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Poem: "Nothing is Lost" by Noel Coward, from Collected Verse, edited by Graham Payn & Martin Tickner © Graywolf Press. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Nothing is Lost

Deep in our sub-conscious, we are told
Lie all our memories, lie all the notes
Of all the music we have ever heard
And all the phrases those we loved have spoken,
Sorrows and losses time has since consoled,
Family jokes, out-moded anecdotes
Each sentimental souvenir and token
Everything seen, experienced, each word
Addressed to us in infancy, before
Before we could even know or understand
The implications of our wonderland.
There they all are, the legendary lies
The birthday treats, the sights, the sounds, the tears
Forgotten debris of forgotten years
Waiting to be recalled, waiting to rise
Before our world dissolves before our eyes
Waiting for some small, intimate reminder,
A word, a tune, a known familiar scent
An echo from the past when, innocent
We looked upon the present with delight
And doubted not the future would be kinder
And never knew the loneliness of night.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It was on this day in 1831 that Victor Hugo (books by this author) finished his novel Notre-Dame de Paris, known to us as The Hunchback of Notre Dame. In this epic Gothic novel, Quasimodo, a grotesque, hunchbacked bell ringer, falls in love with a gypsy street dancer named Esmeralda. While the novel was being written, Hugo was asked to compose a poem in honor of Louis-Philippe, France's first constitutional king, who had been brought to power by the July Revolution. Because of the distraction, Victor Hugo had to keep asking his publishers for deadline extensions for The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Once he finally sat down to write it, he finished it in only four months.

It's the birthday of Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, (books by this author) born in Besançon in the east of France (1809), seven years after Victor Hugo was born in the same town. Proudhon was a socialist journalist, and in 1840 he wrote the pamphlet "What Is Property?" In it, Proudhon said, "Property is theft."

It's the birthday of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., (books by this author) born in Atlanta (1929). It was 1955, early in King's new tenure as pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama, that Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on one of that city's busses. King was elected to lead the Montgomery Improvement Association, which was formed with the intention of boycotting the transit system. He was young — only 26 — and he knew his family connections and professional standing would help him find another pastorate should the boycott fail, so he accepted.

In his first speech to the group as its president of that organization, King said: "We have no alternative but to protest. For many years we have shown an amazing patience. We have sometimes given our white brothers the feeling that we liked the way we were being treated. But we come here tonight to be saved from that patience that makes us patient with anything less than freedom and justice."

The boycott worked, and King saw the opportunity for more change. He formed the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, which provided him a national platform. For the next 13 years, King worked to peacefully end segregation. In 1963, he joined other civil rights leaders in the March on Washington — that's where he gave his famous "I Have a Dream" speech.

It was on this day in 1622 that the playwright Moliére ( ) was baptized in Paris. Born Jean-Baptiste Poquelin to wealthy parents — his father was the royal upholsterer — Moliére attended school at the well-respected College de Clermont and studied law at Orleans.

He was expected to follow in his father's footsteps, but when he was 21, he became involved with a theatrical family, the Béjarts. He joined them and others to produce and play comedy as a company under the name of the Illustre Théâtre. He went on to become the father of French comedic theater. His plays include Tartuffe (1664), Le Misanthrope (1666), and Le Malade Imaginaire (1673).

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Poem: "A Color of the Sky" by Tony Hoagland, from What Narcissism Means to Me. © Graywolf Press. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

A Color of the Sky

Windy today and I feel less than brilliant,
driving over the hills from work.
There are the dark parts on the road
    when you pass through clumps of wood
and the bright spots where you have a view of the ocean,
but that doesn't make the road an allegory.

I should call Marie and apologize
for being so boring at dinner last night,
but can I really promise not to be that way again?
And anyway, I'd rather watch the trees, tossing
in what certainly looks like sexual arousal.

Otherwise it's spring, and everything looks frail;
the sky is baby blue, and the just-unfurling leaves
are full of infant chlorophyll,
the very tint of inexperience.

Last summer's song is making a comeback on the radio,
and on the highway overpass,
the only metaphysical vandal in America has written
in big black spraypaint letters,

which makes us wonder if Time loves Memory back.

