annapolis, Maryland (1892). He's the author of The Postman Always Rings Twice (1934). Most crime novelists at the time wrote about the detectives who investigated crimes. Cain wrote his novel from the point of view of a drifter who helps a woman murder her husband. The book got great reviews and became a best-seller. He went on to write other novels such as Mildred Pierce (1941) and Double Indemnity (1943).

It's the birthday of novelist Jean Stafford, (books by this author) born in Covina, California (1915). In 1944, she published her first novel, Boston Adventure, about a poor girl who escapes her working-class town to work for a wealthy lady from Boston. She wrote several more novels, including The Mountain Lion (1947) and The Catherine Wheel (1952), but they didn't make her any money. She struggled with alcoholism and supported herself by selling short stories to The New Yorker magazine.

When she published Collected Stories of Jean Stafford in 1969, it won the Pulitzer Prize. Stafford died ten years later.

It's the birthday of editor and writer William Strunk Jr., (books by this author) born in Cincinnati, Ohio (1869). His book The Elements of Style has become the standard style manual for writers all across America. Strunk wrote, "Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short, or that he avoid detail and treat his subjects only in outline, but that every word tell."

SUNDAY, 2 JULY, 2006
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Poem: "The Prayer" by Richard Jackson from Half Lives. © Autumn House Press. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

The Prayer

Blessed be the year climbing its cliffs, the month crossing the fields
of hours and days, the bridges of minutes, the grass where we stood
that first moment, the festival music keeping our time, the hood
of the season's sky above us, the moment's fictive shield
against history, her tattered glance, her broken smile, everything real
or imagined, bless the rivers I invented to carry us, the woods
I planted as our own, bless even the sweet hurt, even the herd
of stars that trample my real heart which she has taught to heal.
Blessed be these trackless words running downstream
following the remote valleys she has cut through my life,
and blessed be the sounds they cannot make, but mean,
and blessed be all these pages watermarked with her name,
these thoughts that wander the unmapped roads of strife
and love, her blessed world whose dream is always a dream.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of Wislawa Szymborska, (books by this author) born in Poland (1923). When she won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1996, few people outside of Poland had ever heard of her. Her first poems were published in the Krakov newspaper, and for almost twenty years she edited a weekly column for the journal Literary Life. Her early poems dealt with the horrors of World War II and of the Stalin era. Her later poems are more personal, and her work is celebrated for its candor and gentle humor. When she accepted the Nobel Prize, she said, "They say the first sentence in any speech is always the hardest. Well, that one's behind me, anyway."

It's the birthday of Thomas Cranmer, (books by this author) Archbishop of Canterbury, born in Nottinghamshire, England (1489). He was a scholar and lecturer in divinity. In the late 1520s, King Henry VIII was trying to get the Pope's permission to divorce his wife so that he could marry Anne Boleyn. Cranmer suggested that the King didn't need the Pope's permission. After presiding over the divorce trial, Cranmer was made an archbishop. He helped encourage England's break from Rome, which resulted in the foundation of the Anglican Church.

The greatest achievement of his life was his work compiling the Book of Common Prayer, which was a collection of English prayers that would be said at all kinds of church ceremonies, from masses and funerals to baptisms and weddings.

Cranmer didn't write or translate all the prayers from Latin himself, but he picked what he liked best about the existing translations and stitched them together. It was Thomas Cranmer who chose the passage from Job that would be read at so many funerals: "Man that is born of woman hath but a short time to live, and is full of misery. He cometh up, and is cut down, like a flower; he fleeth as it were a shadow, and never continueth in one stay."

Cranmer is responsible for the wedding vow, "I take thee to be my wedded wife, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness, and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us depart."

After the death of King Henry VIII and his successor Edward IV, Thomas Cranmer was arrested by the new Catholic queen, Mary Tudor. Cranmer was eventually burned at the stake.

It's the birthday of the first African American to serve as a Supreme Court Justice, Thurgood Marshall, born in Baltimore, Maryland (1908).

He applied to the University of Maryland Law School, but he was rejected on the basis of race, so he enrolled at Howard University instead. The first thing he did, upon graduation, was use his law degree to sue the University of Maryland for racial discrimination, and he almost couldn't believe it when he won. Thanks to his efforts, the University of Maryland Law School admitted its first black student in 1935. It was the first time that a black student had ever been admitted to any state law school south of the Mason-Dixon Line.

Marshall became the legal director of the NAACP, and of the thirty-two cases he argued for that organization, he won twenty-nine. His biggest case was the landmark Brown v. Board of Education in 1954. He went on to serve as an appeals court judge under Kennedy, and Johnson appointed him to the Supreme Court in 1967.

Thurgood Marshall said, "None of us got where we are solely by pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps. We got here because somebody—a parent, a teacher, an Ivy League crony or a few nuns—bent down and helped us pick up our boots."

It's the birthday of Hermann Hesse, (books by this author) born in Calw, Germany (1877). He's the author of many novels including Siddhartha (1922) and Steppenwolf (1929).



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