Aug. 2, 2008

Breakfast Song

by Elizabeth Bishop

My love, my saving grace,
your eyes are awfully blue.
I kiss your funny face,
your coffee-flavored mouth.
Last night I slept with you.
Today I love you so
how can I bear to go
(as soon I must, I know)
to bed with ugly death
in that cold, filthy place,
to sleep there without you,
without the easy breath
and nightlong, limblong warmth
I've grown accustomed to?
—Nobody wants to die;
tell me it is a lie!
But no, I know it's true.
It's just the common case;
there's nothing one can do.
My love, my saving grace,
your eyes are awfully blue
early and instant blue.

"Breakfast Song" by Elizabeth Bishop from Poems, Prose, and Letters. © The Library of America, 2008. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Today is the birthday of the Chinese poet Bei Dao, (books by this author) born Zhao Zhenkai in Beijing, China, in 1949. He goes by the pseudonym Bei Dao, which means "North Island," a name he chose because it refers to his origin in northern China and also suggests his solitude. Bei Dao is one of the Misty Poets, a school of poets who were a big influence in China during the democratic student uprisings, poets who didn't write in the Marxist ideal of social realism, but instead looked to modernist poetry. They used obscure imagery and metaphor, which is why they got the name "Misty." Bei Dao went into exile after the Tiananmen Square massacre of 1989. His books of poetry include Forms of Distance (1994) and Unlock (2000). In 1996, he was finally allowed to return to China.

He wrote:
In the world I am
Always a stranger
I do not understand its language
It does not understand my silence.

It's the birthday of the Chilean novelist Isabel Allende, (books by this author) born in Lima, Peru, in 1942. Her father was a diplomat to Peru, and his cousin was Salvador Allende, who later became the first elected socialist president of Chile. Isabel's father left when she was young, and her mother remarried another diplomat, so Isabel spent most of her childhood in Bolivia and Lebanon. When she was a teenager, there was a civil war in Beirut, so she returned to Chile. She lived with her grandparents in Santiago, where her grandfather taught her to love the country. He also encouraged her not to become financially dependent on her husband, so even though she was married with a young child, she got a job as a journalist. She says, "I was a lousy journalist. I had no problem exaggerating or making up quotes. My colleagues thought they were being objective, but I never thought they were and I didn't even pretend." She worked for a while translating romance novels from English to Spanish, but she got fired because she would adjust the dialogue of the heroines to make them sound more intelligent, and even change the endings if she thought the women weren't independent enough.

A few years later, Salvador Allende became the first president of Chile, and during those years of the socialist government, Isabel Allende was a popular TV host. Her two shows weren't directly political, but they were about feminism and about challenging the machismo of Chilean culture.

Then on September 11, 1973, a military coup led by General Augusto Pinochet Ugarte overthrew the government, and Salvador Allende was assassinated. Isabel Allende was put on a wanted list, and she received death threats, so she fled with all her family to Venezuela, where she assumed she could stay for a couple of months and then return. Instead, she remained in exile for 17 years.

She says that all of her protagonists are exiles of some sort. "Even if they're not exiles in the sense that they have to leave the country. They are exiled from the big umbrella of the establishment. I like people who stand on the edge and therefore are not sheltered. And that is when you have to bring out all the strength that you have inside and if you live sheltered you never use it, because you don't need it."

While she was in exile in Venezuela, Isabel Allende found out that her beloved grandfather was dying in Chile, and she began to write him a letter. She says that she wrote the letter "to tell him that he could die in peace, because I had all his memories with me and I had not forgotten anything and I began telling him his own anecdotes. And then something happened. I started drifting away from the memory and the past and reality into something that was much richer and fun ... a year later I had a book." And that book was The House of the Spirits (1985). It is an international best seller. Like all her books, it's rooted in politics and history, but it also uses the techniques of magical realism. She is the author of 17 books — novels, memoirs, and children's books— including Eva Luna (1987), Portrait in Sepia (2000), City of the Beasts (2002), and her newest memoir, The Sum of Our Days (2008).

Isabel Allende, who envisions the future world like this:

"I see a more feminine world, a world where feminine values will be validated, the same as masculine values are. A more integrated world. I see that in the future, things that we have lost in the past will be recovered. There's a search for those things, a search for spirituality, for nature, for the goddess religions, for family and human bonding. All that has been lost in this industrial era. People are in desperate need of those things. I don't think the world will destroy itself in a nuclear cataclysm. On the contrary, we have the capacity to save ourselves and save the planet, and we will use it."

And who says, "Erotica is using a feather, pornography is using the whole chicken."

And, she says, "You are the storyteller of your own life and you can create your own legend or not."

And, "Write what should not be forgotten."

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®




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