Last night I dreamed of X again.
She's like a stain on my subconscious sheets.
Years ago she penetrated me
but though I scrubbed and scrubbed and scrubbed,
I never got her out,
but now I'm glad.

What I thought was an end turned out to be a middle.
What I thought was a brick wall turned out to be a tunnel.
What I thought was an injustice
turned out to be a color of the sky.

Outside the youth center, between the liquor store
and the police station,
a little dogwood tree is losing its mind;

overflowing with blossomfoam,
like a sudsy mug of beer;
like a bride ripping off her clothes,

dropping snow white petals to the ground in clouds,

so Nature's wastefulness seems quietly obscene.
It's been doing that all week:
making beauty,
and throwing it away,
and making more.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of poet Anthony Hecht, (books by this author) born in New York City (1923).

It's the birthday of the Canadian poet Robert W. Service, (books by this author) born in Preston, England, in 1874. He moved to Canada in 1897 and for eight years worked in the Yukon for the Canadian Bank of Commerce. Influenced by Kipling, Robert W. Service wrote ballads about Yukon life. Two of these poems, his most famous, are "The Shooting of Dan McGrew" and "The Cremation of Sam McGee." They appeared in Songs of a Sourdough (1907, reprinted in 1915 as The Spell of the Yukon).

It's the birthday of the novelist William Kennedy, (books by this author) born in Albany, New York (1928). Kennedy's novel Ironweed was the third in his "Albany trilogy," but it was the first success. When it was published in 1983, there was an immediate demand for the first two: Legs (1975) and Billy Phelan's Greatest Game (1978). The trilogy, which was set in the "sin city" days of Albany's Prohibition and Depression eras, made Kennedy famous and put his hometown on the map. Ironweed won him a National Book Award and a Pulitzer; in 1987, it was made into a film starring Jack Nicholson and Meryl Streep.

It's the birthday of essayist and cultural critic Susan Sontag, (books by this author) also born in New York City (1933). She was an intellectual even as a child, buying the Partisan Review and reading Trilling, Rosenberg, and Arendt. She graduated from high school at age 15 and became a serial academic. She took classes at Berkeley, then earned a bachelor's degree in philosophy from the University of Chicago after only two years of classes. She earned two master's degrees from Harvard, studied at Oxford and the University of Paris, and then, in 1959, moved with her son to New York City. During the course of her studies she had married, had a child with, and divorced Philip Rieff, who had been one of her professors at the University of Chicago.

Susan Sontag said that she preferred to think of herself as a novelist. Her first novel, The Benefactor, was published in 1963. Her most popular, The Volcano Lover, came out in 2002. But it is her essays that made her famous.

In her early essays, Sontag wrote criticism of art and culture. Other critical essays of the early '60s were dry and academic — hers were not. Her essay "Notes on Camp" was first published in the Partisan Review in 1964. The essay had a huge impact on the New York intellectual world, and Susan Sontag became a sort of spokesperson for the American avant-garde.

Susan Sontag's son, David Rieff, said his mother had "an unslakable kind of curiosity, of interest in the world. She is someone who can go to an opera, meet someone at two in the morning to go to the Ritz and listen to some neo-Nazi punk synthesizer band and then get up the next morning to see two Crimean dissidents."

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Poem: "What's in My Journal" by William Stafford, from Crossing Unmarked Snow. © University of Michigan Press. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

What's in My Journal

Odd things, like a button drawer. Mean
Things, fishhooks, barbs in your hand.
But marbles too. A genius for being agreeable.
Junkyard crucifixes, voluptuous
discards. Space for knickknacks, and for
Alaska. Evidence to hang me, or to beatify.
Clues that lead nowhere, that never connected
anyway. Deliberate obfuscation, the kind
that takes genius. Chasms in character.
Loud omissions. Mornings that yawn above
a new grave. Pages you know exist
but you can't find them. Someone's terribly
inevitable life story, maybe mine.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of Founding Father Benjamin Franklin (books by this author). Though Philadelphia is regarded as his home, he was born in Boston on this day in 1706. He spent much of his life searching for ways for people to live better. After he retired from the printing business in 1749, he turned his attention to science and inventions. He had already invented a safer, heat-efficient stove — called the Franklin stove — which he never patented because he created it for the good of society.

