May 9, 2009

To My Mother

by Wendell Berry

I was your rebellious son,
do you remember? Sometimes
I wonder if you do remember,
so complete has your forgiveness been.

So complete has your forgiveness been
I wonder sometimes if it did not
precede my wrong, and I erred,
safe found, within your love,

prepared ahead of me, the way home,
or my bed at night, so that almost
I should forgive you, who perhaps
foresaw the worst that I might do,

and forgave before I could act,
causing me to smile now, looking back,
to see how paltry was my worst,
compared to your forgiveness of it

already given. And this, then,
is the vision of that Heaven of which
we have heard, where those who love
each other have forgiven each other,

where, for that, the leaves are green,
the light a music in the air,
and all is unentangled,
and all is undismayed.

"To My Mother" by Wendell Berry, from Entries. © Pantheon Books, 1994. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of Ellen Bryant Voigt, (books by this author) born in Danville, Virginia, (1943). She grew up on a farm with lots of relatives in the area, and so she started playing piano because it was a way for her to be alone. She went to school to study piano and become a high school band director. She got a job playing piano at a resort, but she hated it. Then one of her friends read her "The Panther" by Rilke and a poem by E.E. Cummings, and she was so inspired that she switched to studying literature. She has written several books of poetry, including Kyrie (1995), The Forces of Plenty (1983), and most recently, Messenger: New and Selected Poems (2007). She said, "Resist any temptation to use the poem to make its readers like you, or admire you, or forgive you."

It's the birthday of Joy Harjo, (books by this author) born in Tulsa, Oklahoma (1951). She's a member of the Muscogee Creek tribe. She was 16, seriously depressed, when she got accepted to a high school in Santa Fe, the Institute of American Indian Arts. She said, "I arrived there barely alive … I was given permission to be human." From there, she went to the Iowa Writers' Workshop, where she felt out of place among so many white men — she and her classmate, Sandra Cisneros, were mostly silent in their classes. But they became close friends and encouraged each other in their writing, and both went on to become successful writers. Joy Harjo has published many collections of poetry, including She Had Some Horses (1983), In Mad Love and War (1990), and most recently, How We Became Human (2002).

It's the birthday of Mona Van Duyn, (books by this author) born in Waterloo, Iowa (1921). She was shy, and others kids made fun of her for being smart and tall. She filled notebook after notebook with poems. No one knew she was a writer until she published her first book of poetry, Valentines to the Wide World (1959), at age 38. She said: "I believe that good poetry can be as ornate as a cathedral or as bare as a pottingshed, as long as it confronts the self with honesty and fullness. Nobody is born with the capacity to perform this act of confrontation, in poetry or anywhere else; one's writing career is simply a continuing effort to increase one's skill at it."

It's the birthday of poet Charles Simic, (books by this author) born in Belgrade, Yugoslavia (1938). Belgrade was bombed during WWII, and the boy's childhood there was traumatic. He said, "Hitler and Stalin taught us the basics." In 1954, Charles and his mother moved to New York and then Oak Park, Illinois, where his father had found work. Simic wanted to write, but he didn't start speaking English until he was 15, so he decided to write poetry, which didn't use as many words as fiction. In 1961, he was drafted into the Army, and then he moved to New York to get his degree at NYU. He said: "You could smell a certain high lunacy in New York. All those street scenes, sights, made a tremendous impression on my mind — I have an endless anthology of them." He has published more than 20 collections of poetry.

He said: "Many of my shortest and seemingly simple poems took years to get right. I tinker with most of my poems even after publication. I expect to be revising in my coffin as it is being lowered into the ground."

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




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