Aug. 15, 2008

Mixed-Up School

by X. J. Kennedy

We have a crazy mixed-up school.
Our teacher Mrs. Cheetah
Makes us talk backwards. Nicer cat
You wouldn't want to meet a.

To start the day we eat our lunch,
Then do some heavy dome-work.
The boys' and girls' rooms go to us,
The hamster marks our homework.

At recess time we race inside
To don our diving goggles,
Play pin-the-donkey-on-the-tail,
Ball-foot or ap-for-bobbles.

Old Cheetah with a chunk of chalk
Writes right across two blackboards,
And when she says, "Go home!" we walk
The whole way barefoot backwards.

"Mixed-Up School" by X. J. Kennedy from Exploding Gravy: Poems to Make You Laugh. © Curtis Brown, Ltd., 2002. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of Irish writer Benedict Kiely, (books by this author) born in County Tyrone, Northern Ireland (1919). When he was a baby, three young men were murdered on the street near his house, casualties of the political and religious conflicts of 20th-century Northern Ireland. He grew up in an area where the fear of sectarian violence was never far removed.

He attended a Catholic grade school run by the Christian Brothers order. Once, in the middle of a trigonometry lesson, a priest gave a passionate speech about James Joyce, which Kiely later said made him realize that this was "a world where books mattered." He entered the seminary on track to become a Jesuit priest, but an old spine injury he'd once received during a rugby game resurfaced, and he was bedridden for some time.

After he recovered, he left the seminary and studied liberal arts at University College Dublin. He became a senior journalist and in charge of writing editorials at the Irish Independent, where his instructions were, he says, to "avoid coming to any conclusion about anything." He began writing books as well. Three of his first novels were banned in Ireland on the grounds that they were "in general tendency indecent or obscene." His news employer was displeased with this, so he went to work for the Irish Press, serving as that paper's literary editor for 15 years. He then moved to the United States and was a visiting professor at various universities.

His novels include Honey Seems Bitter (1952), The Cards of the Gambler (1953), Dogs Enjoy the Morning (1968), and Nothing Happens in Carmincross (1985). But critics generally agree that his best writing is found in his short stories, many of which first appeared in The New Yorker magazine. His stories have been collected in several volumes: The Trout in the Turnhole (1996), A Letter to Peachtree (1987), A Cow in the House (1978), A Ball of Malt and Madame Butterfly (1973).

Kiely also worked as a broadcaster for Ireland's Radio Telefís Éireann (RTÉ), and he once said that he enjoyed "travel, trout fishing, studying rivers, Jameson 10-year-old whiskey, talking to a few friends in a few Dublin pubs, and singing, roaring and/or collecting ballads." He died just last year, in February 2007.

It's the birthday of Denise Chávez,(books by this author)born in Las Cruces, New Mexico (1948), a town just 40 miles from the Mexican border.

In high school, she started acting in school plays, and she earned a scholarship to study drama in college. There she began writing plays, also, and the first play that she wrote won a university "best play" award. She said that she hadn't had very high ambitions growing up—her "dream was to work at Dairy Queen"—but after writing dozens of plays and short stories and earning two master's degrees, she went to work on a novel, the first draft of which was 1,200 pages. She and her editor whittled it down to 456 pages, and the resulting book, Face of an Angel, was published in 1994 to high critical acclaim. The novel includes excerpts from the diary of the protagonist, who is a career waitress, as well as a waitress etiquette and philosophy manual. Chávez herself had spent more than 30 years waiting tables.

Chávez had grown up in a family that loved to tell stories, and she acknowledges her roots in the oral storytelling tradition, calling herself a "performance writer." In her writing, she also incorporates her bilingual background, and she does not even italicize Spanish words in her works, which has caused conflicts with editors who think that the words should be differentiated in the type or set apart somehow.

She now lives back at her childhood home, writing in the room that she was born in. She's the author of the novels The Last of the Menu Girls (1986), The Woman Who Knew the Language of Animals (1992), Loving Pedro Infante (2001), and several plays, including The Flying Tortilla Man (1975), How Junior Got Throwed in the Joint (1981), Hecho en Mexico (1983), and Women in the State of Grace (1989).

It's the birthday of food writer Julia Child, (books by this author) born Julia McWilliams in Pasadena, California (1912). When she was growing up, she never cooked anything, and when she went to college, she wanted to be a basketball star. She eventually changed her mind and tried to write a novel, and then she finally decided to try studying at Cordon Bleu, the famous school of French cooking. It was in France that she joined an elite gastronomic society of women called The Circle of Gourmets. And she wrote her first cookbook with two members of the society. Mastering the Art of French Cooking was published in 1961. It was called the best book about French cooking ever written in English.

It's the birthday of Sir Walter Scott, (books by this author) born in Edinburgh, Scotland (1771), one of the most influential novelists of all time. He said, "I am a Scotsman, therefore I had to fight my way into the world." He published his novel, Waverley (1814), as a way to pay of his debts. At the time, novels weren't seen as real literature. People thought novels were trashy and mostly read by women, and any real writer who wrote a novel was considered a sellout.

To protect his reputation, Scott published Waverley anonymously. It was a huge best seller. He went on to write many popular novels about the end of the old Scotland. He is best known for his books Rob Roy (1818) and Ivanhoe (1819).

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




  • “Writers end up writing stories—or rather, stories' shadows—and they're grateful if they can, but it is not enough. Nothing the writer can do is ever enough” —Joy Williams
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