He also established the first fire company and came up with the idea of fire insurance. When he grew tired of taking off and putting on his glasses, Franklin had two pairs of spectacles cut in half and put half of each lens in a single frame, an invention which is now called bifocals. His brother was plagued with kidney stones, so Franklin created a flexible urinary catheter to help him feel better. Among Franklin's other inventions are swim fins, the glass armonica (a musical instrument), the odometer, and the lightning rod.

Franklin eventually retired from public service to spend his time reading and studying. He found, however, that his age left him unable to reach the high shelves in his library. He invented a tool called a "long arm" — a long wooden pole with a grasping claw at the end — to reach the books he wanted to read.

It's the birthday of Anne Brontë, (books by this author) born in Yorkshire (1820). Anne Brontë has been remembered primarily as the third Brontë sister. She was meek and more religious-minded than Charlotte or Emily, and little is known about her life compared to the lives of her sisters. But she was a writer, just as they were. Her first novel was Agnes Grey (1847), based on her experience as a governess. It didn't get much attention, but her second novel, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (1848), was an immediate success. The heroine, Helen Huntingdon, leaves her husband to protect their young son from his influence. She supports herself and her son by painting while living in hiding. In doing so, she violates social conventions and English law. At the time, a married woman had no independent legal existence apart from her husband.

In the second printing of The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, Anne Brontë responded to critics who said her portrayal of the husband was graphic and disturbing. She wrote, "Is it better to reveal the snares and pitfalls of life to the young and thoughtless traveller, or to cover them with branches and flowers? O Reader! if there were less of this delicate concealment of facts — this whispering "Peace, peace," when there is no peace, there would be less of sin and misery to the young of both sexes who are left to wring their bitter knowledge from experience."

It's the birthday of Robert Cormier, (books by this author) born in Leominster, Massachusetts (1928). He wrote the best-seller The Chocolate War (1974), which became one of the 50 most frequently banned books in the nation's public libraries and schools in the 1990s.

It's the birthday of poet William Edgar Stafford, (books by this author) born in Hutchinson, Kansas, in 1914. During the Second World War, he was a conscientious objector and was interned as a pacifist in civilian public service camps in Arkansas and California, where he fought fires and built roads.

In 1948, Stafford moved to Oregon to teach at Lewis and Clark College. His first major collection of poems, Traveling Through the Dark (1962), was published when Stafford was 48. It won the National Book Award for poetry in 1963. He said, "At the moment of writing ... the poet does sometimes feel that he is accomplishing an exhilarating, a wonderful, a stupendous job; he glimpses at such times how it might be to overwhelm the universe by rightness, to do something peculiarly difficult to such a perfection that something like a revelation comes. For that instant, conceiving is knowing; the secret life in language reveals the very self of things."

He published more than 65 volumes of poetry and prose. He remained a professor of English at Lewis and Clark College until his retirement in 1990. He died on August 28, 1993, at his home in Lake Oswego, Oregon.

About his own works, Stafford once commented, "I have woven a parachute out of everything broken."

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Poem: "A Boy in a Bed in the Dark" by Brad Sachs, from In the Desperate Kingdom of Love: Poems 2001-2004. © Chestnut Hills Press, 2004. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

A Boy in a Bed in the Dark

Born with a cleft palate,
My two-year-old brother,
Recovering from yet another surgery,
Toddled into our bedroom
Toppled a tower of blocks
That I had patiently built
And in a five-year-old's fury
I grabbed a fallen block
And winged it at him
Ripping open his carefully reconstructed lip.
The next hours were gruesomely compressed
Ending with a boy in a bed in the dark
Mute with fear
Staring out into the hallway with horror
As the pediatrician went in and out of the bathroom
With one vast blood-soaked towel after another
Shaking his head worriedly.
My brother's howls
And my parents' cooed comfort
Became the soundtrack to this milky movie
That plays
In my darkest theatre,
The one that I sidle past each night
With a shudder
And a throb in my fist

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of the physician and lexicographer, Peter Mark Roget, (books by this author) born in London, England (1779). He was a working doctor for most of his life, but he was also a member of various scientific, literary, and philosophical societies. In his spare time, he invented a slide rule for performing difficult mathematical calculations, and a method of water filtration that is still in use today. He wrote papers on a variety of topics, including the kaleidoscope and Dante, and he was one of the contributors to the early Encylopædia Britannica.

