Category Archives: Birthday

Happy 100th Birthday Lawrence Ferlinghetti!

Happy 100th Birthday Lawrence Ferlinghetti!D.A. POWELL, MAXINE HONG KINGSTON, AND MORE, ON A LIVING LEGEND

The year Lawrence Ferlinghetti was born in Yonkers, New York, (March 24, 1919)  an American expatriate named Sylvia Beach opened a bookstore on the Left Bank in Paris. Shakespeare & Co, as she called it, would become the best salon in town. A home-away-from-home for American writers, publisher of early works of modernism, including Joyce’s Ulysses, and proof positive that bookshops can absolutely be handmaidens to what they sell.
Perhaps there was a special moon dust in the air that year, the Great War just ending. For 35 years and $500 later, Mr. Ferlinghetti was in the same business. Only in his case, he’d create a home-away-from-home for anyone who felt like an ex-patriate in their own country. City Lights the store, the journal attached to it, and the publisher which grew out of it has changed the face of American letters almost as much as Harlem.
While much of the country was falling in love with “The Ten Commandments,” Ferlinghetti’s store and what it stocked beckoned its visitors to think, to be socially engaged, to challenge the monstrosity that America had become (and in many ways, always has been). “If you would be a poet,” Ferlinghetti wrote in Poetry as Insurgent Art, “create works capable of answering the challenge of/apocalyptic times, even if this meaning sounds apocalyptic.”

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The changing light
Lawrence Ferlinghetti

The changing light

                at San Francisco

      is none of your East Coast light

               none of your

                           pearly light of Paris

The light of San Francisco

                       is a sea light

                                      an island light

And the light of fog

               blanketing the hills

         drifting in at night

                  through the Golden Gate

                                      to lie on the city at dawn

And then the halcyon late mornings

      after the fog burns off

        and the sun paints white houses

                                with the sea light of Greece

                with sharp clean shadows

                      making the town look like

                               it had just been painted

But the wind comes up at four o’clock

                                    sweeping the hills

And then the veil of light of early evening

And then another scrim

                 when the new night fog

                                    floats in

And in that vale of light

                  the city drifts

                                anchorless upon the ocean

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Poetry and Action: Octavio Paz at 100

Joel Whitney

Poetry and ActionWhen protest movements spread through cities around the world in 1968, Octavio Paz looked upon the “great youth rebellions . . . from afar,” he wrote, “with astonishment and with hope.” The poet was then Mexico’s ambassador to India. He escaped the summer heat of New Delhi into the foothills of the Himalayas, following developments on the radio. Soon, he learned that Mexico had joined the rebellions. Mexico would host the Olympics in October. As protests grew entrenched, and students threatened to disrupt the games, government repression intensified. On October 2, hundreds of student protesters were killed at Mexico’s City’s Tlatelolco Plaza. Hearing the grim news, Ambassador Paz’s response was a swift vote of no confidence, a letter of unambiguous dissent. It was, as he described the rebellions themselves, the merging of poetry and action, a merger he constantly craved.
Paz was poetry’s great universalist. Winner of the 1990 Nobel Prize in Literature, he absorbed many of the great movements of the twentieth century: Marxism, surrealism, the European avant garde. Early in the Spanish Civil War, he tried his hand at social realism, and he admired North American poetry, especially Whitman, Pound, Eliot, and Williams. His ambassadorship to India in the 1960s introduced him to the pillars of Hindu and Buddhist thought.

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Today’s Birthday: Elizabeth Bishop

ELIZABETH BISHOP_S MISUNDERSTOOD “BRAZIL”Elizabeth Bishop was born on February 8, 1911, in Worcester, Massachusetts.

One Art


The art of losing isn’t hard to master;

so many things seem filled with the intent

to be lost that their loss is no disaster.

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster

of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.

The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

Then practice losing farther, losing faster:

places, and names, and where it was you meant

to travel. None of these will bring disaster.

I lost my mother’s watch. And look! my last, or

next-to-last, of three loved houses went.

The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,

some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.

I miss them, but it wasn’t a disaster.

—Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture

I love) I shan’t have lied. It’s evident

the art of losing’s not too hard to master

though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.
Listen to Imtiaz Dharker read “One Art” by Elizabeth Bishop

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September 7th Birthday: Elinor Wylie

Elinor (Hoyt) Wylie (September 7, 1885 – December 16, 1928) was an American poet and novelist who was popular before World War II. She was a contemporary of Edna St. Vincent Millay.
Today_s Birthday-Elinor WylieRead the May, 1928 issue of Poetry Magazine containing two poems by Elinor Wylie.

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Today’s Birthday: Witter Bynner

Today_s Birthday Witter BynnerWitter Bynner was born in Brooklyn, New York, on August 10, 1881. He graduated from Harvard University in 1902. After college, he worked as a newspaper reporter and, later, as the assistant editor of McClure’s magazine.
Bynner published his first poetry collection, An Ode to Harvard in 1907. He was also the author of New Poems , Take Away the Darkness , The Beloved Stranger, Tiger and several other poetry collections.
The Robin

Witter Bynner

Except within poetic pale

  I have not found a nightingale,

Nor hearkened in a dusky vale

  To song and silence blending;

No stock-dove have I ever heard,

Nor listened to a cuckoo-bird,

  Nor seen a lark ascending.

But I have felt a pulse-beat start

  Because a robin, spending

The utmost of his simple art

Some of his pleasure to impart

  While twilight came descending,

Has found an answer in my heart,

  A sudden comprehending.

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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
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   


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


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


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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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
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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