Category Archives: Birthday

Today’s Birthday: Naomi Shihab Nye

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


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.
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.
from Johan Ludvig Runeberg’s poem Saarijärven Paavo
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.
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.
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.

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 –
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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Today’s Birthday, Sharon Olds

Sharon-OldsBorn in San Francisco on November 19, 1942, Sharon Olds earned a BA at Stanford University and a PhD at Columbia University.
Her first collection of poems, Satan Says (University of Pittsburgh Press, 1980), received the inaugural San Francisco Poetry Center Award. Olds’s following collection, The Dead & the Living (Alfred A. Knopf, 1984), received the Lamont Poetry Selection in 1983 and the National Book Critics Circle Award.
Her other collections include Stag’s Leap (Alfred A. Knopf, 2012), recipient of the Pulitzer Prize and the T. S. Eliot Prize; One Secret Thing (Random House, 2008); Strike Sparks: Selected Poems(Alfred A. Knopf, 2004); The Unswept Room (Alfred A. Knopf, 2002); Blood, Tin, Straw (Alfred A. Knopf, 1999); The Gold Cell(Alfred A. Knopf, 1997); The Wellspring (Alfred A. Knopf, 1995); and The Father (Alfred A. Knopf, 1992); which was shortlisted for the T. S. Eliot Prize and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award.

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Today’s Birthday: Robert Pinsky

Robert PinskyRobert Pinsky was born on October 20, 1940 in Long Branch, New Jersey. Elected Poet Laureate of the United States in 1997, his tenure was marked by ambitious efforts to prove the power of poetry—not just as an intellectual pursuit in the ivory tower, but as a meaningful and integral part of American life. “I think poetry is a vital part of our intelligence, our ability to learn, our ability to remember, the relationship between our bodies and minds,” he told the Christian Science Monitor. “Poetry’s highest purpose is to provide a unique sensation of coordination between the intelligence, emotions and the body. It’s one of the most fundamental pleasures a person can experience.” 
December Blues
by Robert Pinsky

At the bad time, nothing betrays outwardly the harsh findings,
The studies and hospital records. Carols play.
Sitting upright in the transit system, the widowlike women
Wait, hands folded in their laps, as monumental as bread.
In the shopping center lots, lights mounted on cold standards
Tower and stir, condensing the blue vapour
Of the stars; between the rows of cars people in coats walk
Bundling packages in their arms or holding the hands of children.
Across the highway, where a town thickens by the tracks
With stores open late and crèches in front of the churches,
Even in the bars a businesslike set of the face keeps off
The nostalgic pitfall of the carols, tugging. In bed,
How low and still the people lie, some awake, holding the carols
Consciously at bay. Oh Little Town, enveloped in unease. 


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Today’s Birthday: Wallace Stevens

Wallace Stevens was born in Reading, Pennsylvania, on October 2, 1879. He attended Harvard University as an undergraduate from 1897 to 1900. He planned to travel to Paris as a writer, but after a working briefly as a reporter for the New York Herald Times, he decided to study law. He graduated with a degree from New York Law School in 1903 and was admitted to the U.S. Bar in 1904. He practiced law in New York City until 1916.
Though he had serious determination to become a successful lawyer, Stevens had several friends among the New York writers and painters in Greenwich Village, including the poets William Carlos Williams, Marianne Moore, and E. E. Cummings.
In 1914, under the pseudonym “Peter Parasol,” he sent a group of poems under the title “Phases” to Harriet Monroe for a war poem competition for Poetry magazine. Stevens did not win the prize, but his work was published by Monroe in November of that year.
Anecdote of the Jar


I placed a jar in Tennessee,   

And round it was, upon a hill.   

It made the slovenly wilderness   

Surround that hill.

The wilderness rose up to it,

And sprawled around, no longer wild.   

The jar was round upon the ground   

And tall and of a port in air.

It took dominion everywhere.   

The jar was gray and bare.

It did not give of bird or bush,   

Like nothing else in Tennessee.
This poem first appeared in:

Today's Birthday Wallace Stevens

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Today’s Birthday: Rita Dove

Rita DoveRita Dove was born On August 28, 1952 in Akron, Ohio. Her books of poetry include Collected Poems 1974–2004 (W. W. Norton, 2016), Sonata Mulattica (W. W. Norton, 2009); American Smooth (W. W. Norton, 2004); On the Bus with Rosa Parks (W. W. Norton, 1999), which was named a New York Times Notable Book of the Year and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award; Mother Love (W. W. Norton, 1995); Selected Poems (Pantheon, 1993); Grace Notes (W. W. Norton, 1989); Thomas and Beulah (Carnegia-Mellon University Press, 1986), which won the 1987 Pulitzer Prize for poetry; Museum (Carnegie-Mellon University Press, 1983); and The Yellow House on the Corner (Carnegie-Mellon University Press, 1980).
by Rita Dove

Billie Holiday’s burned voice

had as many shadows as lights,

a mournful candelabra against a sleek piano,

the gardenia her signature under that ruined face.
(Now you’re cooking, drummer to bass,

magic spoon, magic needle.

Take all day if you have to

with your mirror and your bracelet of song.)

Fact is, the invention of women under siege

has been to sharpen love in the service of myth.

If you can’t be free, be a mystery.

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By Literary Hub

We’ll make do,

another day, shopping and such, bringing the meat home at night

all roseate and gleaming, ready for the frying pan.

our names will be read off a rollcall we won’t hear—

how could we? We’re not even born yet—the stars will perform their dance

privately, for us, and the pictures in the great black book

that opens at night will enchant us with their yellow harmonies.

We’ll manage to get back, someday, to the tie siding where the idea

of all this began, frustrated and a little hungry, but eager

to hear each others’ tales of what went on in the interim

of our long lives, what the tea leaves said

and whether it turned out that way. I’ll brush your bangs

a little, you’ll lean against my hip for comfort.

                       –John Ashbery, “The Underwriters,” Your Name Here (2000)

To celebrate the beloved American poet John Ashbery turning 90 today [July 28, 2017], we invited 90 of his dearest friends, collaborators, and admirers to pick a favorite line from his vast published corpus (the second volume of his Collected Poems, 1991-2000, will be published this October with Library of America) and write about it in 90 words or fewer. Ashbery’s poetic career now spans over six decades and includes more than 20 books of original poetry, the most recent being Commotion of the Birds (Ecco, 2016). His work has profoundly shaped, influenced, irritated, vexed, puzzled and/or pleased its world of readers ever since little JA began writing. His very first poem was penned in 1935, when he was eight years old: “The tall haystacks are great sugar mounds / These are the fairies’ camping grounds.”

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