He was 61 years old when he decided to devote his retirement to publishing a system of classifying words into groups based on their meanings. Other scholars had published books of synonyms before, but Roget wanted to assemble something more comprehensive. He said, "[The book will be] a collection of the words it contains and of the idiomatic combinations peculiar to it, arranged, not in alphabetical order as they are in a dictionary, but according to the ideas which they express."

He organized all the words into six categories: Abstract Relations, Space, Matter, Intellect, Volition, Sentient and Moral Powers, and within each category there were many subcategories. The project took him more than 10 years, but he finally published his Thesaurus of English Words and Phrases in 1852. He chose the word "thesaurus" because it means "treasury" in Greek.

Roget's Thesaurus might have been considered an intellectual curiosity, except that at the last minute Roget decided to include an index. That index, which helped readers find synonyms, made the book into one of the most popular reference books of all time. It is considered one of the great lexicographical achievements in the history of the English language, and it has been helping English students pad their vocabularies for more than 150 years.

It's the birthday of the humorist and children's book writer A. A. (Alan Alexander) Milne, (books by this author) born in London, England (1882). He was the author of many successful plays and novels, but though everything he wrote was entertaining, it was all forgettable. More than anything else, Milne wanted to write something that would stand the test of time. One of his friends had just started a new magazine for children, and asked him if he would contribute. He didn't have any interest in writing children's literature, even though his own son was three years old and just learning how to read. But during a holiday in Wales, he found himself trapped in the house during a rainstorm with nothing to do.

Milne said, "So there I was with an exercise-book and a pencil, and a fixed determination not to leave the heavenly solitude of that summer-house until it stopped raining. ... And there on the other side of the lawn was a child with whom I had lived for three years ... and here within me unforgettable memories of my own childhood." So he began writing a series of poems, most of them addressed to his son, Christopher Robin. The poems were collected in his book When We Were Very Young (1924), which was a huge success.

Around the same time, his son had begun playing with a group of stuffed animals named Pooh Bear, Piglet, Tigger, and Eeyore in the Ashdown forest near their house. Milne loved the idea that his son played with fake animals in a real forest. In his books Winnie-the-Pooh (1926) and The House at Pooh Corner (1928), he turned that forest into a magical place where there are no adults, but only Christopher Robin and his animal friends.

Since his death, Milne's more than 60 books for adults have almost all gone out of print, but his Winnie-the-Pooh books remain classics of children's literature. They have been translated into more than 20 languages, including Latin.

It's the birthday of the poet Jon Stallworthy, (books by this author) born in London (1935). His parents were New Zealanders who came to England for a temporary visit just before World War II and wound up staying for almost 30 years. Stallworthy grew up in England, but he always felt slightly out of place. He said, "I had an odd, exciting rather than disturbing, sense of not quite belonging in the middle-class world of my friends. My parents were New Zealanders, and their other world was always shimmering like a mirage at the edge of sight."

He went to a school where he was forced to memorize dozens of poems and to write new poems in the style of various authors. He said, "By the time I was 13 ... I had wrestled with Chaucerian couplets, Shakespearean sonnets, Housmanic quatrains, and knew that poetry was music and hard to write."

He went on to write many collections of poetry, including A Familiar Tree (1978) and The Guest from the Future (1995).

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Poem: "The Haunted Palace" by Edgar Allan Poe (buy now)

The Haunted Palace

In the greenest of our valleys,
    By good angels tenanted,
Once a fair and stately palace
    (Radiant palace) reared its head.
In the monarch Thought's dominion
    It stood there!
Never seraph spread a pinion
    Over fabric half so fair.

Banners yellow, glorious, golden,
    On its roof did float and flow
(This, all this, was in the olden
    Time long ago);
And every gentle air that dallied
    In that sweet day,
Along the ramparts plumed and pallid,
    A wingéd odor went away.

