Apr. 17, 2009

Field Guide

by Billy Collins

No one I ask knows the name of the flower
we pulled the car to the side of the road to pick
and that I point to dangling purple from my lapel.

I am passing through the needle of spring
in North Carolina, as ignorant of the flowers of the south
as the woman at the barbecue stand who laughs
and the man who gives me a look as he pumps the gas

and everyone else I ask on the way to the airport
to return to where this purple madness is not seen
blazing against the sober pines and rioting along the

On the plane, the stewardess is afraid she cannot answer
my question, now insistent with the fear that I will leave
the province of this flower without its sound in my ear.

Then, as if he were giving me the time of day, a passenger
looks up from his magazine and says wisteria.

"Field Guide" by Billy Collins from Questions about Angels. © William Morrow and Company, 1991. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of one of the most successful contemporary British novelists, Nick Hornby, (books by this author) born in Maidenhead, England (1957). His books include Fever Pitch (1992), High Fidelity (1995), About a Boy (1998), and A Long Way Down (2005). His newest novel, Juliet, Naked, will be released this fall.

It's the birthday of novelist and essayist Cynthia Ozick, (books by this author) born in New York City (1928). She is the author of The Messiah of Stockholm (1987) and The Puttermesser Papers (1997). She said: "The sentence is my primary element, my tool, goal, bliss. Each new sentence is a heart-in-the mouth experiment."

It's the birthday of Isak Dinesen, (books by this author) born near Copenhagen, Denmark (1885). She and her husband moved to Kenya, where they started a coffee plantation, and she wrote a book about her experiences there, Out of Africa (1937). It made her one of the most popular Danish writers of all time.

It's the birthday of Irish poet Brendan Kennelly, (books by this author) born in Ballylongford, County Kerry (1936). He's a literature professor at Trinity College in Dublin, and a very popular poet — he has published more than 20 books of poems. He said, "To be born in Ireland is to inherit not only one of the most beautiful little countries in the world, but also an entire legacy of prejudices, hatreds, clichés, and an impressive supply of apparently invincible ignorance." One of his best-known works is Cromwell (1983), a book-length poem about the English leader who invaded Ireland in the mid-1700s and sought to wipe-out Catholicism. Another of his books is The Book of Judas (1991), a 400-page epic poem from Judas's point of view. He said: "Poetry is, above all, a singing art of natural and magical connection because, though it is born out of one's person's solitude, it has the ability to reach out and touch in a humane and warmly illuminating way the solitude, even the loneliness, of others. That is why, to me, poetry is one of the most vital treasures that humanity possesses; it is a bridge between separated souls."

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