Category Archives: Birthday

Today in 1936, Poet June Jordan is Born

Today in 1936One of the most widely-published and highly-acclaimed African American writers of her generation, poet, playwright and essayist June Jordan was known for her fierce commitment to human rights and political activism. Over a career that produced twenty-seven volumes of poems, essays, libretti, and work for children, Jordan engaged the fundamental struggles of her era: for civil rights, women’s rights, and sexual freedom. A prolific writer across genres, Jordan’s poetry is known for its immediacy and accessibility as well as its interest in identity and the representation of personal, lived experience—her poetry is often deeply autobiographical. Jordan’s work also frequently imagines a radical, globalized notion of solidarity amongst the world’s marginalized and oppressed. In volumes like Some Changes (1971), Living Room (1985) and Kissing God Goodbye: Poems 1991-1997 (1997), Jordan uses conversational, often vernacular English to address topics ranging from family, bisexuality, political oppression, African American identity and racial inequality, and memory. Regarded as one of the key figures in the mid-century African American social, political and artistic milieu, Jordan also taught at many of the country’s most prestigious universities including Yale, State University of New York-Stony Brook, and the University of California-Berkley, where she founded Poetry for the People. Her honors and awards included fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Massachusetts Council on the Arts, and the New York Foundation for the Arts, a Rockefeller Foundation grant, and the National Association of Black Journalists Award.

Read the complete biography from the Poetry Foundation
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Poem for My Love

By June Jordan

How do we come to be here next to each other   

in the night

Where are the stars that show us to our love   

inevitable

Outside the leaves flame usual in darkness   

and the rain

falls cool and blessed on the holy flesh   

the black men waiting on the corner for   

a womanly mirage

I am amazed by peace

It is this possibility of you

asleep

and breathing in the quiet air

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Today’s Birthday: Maxine Kumin

Poet Maxine Kumin was born on June 6, 1925, in Germantown, Pennsylvania to Peter and Belle (Doll) Winokur.

How It Is

MAXINE KUMIN

Shall I say how it is in your clothes?

A month after your death I wear your blue jacket.   

The dog at the center of my life recognizes   

you’ve come to visit, he’s ecstatic.

In the left pocket, a hole.

In the right, a parking ticket

delivered up last August on Bay State Road.   

In my heart, a scatter like milkweed,

a flinging from the pods of the soul.

My skin presses your old outline.

It is hot and dry inside.
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I think of the last day of your life,

old friend, how I would unwind it, paste   

it together in a different collage,

back from the death car idling in the garage,   

back up the stairs, your praying hands unlaced,   

reassembling the bits of bread and tuna fish   

into a ceremony of sandwich,

running the home movie backward to a space   

we could be easy in, a kitchen place

with vodka and ice, our words like living meat.
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Dear friend, you have excited crowds

with your example. They swell

like wine bags, straining at your seams.   

I will be years gathering up our words,   

fishing out letters, snapshots, stains,

leaning my ribs against this durable cloth

to put on the dumb blue blazer of your death.
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Maxine Kumin

Maxine Kumin, “How It Is” from Selected Poems 1960-1990

 

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Where Corals Lie

Where Corals LieToday (June 2nd) is Sir Edward Elgar’s birthday. “Where Corals Lie” is a poem by Richard Garnett which was set to music by Sir Edward Elgar as the fourth song in his song-cycle Sea Pictures. The poem was first published in Io in Egypt and other poems in 1859 and subsequently anthologized in Sea Music in 1888.

(Italicised text indicates lines repeated in the song, but not in the original poem.)

The deeps have music soft and low
When winds awake the airy spry,
It lures me, lures me on to go
And see the land where corals lie.
The land, the land, where corals lie.
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By mount and mead, by lawn and rill,
When night is deep, and moon is high,
That music seeks and finds me still,
And tells me where the corals lie.
And tells me where the corals lie.
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Yes, press my eyelids close, ’tis well,
Yes, press my eyelids close, ’tis well,
But far the rapid fancies fly
To rolling worlds of wave and shell,
And all the land where corals lie.
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Thy lips are like a sunset glow,
Thy smile is like a morning sky,
Yet leave me, leave me, let me go
And see the land where corals lie.
The land, the land, where corals lie.
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On June 28, we will read and discuss poetry inspired by a piece of music, or vice-versa. Please bring your own favourite example and, preferably, post it on the blog via the CONTACT US page, or email it to me directly. See the SCHEDULE PAGE for selections to-date.
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Listen to “Where Corals Lie” sung by Dame Janet Baker

 

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Today’s Birthday: Rabindranath Tagore (1861)

tagore-2Rabindranath Tagore was a Bengali poet, philosopher, artist, writer, and composer whose works reshaped Bengali literature and music in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. His writings, which often exhibit rhythmic lyricism, colloquial language, and philosophical contemplation, received worldwide acclaim. He became Asia’s first Nobel laureate when he received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1913.
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Where The Mind Is Without Fear

by Rabindranath Tagore

Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high 
Where knowledge is free 
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments 
By narrow domestic walls 
Where words come out from the depth of truth 
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection 
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way 
Into the dreary desert sand of dead habit 
Where the mind is led forward by thee 
Into ever-widening thought and action 
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake. 

