Jan. 31, 2010


by Dawn Potter

The lilacs are fading; their petals are falling.
The ants have crawled into their holes.
The children are restlessly tossing their beds.
The horses are chasing their foals.

The dark, oh the dark, flies upon us so fast.
The little boys roll up and down.
Their feet kick the walls, and they churn up the sheets,
while sailors jump ship and then drown,

and armies hunt men, and butchers kill hogs,
and hurricanes level the towns
on the coast where the sea goes on slapping the shore,
and the dogs run careening like clowns.

"Lullaby" by Dawn Potter, from Boy Land & Other Poems. © Deerbrook Editions, 2004. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of (Pearl) Zane Grey, (books by this author) born in Zanesville, Ohio (1872). He's one of the most popular writers of Westerns of all time. He started out as a dentist, and only wrote in his spare time. He's the author of Riders of the Purple Sage (1912) and many other novels.

It's the birthday of Thomas Merton, (books by this author) born in Prades, France (1915). Merton was a Trappist monk, but he was also the author of more than 50 books, 2,000 poems, and a personal diary that spanned much of his lifetime.

Merton decided to write his master's thesis on William Blake, and he found himself deeply influenced by Blake. He converted to Christianity, and in 1941 he entered a Trappist abbey in Kentucky, where he remained for most of his life. In his diary from this time, Merton wrote, "Going to the Trappists is exciting. I return to the idea again and again: 'Give up everything, give up everything!'" Merton had become well-known throughout the world, in part because of his writing, in particular his autobiography The Seven Story Mountain (1948).

It's the birthday of short-story writer and novelist John O'Hara, (books by this author) born in Pottsville, Pennsylvania (1905). He was a newspaper reporter who started writing fiction on the side and went on to become one of the most popular serious writers of his lifetime, writing many best-selling novels, including Appointment in Samarra (1934) and A Rage to Live (1949). Most critics consider his best work to be his short stories, which were published as the Collected Stories of John O'Hara (1984). He published more than 300 stories in The New Yorker magazine.

It's the birthday of Norman Mailer, (books by this author) born in Long Branch, New Jersey (1923). His novel The Naked and the Dead (1948) became the definitive literary novel about World War II, and it made Norman Mailer famous at the age of 25. Twenty years later, he wrote the book The Armies of the Night (1968), for which he won the Pulitzer Prize for nonfiction.

Today is the 50th birthday of Scottish comic book author and playwright Grant Morrison, (books by this author) born in Glasgow (1960). He worked for the British branch of Marvel Comics in the early 1980s, and then in 1987 he created what he said was "a reaction against torment superheroes" — a Generation X superhero called Zenith, also known as Robert MacDowell, who's contemptuous of conservative British parliamentary politics, culturally sensitive, and bitingly satirical. Morrison has since worked on several projects for DC comics, including an ongoing revamping of Superman and a series on Batman. He's working on a book due out later this year from Random House called Supergods: Our World in the Age of the Superhero.

It's the birthday of the man who won the 1994 Nobel Prize in literature, Japanese novelist Kenzaburō Ōe, (books by this author) born in Uchiko, Japan (1935). He wrote a thesis on the work of French intellectual Jean-Paul Sartre, and he began to write fiction in his mid-20s. While he was still in his 20s, his first son was born with a genetic defect that caused permanent brain damage. Ōe was devastated and felt a sense of guilt and shame, that this was his own fault. Around the same time, he traveled to Hiroshima, and there he realized that people sick from radiation poisoning had similar feelings of guilt and shame. He began to write about his own experience in A Personal Matter (1964), a dark novel about a man named Bird who struggles to love his son born with brain damage.

It's the birthday of the man who holds the European record for reciting pi from memory, Daniel Paul Tammet, (books by this author) born in London in 1979, who recited pi — the number that begins 3.14 — all the way to 22,514 digits. He did this in 5 hours and 9 minutes. He's the author of Born on a Blue Day: Inside the Extraordinary Mind of an Autistic Savant (2007), a memoir that describes growing up autistic, epileptic, and with synesthesia, a rare condition in which a person has unique sensory experiences. Tammet himself describes it as "a visual, emotional experience of numbers ... [a] neurological mixing of the senses, which most commonly results in the ability to see alphabetical letters and/or numbers in color." The writer Vladimir Nabokov was also a synesthete, and he documented his perspectives and experiences in the memoir Speak, Memory.

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