Oct. 21, 2008

Classic Ballroom Dances

by Charles Simic

Grandmothers who wring the necks
Of chickens; old nuns
With names like Theresa, Marianne,
Who pull schoolboys by the ear;

The intricate steps of pickpockets
Working the crowd of the curious
At the scene of an accident; the slow shuffle
Of the evangelist with a sandwich board;

The hesitation of the early-morning customer
Peeking through the window grille
Of a pawnshop; the weave of a little kid
Who is walking to school with eyes closed;

And the ancient lovers, cheek to cheek,
On the dance floor of the Union Hall,
Where they also hold charity raffles
On rainy Monday nights of an eternal November.

"Classic Ballroom Dances" by Charles Simic from Charles Simic: Selected Early Poems. © George Braziller, 2000. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of jazz trumpeter and composer Dizzy Gillespie, born in Cheraw, South Carolina (1917). He said, "I don't care too much about music. What I like is sounds."

It's the birthday of the Romantic poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge, (books by this author) born in Devonshire, England (1772). He wrote "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner."

It's the birthday of science fiction writer Ursula K. Le Guin, (books by this author) born in Berkeley, California (1929). She grew up in a family of academics. Her mother, Theodora Kroeber, was a psychologist and writer. Her father, Alfred Kroeber, was the first person to receive a Ph.D. in anthropology from Columbia University, and he was called the "Dean of American anthropologists." He specialized in researching Native American cultures, and he befriended the last member of a Native American tribe called the Yahi. This man, given the name "Ishi," was believed to be the last Native American to grow up in California completely untouched by the influence of white settlers. Most of Ishi's family had been massacred during the Gold Rush in California in 1865, and he and the remaining members of the Yahi went into hiding. Ishi wandered into town one day, when he was about 50 years old, and he was taken to the University of California Museum of Anthropology. Alfred devoted much of his life to studying Ishi's language, mannerisms, and habits in order to understand the now-extinct Yahi culture. He took extensive notes on Ishi, which his wife Theodora used to write the book Ishi in Two Worlds (1961).

Because of her father's specialty, Ursula Le Guin grew up with Native American myths, and her parents also told her Irish folktales and Norwegian myths. She studied literature at Radcliffe, and then received a Fulbright scholarship to do research in France. She met a history professor, fell in love, and within a few months she and Charles Le Guin were married. She moved around with her husband's teaching jobs, and she wrote poetry. Over the course of 10 years she wrote five novels, none of which were published. Publishers in the 1950s thought her writing was too "remote." So she began to write science fiction. She found a niche in the genres of science fiction and fantasy, and she has been incredibly prolific for the last four decades. She has published more than 100 short stories, 20 novels, 11 children's books, six volumes of poetry, and four volumes of translation. She's best known for her Earthsea books, a fantasy series that takes place in a world populated by wizards and dragons. She also wrote the Hainish Cycle — science fiction novels set in an imaginary universe where the residents are genderless.

An interviewer once asked her advice for writers, and she replied, "I am going to be rather hard-nosed and say that if you have to find devices to coax yourself to stay focused on writing, perhaps you should not be writing what you're writing. And if this lack of motivation is a constant problem, perhaps writing is not your forte. I mean, what is the problem? If writing bores you, that is pretty fatal. If that is not the case, but you find that it is hard going and it just doesn't flow, well, what did you expect? It is work; art is work."

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




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