Sep. 25, 2006


by Paul Hostovsky

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Poem: "Coconut" by Paul Hostovsky from Bird in the Hand. © Grayson Books. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)


Bear with me I
want to tell you
something about
it's hard to get at
but the thing is
I wasn't looking
I was looking
somewhere else
when my son found it
in the fruit section
and came running
holding it out
in his small hands
asking me what
it was and could we
keep it it only
cost 99 cents
hairy and brown
hard as a rock
and something swishing
around inside
and what on earth
and where on earth
and this was happiness
this little ball
of interest beating
inside his chest
this interestedness
beaming out
from his face pleading
and because I wasn't
happy I said
to put it back
because I didn't want it
because we didn't need it
and because he was happy
he started to cry
right there in aisle
five so when we
got home we
put it in the middle
of the kitchen table
and sat on either
side of it and began
to consider how
to get inside of it

Literary and Historical Notes:

On this day in 1789, the first Congress passed the Bill of Rights—12 amendments to the Constitution designed to protect the basic rights of U.S. citizens. Only the last 10 of the original 12 were ratified by the states, including the First Amendment, which includes freedom of religion, speech, the press, and public assembly.

It's the birthday of the poet and translator C. K. (Charles Kenneth) Scott-Moncrieff, (books by this author) born in Stirlingshire, Scotland (1889). He's best known for translating the work of Marcel Proust into English. He published the first volume of his translation, Swann's Way, in 1922, a few weeks before Proust's death. It was wildly successful in England, and the translation was hailed as one of the greatest translations of all time.

Scott-Moncrieff spent the rest of his life translating the remaining volumes, but he died before he finished the last one. Instead of translating the title literally as "In Search of Lost Time," he borrowed a line from one of Shakespeare's sonnets and called the multi-volume work "Remembrance of Things Past." His translation stood as the only translation of Proust's work in English for most of the 20th century.

It's the birthday of William (Cuthbert) Faulkner, (books by this author) born in New Albany, Mississippi (1897). He grew up listening to stories about his family, including several stories about his great-grandfather, a colonel in the Civil War, who once killed a man with a bowie knife and later killed another man who tried to avenge the first man's death. And then there were stories about Faulkner's father, who was once sitting in a drug store with a girl when the girl's spurned boyfriend walked in and shot Faulkner's father in the back with a shotgun. Somehow, Faulkner's father survived.

Aside from family lore, Faulkner's literary education came not from school but from an older friend named Phil Stone, who had gone to Yale. At that time, Faulkner had been reading Moby-Dick and Shakespeare, but it was Phil Stone who introduced him to modern literature like the works of James Joyce and Joseph Conrad.

After dropping out of high school, Faulkner spent several years trying to figure out what to do with himself. He went to the University of Mississippi for a year, where he got a D in his English class. He went to New York City, where he was fired from a job at a bookstore because he told the customers they were reading trash. Then he worked for a while at a post office, until he lost that job because he failed to deliver the mail and often closed down early to go golfing.

He published a book of poems and two relatively conventional novels, and then he met the writer Sherwood Anderson, who advised him to write about his hometown. So Faulkner began observing Oxford, Mississippi, more closely, and he began to invent an imaginary version of Oxford he called Jefferson, located in an imaginary county he called Yoknapatawpha.

He later said, "I discovered that my own little postage stamp of native soil was worth writing about and that I would never live long enough to exhaust it, and by sublimating the actual into apocryphal I would have complete liberty to use whatever talent I might have to its absolute top."

One of the first novels he wrote about his new imaginary landscape was The Sound and the Fury, about a wild young woman named Caddy Compson and her three brothers: Benjy, who is mentally handicapped; Quentin, who falls in love with her; and Jason, who feels she has ruined the family's name by getting pregnant out of wedlock.

Faulkner went on writing through the 1930s, but he never really broke through to popular success. By 1944, all but one of his books were out of print. But in 1945, Malcolm Cowley helped publish a Portable Faulkner edition, which brought attention back to his work. Then in 1949, he won the Nobel Prize for literature. All his books were brought back into print, and they have stayed in print ever since.

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