Feb. 1, 2012

Bright Sun after Heavy Snow

by Jane Kenyon

A ledge of ice slides from the eaves,
piercing the crusted drift. Astonishing
how even a little violence
eases the mind.

In this extreme state of light
everything seems flawed: the streaked
pane, the forced bulbs on the sill
that refuse to bloom...A wad of dust
rolls like a desert weed
over the drafty floor.

Again I recall a neighbor's
small affront — it rises in my mind
like the huge banks of snow along the road:
the plow, passing up and down all day,
pushes them higher and higher...

The shadow of smoke rising from the chimney
moves abruptly over the yard.
The clothesline rises in the wind. One
wooden pin is left, solitary as a finger;
it, too, rises and falls.

"Bright Sun after Heavy Snow" by Jane Kenyon, from The Boat of Quiet Hours. © Graywolf Press, 1986. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of humorist S.J. Perelman (books by this author), born Sidney Joseph Perelman in Brooklyn, New York (1904). His father was a Russian immigrant who tried to make a living as a poultry farmer. Perelman said his father believed "that if you had a few acres and a chicken farm there was no limit to your possible wealth. I grew up with and have since retained the keenest hatred of chickens."

He worked as a cartoonist when he was in college, but he switched to writing humorous essays, which he published in The New Yorker. His first collection of essays, Dawn Ginsbergh's Revenge, came out in 1929. Groucho Marx wrote him a letter that said: "From the moment I picked up your book until I put it down, I was convulsed with laughter. Some day I intend to read it."

Groucho Marx persuaded Perelman to move to Hollywood to write screenplays. He worked on Marx Brothers movies such as Monkey Business (1931) and Horse Feathers (1932), but he hated Hollywood. So he went back to writing essays for The New Yorker. His many essay collections include The Ill-Tempered Clavichord (1952) and Chicken Inspector No. 23 (1966).

One of his essays begins: "I guess I'm just an old mad scientist at bottom. Give me an underground laboratory, half a dozen atom-smashers, and a beautiful girl in a diaphanous veil waiting to be turned into a chimpanzee, and I care not who writes the nation's laws."

It's the birthday of poet Galway Kinnell (books by this author), born in Providence, Rhode Island (1927). His roommate in college was the poet W.S. Merwin, who once woke him up in the middle of the night and read Yeats to him until dawn. After that night, Kinnell devoted himself to writing poetry in the style of Yeats. He eventually found his own voice as a poet, but he named all of his children after important figures in Yeats's work.

He has written many books of poetry, including Body Rags (1968), Mortal Acts, Mortal Words (1980), and Strong Is Your Hold (2006).

It's the birthday of novelist Muriel Spark (books by this author), born in Edinburgh, Scotland (1918). When she was growing up, she wrote love letters to herself, signed them with men's names, and hid them in the sofa cushions in the hope of shocking her mother.

She was a prolific novelist. She's best known for The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1961). Her last novel, The Finishing School (2004), was published when she was 86 years old. She died in 2006.

It's the birthday of writer Langston Hughes (books by this author), born in Joplin, Missouri (1902). He went to Columbia University for a year, but then he decided that he wanted to learn from traveling instead of books, so he traveled to West Africa and Europe.

He moved back to the United States, and became a pivotal figure during the Harlem Renaissance. He was one of the first African-American poets to embrace the language of working-class black Americans.

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




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