Aug. 17, 2008


by Elise Partridge

Late August night,
I'm dozing in bed —

crickets sturdily cheeping —
elm nodding its head —

suddenly, flare!
glaring swath —

star, plummeting —
singed path.

If only some giant
had tossed that huge ball

through galaxy air —
if it hadn't fallen

and snuffed itself out
blazing along its arc,

but lay safe, nestled
in a glove in the dark

(a fireproof mitt:
thick clouds, congealed) —

the fielder pivoting
at the edge of the field. . . .

"August" by Elise Partridge from Fielder's Choice. © Signal editions, 2002. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of actress and playwright Mae West, (books by this author) born in Brooklyn, New York (1893). She said, "When women go wrong, men go right after them."

And, "Too much of a good thing can be wonderful."

It's the birthday of poet Ted Hughes, (books by this author) born in West Yorkshire, England (1930). He grew up in the country, surrounded by empty, desolate moors. He said, "[I could] never escape the impression that the whole region [was] in mourning for the First World War."

He studied literature in college, but he shifted his focus to anthropology and archaeology, which influenced his poetry. He often put himself into a trance before he writing, and he tried to take the point of view of animals. At a time when other poets were writing about domestic life and politics, he was writing violent poems based on ancient mythology.

After graduating from college, he and some friends started a literary magazine. They only printed one issue, but at the publication party, Hughes met a young American woman named Sylvia Plath who was studying in England on a Fulbright scholarship. It was apparently love at first sight. While they were married Hughes was much more famous than Plath. In 1963, they separated after he fell in love with another woman. That winter, while living with their children, Plath committed suicide by sticking her head in the oven. Hughes published her book of poems Ariel (1965), which included angry poems like "Daddy" and "Lady Lazarus." Plath became a symbol of the way women are destroyed by men. Women began to show up at Hughes's poetry readings, shouting that he was a murderer. People have scratched out his name on Sylvia Plath's tombstone. He didn't make any public comments about his marriage to Plath, but people were outraged when he admitted that he had destroyed her last diary.

In 1998, he published a book of poems addressed to Sylvia Plath called Birthday Letters. It was the first time he had ever written about their relationship since her death. He said he would have had a more fruitful life if he'd written the book sooner. He died that same year.

It's the birthday of novelist Jonathan Franzen, (books by this author) born in Western Springs, Illinois (1959). His first two novels, The Twenty-Seventh City (1988) and Strong Motion (1992), got good reviews, but they did not sell well.

He spent years working on his next novel, getting nowhere. After five years, he had written hundreds of pages, but he still didn't know what the book was about. He drew a giant diagram, graphing out the events, themes, and characters. He finally decided to throw everything away except for one chapter and started over. He wrote the rest of the book in less than a year.

The Corrections was published in 2001. It's about a mother who wants all of her adult children to come to her house for one last Christmas before their father dies. It was a huge success. He said, "I would no sooner fall in love with a humorless book than with a humorless woman."

It's the birthday of novelist V.S. Naipaul, (books by this author) born in Chaguanas, Trinidad (1932). His first novel, The Mystic Masseur (1957), was a sort of gentle satire of his own early life, about a young Indian man rising in the ranks of his colonial world by adopting the mannerisms of the imperial Anglo culture. In 1962, he traveled to India, and his journey became the basis of An Area of Darkness (1964).

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