Wanderers in that happy valley
    Through two luminous windows, saw
Spirits moving musically
    To a lute's well-tuned law;
Round about a throne where, sitting
In state his glory well befitting,
    The ruler of the realm was seen.

And all with pearl and ruby glowing
    Was the fair palace door,
Through which came flowing, flowing, flowing,
    And sparkling evermore,
A troop of echoes, whose sweet duty
    Was but to sing,
In voices of surpassing beauty,
    The wit and wisdom of their king.

But evil things, in robes of sorrow,
    Assailed the monarch's high estate
(Ah! let us mourn, for never morrow
    Shall dawn upon him, desolate);
And round about his home the glory
    That blushed and bloomed
Is but a dim-remembered story
    Of the old time entombed.

And travellers, now, within that valley,
    Through the red-litten windows see
Vast forms that move fantastically
    To a discordant melody;
While, like a ghastly rapid river,
    Through the pale door
A hideous throng rush out forever,
    And laugh — but smile no more.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of novelist Julian Barnes, (books by this author) born in Leicester, England (1946). He's the author of Flaubert's Parrot (1984) and The Lemon Table (2004).

It's the birthday of suspense novelist Patricia Highsmith, (books by this author) born in Fort Worth, Texas (1921). She wrote Strangers on a Train (1950) and The Talented Mr. Ripley (1955).

It's the birthday of the poet and short-story writer Edgar Allan Poe, (books by this author) born in Boston (1809). He was the son of two actors, but both his parents died of tuberculosis when he was just a boy. He was taken in by a wealthy Scotch merchant named John Allan, who gave Edgar Poe his middle name. His foster father sent him to the prestigious University of Virginia, where he was surrounded by the sons of wealthy slave-owning families. He developed a habit of drinking and gambling with the other students, but his foster father didn't approve. He and John Allan had a series of arguments about his behavior and his career choices, and he was finally disowned and thrown out of the house.

He spent the next several years living in poverty, depending on his aunt for a home, supporting himself by writing anything he could, including a how-to guide for seashell collecting. Eventually, he began to contribute poems and journalism to magazines. At the time, magazines were a new literary medium in the United States, and Poe was one of the first writers to make a living writing for magazines. He called himself a "magazinist."

He first made his name writing some of the most brutal book reviews ever published at the time. He was called the "tomahawk man from the South." He described one poem as "an illimitable gilded swill trough," and he said, "[Most] of those who hold high places in our poetical literature are absolute nincompoops." He particularly disliked the work of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and John Greenleaf Whittier.

Poe also began to publish fiction, and he specialized in humorous and satirical stories because that was the style of fiction most in demand. But soon after he married his 14-year-old cousin, Virginia, he learned that she had tuberculosis, just like his parents, and he began to write darker stories. One of his editors complained that his work was growing too grotesque, but Poe replied that the grotesque would sell magazines. And he was right. His work helped launch magazines as the major new venue for literary fiction.

But even though his stories sold magazines, he still didn't make much money. He made about $4 per article and $15 per story, and the magazines were notoriously late with their paychecks. There was no international copyright law at the time, and so his stories were printed without his permission throughout Europe. There were periods when he and his wife lived on bread and molasses, and sold most of their belongings to the pawn shop.

It was under these conditions, suffering from alcoholism, and watching his wife grow slowly worse in health, that he wrote some of the greatest gothic horror stories in English literature, including "The Tell-Tale Heart" and "The Fall of the House of Usher." Near the end of his wife's illness, he published the poem that begins,

"Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore —
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door."

It became his most famous poem: "The Raven."

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Poem: "The Jumblies" by Edward Lear. (buy now)

The Jumblies

They went to sea in a Sieve, they did,
   In a Sieve they went to sea:
In spite of all their friends could say,
On a winter's morn, on a stormy day,
   In a Sieve they went to sea!
And when the Sieve turned round and round,
And every one cried, "You'll all be drowned!"
They called aloud, "Our Sieve ain't big,
But we don't care a button! we don't care a fig!
   In a Sieve we'll go to sea!"
      Far and few, far and few,
         Are the lands where the Jumblies live;
      Their heads are green, and their hands are blue,
         And they went to sea in a Sieve.

