Jun. 21, 2001

Riding Lesson

by Henry Taylor

Thursday, 21 June 2001
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Poem: "Riding Lesson," by Henry Taylor.

Riding Lesson

I learned two things
from an early riding teacher.
He held a nervous filly
in one hand and gestured
with the other, saying "Listen.
Keep one leg on one side,
the other leg on the other side,
and your mind in the middle."

He turned and mounted.
She took two steps, then left
the ground, I thought for good.
But she came down hard, humped
her back, swallowed her neck,
and threw her rider as you'd
throw a rock. He rose, brushed
his pants and caught his breath,
and said, "See that's the way
to do it. When you see
they're gonna throw you, get off."

It's the birthday of the novelist and short-story writer Ian McEwan, born in the military town of Aldershot, in southern England in 1948, the son of a soldier. His first novel was The Cement Garden, about a family of children who dispose of their mother's body in their basement in order to avoid being sent to an orphanage. He won the Booker Prize for his novel Amsterdam in 1998.

It's the birthday of poet Henry Taylor, born in the farm country of Loudoun County, Virginia, in 1942, the son of a high school principal who was also a dairy farmer. His first book of poems was The Horse Show at Midnight, and he won the Pulitzer Prize for The Flying Change in 1986.

It's the birthday of the novelist Françoise Sagan, born in Cajarc, France, in 1935 to an upper-middle class family. Educated at convent schools in France and Switzerland, she wrote her first novel during a summer vacation at her family's country home when she was just 18. She completed it in just three weeks, Bonjour Tristesse (Hello Sadness), published in 1954. It was an instant hit, shocking the public with its forthright, mature description of an amoral family: a father, his mistresses, and his teen-aged daughter. The English translation came out the following year, and the movie three years after that.

It's the birthday of novelist Mary McCarthy, born in Seattle in 1912, one of four children of parents who died in the great flu epidemic of 1918. The orphaned children were sent to live with relatives in Minneapolis, who abused them cruelly. They were forced to stand outside for up to three hours in the snow, and they endured regular beatings. She was rescued by her maternal grandparents and taken back to Seattle where she was given a good education at Catholic schools. She attended Vassar and made Phi Beta Kappa. Her first novel was The Company She Keeps in 1942. She also wrote The Group, and Birds of America. Further, she wrote two autobiographies: Memories of a Catholic Girlhood, and How I Grew.

It's the birthday of the novelist, playwright, and philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre, born in Paris in 1905. He spent a year as a prisoner of war during World War II, and was one of the French intellectuals who openly resisted Nazi occupation of France. He was famous for his philosophical book, Being and Nothingness in 1943, his play No Exit, and his novel Nausea. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in 1964, but he declined to accept it, on the grounds that he did not wish to be "transformed into an institution." He said, "Hell is other people."

It's the birthday of the show-business caricaturist Al Hirschfeld, born in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1903.

It's the birthday of artist Rockwell Kent, born in Tarrytown Heights, New York, in 1882. He illustrated editions of Moby Dick, Leaves of Grass, Faust, and Shakespeare volumes.

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