Mar. 9, 2002

It Is Raining on the House of Anne Frank

by Linda Pastan

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Poem: "It Is Raining on the House of Anne Frank," by Linda Pastan from Carnival Evening (W.W. Norton).

It Is Raining on the House of Anne Frank

It is raining on the house
of Anne Frank
and on the tourists
herded together under the shadow
of their umbrellas,
on the perfectly silent
tourists who would rather be
somewhere else
but who wait here on stairs
so steep they must rise
to some occasion
high in the empty loft,
in the quaint toilet,
in the skeleton
of a kitchen
or on the map-
each of its arrows
a barb of wire-
with all the dates, the expulsions,
the forbidding shapes
of continents.
And across Amsterdam it is raining
on the Van Gogh Museum
where we will hurry next
to see how someone else
could find the pure
center of light
within the dark circle
of his demons.

It's the birthday of novelist and poet Keri Hulme, born in Christchurch, New Zealand (1947), whose first novel, The Bone People, received the prestigious Booker Prize in England in 1985. Hume, who is part Maori, combines poetry, dreams, and tribal lore in her writings. Her novel was followed by Lost Possessions (1985), a collection of poems, and The Windeater (1986), a collection of short stories. She continues to write while living as a virtual recluse for nine months of the year on the South Island in New Zealand, although she has often said she'd rather be fishing for whitebait: "Writing isn't my life…it's a part of my life, it's a lovely part of my life, I enjoy it very much and it's how I am living. But it's not my life. My life is family, friends, fishing, and food…."

It's the birthday of writer Mickey Spillane, born in Brooklyn, New York (1918). In 1967, a list of the best-selling books published in America between 1895 and 1965 was published - and seven of the top twenty-nine were by Spillane.

It's the birthday of composer Samuel Barber, born in West Chester, Pennsylvania (1910).

It's the birthday of biographer, poet, and essayist Peter Quennell, born in Kent, England (1905), whom the New York Times called "a dashing English man of letters." Early in life, he resolved to be a poet, and published his first volume when he was seventeen, which won him an introduction to poet Edith Sitwell. He later said that with this meeting, "…I had entered the literary world, in which beauty, lunacy, and genius were woven together into the pattern of everyday life."

It's the birthday of poet, novelist, biographer, and garden-writer Vita Sackville-West, born in Knole, England (1892). She was born into one of the most socially prominent families in England, and lived most of her life in what her son later called "the largest house in England still in private hands." She became a landscape designer and gardening expert, with more than a dozen gardening books to her credit. She wrote a gardening column for the London Observer for fifteen years, and was awarded the Royal Horticultural Society's Gold Medal. She wrote several novels based on her stories of her own ancestors, including The Edwardians (1930), All Passion Spent (1931), and Family History (1932). But Sackville-West has become almost as well known for her lifestyle as for her writing style. Married to the same man for forty-nine years, she nonetheless had several passionate affairs with women, including Virginia Woolf, who, it is said, based her novel Orlando on Sackville-West.

It's the birthday of explorer Amerigo Vespucci, born in Florence, Italy (1451). He explored the coast of South America and discovered the mouth of the Amazon River. He was the first explorer to identify the New World of what is now North and South America. Even though Columbus may have reached the Americas first, he never knew it. He thought he had reached Asia. Vespucci wrote letters to friends in Europe describing his travels, including the diet, religion, and sexual practices of the natives he found along his journey. In 1507, a German cartographer named Martin Waldseemuller published an "Introduction to Cosmography, with the Four Voyages of Americus Vespucius," in which the name America was applied to the New World. Vespucci died of malaria in Spain in 1512 at the age of fifty-eight.

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