They sailed away in a Sieve, they did,
   In a Sieve they sailed so fast,
With only a beautiful pea-green veil
Tied with a riband by way of a sail,
   To a small tobacco-pipe mast;
And every one said, who saw them go,
"O won't they be soon upset, you know!
For the sky is dark, and the voyage is long,
And happen what may, it's extremely wrong
   In a Sieve to sail so fast!"
      Far and few, far and few,
         Are the lands where the Jumblies live;
      Their heads are green, and their hands are blue,
         And they went to sea in a Sieve.

The water it soon came in, it did,
   The water it soon came in;
So to keep them dry, they wrapped their feet
In a pinky paper all folded neat,
   And they fastened it down with a pin.
And they passed the night in a crockery-jar,
And each of them said, "How wise we are!
Though the sky be dark, and the voyage be long,
Yet we never can think we were rash or wrong,
While round in our Sieve we spin!"
      Far and few, far and few,
         Are the lands where the Jumblies live;
      Their heads are green, and their hands are blue,
         And they went to sea in a Sieve.

And all night long they sailed away;
   And when the sun went down,
They whistled and warbled a moony song
To the echoing sound of a coppery gong,
   In the shade of the mountains brown.
   "O Timballo! How happy we are,
When we live in a sieve and a crockery-jar,
And all night long in the moonlight pale,
We sail away with a pea-green sail,
   In the shade of the mountains brown!"
      Far and few, far and few,
         Are the lands where the Jumblies live;
      Their heads are green, and their hands are blue,
         And they went to sea in a Sieve.

They sailed to the Western Sea, they did,
   To a land all covered with trees,
And they bought an Owl, and a useful Cart,
And a pound of Rice, and a Cranberry Tart,
   And a hive of silvery Bees.
And they bought a Pig, and some green Jack-daws,
And a lovely Monkey with lollipop paws,
And forty bottles of Ring-Bo-Ree,
   And no end of Stilton Cheese.
      Far and few, far and few,
         Are the lands where the Jumblies live;
      Their heads are green, and their hands are blue,
         And they went to sea in a Sieve.

And in twenty years they all came back,
   In twenty years or more,
And every one said, "How tall they've grown!
For they've been to the Lakes, and the Torrible Zone,
   And the hills of the Chankly Bore!"
And they drank their health, and gave them a feast
Of dumplings made of beautiful yeast;
And every one said, "If we only live,
We too will go to sea in a Sieve, —
   To the hills of the Chankly Bore!"
      Far and few, far and few,
         Are the lands where the Jumblies live;
      Their heads are green, and their hands are blue,
         And they went to sea in a Sieve.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of poet Edward Hirsch, (books by this author) born in Chicago, Illinois (1950).

It's the birthday of novelist and short-story writer Robert Olen Butler, (books by this author) born in Granite City, Illinois (1945). Butler worked as a cab driver, an editor, in a steel-mill, and as a teacher in both high school and college. He started off at Northwestern University as a theater major, but before graduating he turned to playwriting, deciding he would "rather write the words than mouth them." He signed up to serve in the Vietnam War and was assigned to army intelligence and he spent a year learning Vietnamese. He returned to the U.S. in 1972 and worked as an editor and reporter in New York City. He wrote his first novels using a lapboard while traveling to and from work on the Long Island Railroad.

He won the Pulitzer Prize in short fiction in 1993 for his collection A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain (1992). His collection Tabloid Dreams (1997) is a series of stories, each of which is based on actual headlines he had seen in grocery store tabloid newspapers.

It's the birthday of filmmaker Federico Fellini, (books by this author) born in Rimini, Italy (1920). Fellini was a perfectionist who oversaw all the details of a film's production. He wrote all of his scripts — with help from dialogue writers — and was even involved in the final editing of his films. He said that the most important year of his life was 1939, when he traveled with his friend, the comedian Aldo Fabrizi, all across Italy with a vaudeville troupe.