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Today’s Birthday: Marge Piercy

American poet, novelist, and social activist Marge Piercy was born on March 26, 1936.

Today's Birthday Marge PiercyThe cat’s song

by Marge Piercy

Mine, says the cat, putting out his paw of darkness.
My lover, my friend, my slave, my toy, says
the cat making on your chest his gesture of drawing
milk from his mother’s forgotten breasts.
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Let us walk in the woods, says the cat.
I’ll teach you to read the tabloid of scents,
to fade into shadow, wait like a trap, to hunt.
Now I lay this plump warm mouse on your mat.
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You feed me, I try to feed you, we are friends,
says the cat, although I am more equal than you.
Can you leap twenty times the height of your body?
Can you run up and down trees? Jump between roofs?
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Let us rub our bodies together and talk of touch.
My emotions are pure as salt crystals and as hard.
My lusts glow like my eyes. I sing to you in the mornings
walking round and round your bed and into your face.
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Come I will teach you to dance as naturally
as falling asleep and waking and stretching long, long.
I speak greed with my paws and fear with my whiskers.
Envy lashes my tail. Love speaks me entire, a word
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of fur. I will teach you to be still as an egg
and to slip like the ghost of wind through the grass. 

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Today’s Birthday: Naomi Shihab Nye

The Art of DisappearingNaomi Shihab Nye was born in St. Louis, Missouri on March 12, 1952.
See:
The Art of Disappearing

KINDNESS

The Words Under the Words

 

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Today’s Birthday: Constance Fenimore Woolson

Constance Fenimore WoolsonNovelist, short story writer, and poet Constance Fenimore Woolson, who chose a literary career over marriage and motherhood, was born on March 5, 1840.

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Today’s Birthday: Johan Ludvig Runeberg

Johan Ludvig Runeberg-imageJohan Ludvig Runeberg (1804-1877) is widely regarded as Finland’s greatest poet. His work embodied the patriotic spirit of his countrymen and, because it was written in Swedish, exerted a great influence on Swedish literature as well. One of his poems, “Vîrtland” (“Our Country”), became the Finnish national anthem.
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Schools throughout Finland are closed on Runeberg’s birthday. Busts and pictures of him are displayed in shop windows,particularly in Helsinki, with rows of white candles placed in the foreground. A special ceremony is observed at Runeberg’s monument in the Esplanade, where his statue is decorated with garlands of pine and spruce, suspended between four huge torches. Students lay wreaths of flowers at the foot of the monument and sing the national anthem. At night the torches arelit, and lighted candles burn in the windows of houses and apartments.
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from Johan Ludvig Runeberg’s poem Saarijärven Paavo
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Johan Ludvig Runeberg-text

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Today’s Birthday: Lord Byron

Lord_ByronShe Walks in Beauty

By Lord Byron (George Gordon)

She walks in beauty, like the night 

Of cloudless climes and starry skies; 

And all that’s best of dark and bright 

Meet in her aspect and her eyes; 

Thus mellowed to that tender light 

Which heaven to gaudy day denies.
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One shade the more, one ray the less, 

Had half impaired the nameless grace 

Which waves in every raven tress, 

Or softly lightens o’er her face; 

Where thoughts serenely sweet express, 

How pure, how dear their dwelling-place.
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And on that cheek, and o’er that brow, 

So soft, so calm, yet eloquent, 

The smiles that win, the tints that glow, 

But tell of days in goodness spent, 

A mind at peace with all below, 

A heart whose love is innocent!

 

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Today’s Birthday: Nelly Sachs

Nelly SachsPoet Leonie Nelly Sachs was born in Berlin on December 10, 1891. On May 16, 1940 she and her mother boarded the last flight to Sweden, fleeing the Nazis. She won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1966.

Read the complete bio for Nelly Sachs.
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The Crooked Line of Suffering
by Nelly Sachs

The crooked line of suffering
stumbling along the godfired
geometry of the universe
forever on the  trail of light leading to you
and dimmed  again in the falling sickness
impatient to reach the end –
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Die gekrümmte Linie des Leidens
nachtastend die göttlich entzündete 
Geometrie des Weltalls 
immer auf der Leuchtspur zu dir
und verdunkelt wieder in der Fallsucht 
dieser Ungeduld ans Ende zu kommen –    

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