Apr. 25, 2010

Stripping and Putting On

by May Swenson

I always felt like a bird blown through the world.
I never felt like a tree.

I never wanted a patch of this earth to stand in,
that would stick to me.

I wanted to move by whatever throb my muscles
sent to me.

I never cared for cars, that crawled on land or
air or sea.

If I rode, I'd rather another animal: horse, camel,
or shrewd donkey.

Never needed a nest, unless for the night, or when
winter overtook me.

Never wanted an extra skin between mine and the sun,
for vanity or modesty.

Would rather not have parents, had no yen for a child,
and never felt brotherly.

But I'd borrow or lend love of friend. Let friend be
not stronger or weaker than me.

Never hankered for Heaven, or shield from a Hell,
or played with the puppets Devil and Deity.

I never felt proud as one of the crowd under
the flag of a country.

Or felt that my genes were worth more or less than beans,
by accident of ancestry.

Never wished to buy or sell. I would just as well
not touch money.

Never wanted to own a thing that wasn't I born with.
Or to act by a fact not discovered by me.

I always felt like a bird blown through the world.
But I would like to lay

the egg of a world in a nest of calm beyond
this world's storm and decay.

I would like to own such wings as light speeds on,
far from this globule of night and day.

I would like to be able to put on, like clothes,
the bodies of all those

creatures and things hatched under the wings
of that world.

"Stripping and Putting On" by May Swenson, from Nature: Poems Old and New. © Houghton Mifflin Company, 2000. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of poet Ted Kooser, (books by this author) born in Ames, Iowa (1939). He is a former poet laureate of the United States (2004–2006), author of a dozen poetry collections, and winner of the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for poetry. His books include Delights & Shadows (2004), Winter Morning Walks: One Hundred Postcards to Jim Harrison (2000), Weather Central (1994), One World at a Time (1985), and Sure Signs (1980).

For 35 years, he worked in the insurance industry in Nebraska. Each morning, he woke at the crack of dawn to write poems and then headed off to his job at Lincoln Benefit Life Company, where he eventually became vice president. He retired at age 60, became a professor of poetry, and continues to write early each morning. He said, "I feel that I'm really fortunate if at the end of a year, after writing every day, I have a dozen poems I care about."

Many of his poems are very short, and he revises extensively. He said that a poem sometimes goes through 30 or 40 versions. He said, "I revise toward clarity and away from difficulty, wanting the poem to appear to be written with ease." He has never written a first draft of a poem that went unrevised before publication.

He's written a few prose books as well, including Local Wonders: Seasons in the Bohemian Alps (2002) about his southeastern Nebraska homelands. He also wrote The Poetry Home Repair Manual (2005), a sort of guidebook to the art of writing and revising poetry, which he published while he was poet laureate.

It's the birthday of conservative thinker and best-selling author Dinesh D'Souza, (books by this author) born in Mumbai, India (1961). He grew up playing hockey, cricket, and badminton, and attending rigorous Catholic Jesuit schools in India. Then he won a scholarship from the Rotary International Club to spend his senior year of high school in rural southern Arizona. He decided to stay in the States. He majored in English at Dartmouth, wrote for the campus's conservative newspaper, graduated and edited some policy journals, and by the time he was 26 — before he'd even become a U.S. citizen — he was meeting with President Reagan to advise him on civil rights and constitutional issues.

In 1991, he published Illiberal Education, the first book to analyze the development and idea of "political correctness." It spent 15 weeks on the New York Times best-seller list, and later was cited as one of the 1990s' most influential books.

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