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Poem: "The Walrus and the Carpenter" by Lewis Carroll. (buy now)

The Walrus and the Carpenter

The sun was shining on the sea,
     Shining with all his might:
He did his very best to make
     The billows smooth and bright —
And this was odd, because it was
     The middle of the night.

The moon was shining sulkily,
     Because she thought the sun
Had got no business to be there
     After the day was done —
"It's very rude of him," she said,
     "To come and spoil the fun!"

The sea was wet as wet could be,
     The sands were dry as dry.
You could not see a cloud, because
     No cloud was in the sky:
No birds were flying overhead —
     There were no birds to fly.

The Walrus and the Carpenter
     Were walking close at hand:
They wept like anything to see
     Such quantities of sand:
"If this were only cleared away,"
     They said, "it would be grand!"

"If seven maids with seven mops
     Swept it for half a year.
Do you suppose," the Walrus said,
     "That they could get it clear?"
"I doubt it," said the Carpenter,
     And shed a bitter tear.

"O Oysters, come and walk with us!"
     The Walrus did beseech.
"A pleasant walk, a pleasant talk,
     Along the briny beach:
We cannot do with more than four,
     To give a hand to each."
The eldest Oyster looked at him,
     But never a word he said:
The eldest Oyster winked his eye,
     And shook his heavy head —
Meaning to say he did not choose
     To leave the oyster-bed.

But four young Oysters hurried up,
     All eager for the treat:
Their coats were brushed, their faces washed,
     Their shoes were clean and neat —
And this was odd, because, you know,
     They hadn't any feet.

Four other Oysters followed them,
     And yet another four;
And thick and fast they came at last,
     And more, and more, and more —
All hopping through the frothy waves,
     And scrambling to the shore.

The Walrus and the Carpenter
     Walked on a mile or so,
And then they rested on a rock
     Conveniently low:
And all the little Oysters stood
     And waited in a row.

"The time has come," the Walrus said,
     "To talk of many things:
Of shoes — and ships — and sealing-wax —
     Of cabbages-and kings —
And why the sea is boiling hot —
     And whether pigs have wings."

"But wait a bit," the Oysters cried,
     "Before we have our chat;
For some of us are out of breath,
     And all of us are fat!"
"No hurry!" said the Carpenter.
     They thanked him much for that.

"A loaf of bread," the Walrus said,
     "Is what we chiefly need:
Pepper and vinegar besides
     Are very good indeed —
Now if you're ready, Oysters dear,
     We can begin to feed."

"But not on us!" the Oysters cried,
     Turning a little blue.
"After such kindness, that would be
     A dismal thing to do!"
"The night is fine," the Walrus said.
     "Do you admire the view?

"It was so kind of you to come!
     And you are very nice!"
The Carpenter said nothing but
     "Cut us another slice.
I wish you were not quite so deaf —
     I've had to ask you twice!"

"It seems a shame," the Walrus said,
     "To play them such a trick,
After we've brought them out so far,
     And made them trot so quick!"
The Carpenter said nothing but
     "The butter's spread too thick!"

"I weep for you," the Walrus said:
     "I deeply sympathize."
With sobs and tears he sorted out
     Those of the largest size,
Holding his pocket-handkerchief
     Before his streaming eyes.

"O Oysters," said the Carpenter,
     "You've had a pleasant run!
Shall we be trotting home again?"
     But answer came there none —
And this was scarcely odd, because
     They'd eaten every one.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of blues singer and songwriter Huddie "Lead Belly" Ledbetter (sometimes noted as January 20 or January 29), born in Mooringsport, Louisiana (1888). He's best known for his songs "Goodnight Irene," "Midnight Special," and "Rock Island Line" and for his skill in playing 12-string guitar.

It's the birthday of critic Louis Menand, (books by this author) born in Syracuse, New York (1952). He is one of the few people who works as both a full-time professor and as a journalist. He teaches English at Harvard University, and he's also a contributing editor to The New York Review of Books, a staff writer for The New Yorker, and a contributor to many other publications. He said, "I don't think of there being any division between my academic career and my career in journalism. To me, I'm just a writer ... and it happens that some of my interests are relatively scholarly and some are not."



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