Mar. 11, 2008

Dedication for a Plot of Ground

by William Carlos Williams

This plot of ground
facing the waters of this inlet
is dedicated to the living presence of
Emily Dickinson Wellcome
who was born in England; married;
lost her husband and with
her five year old son
sailed for New York in a two-master;
was driven to the Azores;
ran adrift on Fire Island shoal,
met her second husband
in a Brooklyn boarding house,
went with him to Puerto Rico
bore three more children, lost
her second husband, lived hard
for eight years in St. Thomas,
Puerto Rico, San Domingo, followed
the oldest son to New York,
lost her daughter, lost her "baby,"
seized the two boys of
the oldest son by the second marriage
mothered them — they being
motherless — fought for them
against the other grandmother
and the aunts, brought them here
summer after summer, defended
herself here against thieves,
storms, sun, fire,
against flies, against girls
that came smelling about, against
drought, against weeds, storm-tides,
neighbors, weasels that stole her chickens,
against the weakness of her own hands,
against the growing strength of
the boys, against wind, against
the stones, against trespassers,
against rents, against her own mind.

She grubbed this earth with her own hands,
domineered over this grass plot,
blackguarded her oldest son
into buying it, lived here fifteen years,
attained a final loneliness and —

If you can bring nothing to this place
but your carcass, keep out.

"Dedication for a Plot of Ground" by William Carlos Williams from Collected Poems 1939-1962. © New Directions, 1986. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of writer Douglas Adams, (books by this author) born in Cambridge, England (1952), best known for his five-book "trilogy" The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, a series of comic science fiction novels that sold more than 14 million copies during his lifetime and inspired a cult-like following.

The idea for the first book came to Adams when he was 19 years old and backpacking through Europe. After a day of wandering through the Austrian countryside carrying the Hitch-hiker's Guide to Europe, Adams lay drunk in a field in Innsbruck with the book, ruing his inability to communicate with residents and gazing up at the stars. He said it occurred to him right then that somebody ought to write a hitchhiker's guide to the galaxy.

At age 24, he felt frustrated by his lack of success as a writer and was on the verge of pursuing a different career when the BBC accepted his outline of the Hitchhiker story, about an Englishman named Arthur Dent and his alien friend Ford Prefect who hitch a ride from Earth on a passing starship before the planet is destroyed by a band of bureaucratic aliens. He wrote a 12-part radio series, which was broadcast for the first time in March 1978. A publisher approached Adams about turning the series into a novel, and the next year The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy appeared in print.

It was followed by The Restaurant at the End of the Universe (1980) and then Life, the Universe, and Everything (1982), each popular and best-selling, and then a fourth book, So Long and Thanks for All the Fish (1984).

He was a notoriously unpunctual writer and said, "I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by."

It's the birthday of poet, critic, and novelist D. J. Enright, (books by this author) born in Warwickshire, England (1920).

He earned a scholarship to study English at Cambridge and then embarked on a career in academia, teaching literature at universities in Egypt, England, Japan, Germany, Thailand, and Singapore, experiences that he later recounted in Memoirs of a Mendicant Professor (1969). He called himself a "Sunday writer," dependent on the day traditionally reserved for beach-going, and imagined it would be nice to be subsidized by a generous foundation to do nothing but write poetry for a year, but then thought, "Since I am one of those people who work under pressure or not at all, it seems better to have a full-time job, if only as an alibi."

He wrote three collections of poems by the time he was 40: The Laughing Hyena (1953), Bread Rather Than Blossoms (1956), and Some Men Are Brothers (1960). In his verse he generally rejected the modernist traditions, favoring lucid imagery and clear diction over the abstruse. He also featured working-class subjects like noodle-venders and shoeshine boys: "The more or less anonymous, to whom no human idiom can apply / Who neither passed away, or on, nor went before, nor varnished on a sigh" (from Bread Rather Than Blossoms, 1956).

In addition to writing more than a dozen books of poetry, he wrote six novels, many collections of essays, and a translation of Proust's A Remembrance of Things Past. He edited several anthologies, including The Oxford Book of Death (1983) — which he said he found to be an energizing rather than depressing undertaking — The Faber Book of Fevers and Frets (1989), and The Oxford Book of the Supernatural (1994).

It's the birthday of media entrepreneur (Keith) Rupert Murdoch, born in Melbourne, Australia (1931). He inherited two small Australian papers and gave them banner headlines of sex and scandal. Circulation soared. Over time, he has built an international media empire that includes radio and television stations, film and record companies, and book publishers around the world.

It was on this day in 1818 that Mary Shelley's Frankenstein was published (books by this author). Shelley was only 19 years old when she wrote the novel, and the first edition was published anonymously with a preface written by her husband, Percy Bysshe Shelly. She revised the novel and published it under her name own name in 1823.

The story of Frankenstein's monster was first staged as a play in 1823 in London and was followed shortly thereafter by a musical burlesque. Today there are more than 80 films that carry "Frankenstein" in their title.

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