After the Dash: Last Words of the Politically and Historically Infamous

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The thing that is so fascinating about a person’s final words is, of course, that the person rarely knows those  utterances will be his or her last.

One of my favorite poems is W.S. Merwin‘s “For the Anniversary of My Death”:

Every year without knowing it I have passed the day
When the last fires will wave to me
And the silence will set out
Tireless traveler
Like the beam of a lightless star
Then I will no longer
Find myself in life as in a strange garment
Surprised at the earth
And the love of one woman
And the shamelessness of men
As today writing after three days of rain
Hearing the wren sing and the falling cease
And bowing not knowing to what.

Here are ten of those now-famous, or at least, interesting, last words:

marie_antoinette
1.  Marie Antoinette
Pardon me, sir. I did not do it on purpose.” – after she accidentally stepped on the foot of her executioner as she went to the guillotine.
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2.  Dominique Bouhours (French grammarian) 

“I am about to — or I am going to — die: either expression is correct.”

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3.  King George V

“Bugger Bognor.”” – to his physician, who had suggested that he relax at his seaside palace in Bognor Regis.

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At the Intersection of Poetry and Music

Four adaptations of poems set to music: some tender, some bizarre, all personal homages to poems and their masters. Enjoy!

“I’m Nobody! Who Are You?” by Emily Dickinson

Composed by Israeli singer-songwriter Efrat Ben Zur.

I’m nobody! Who are you?
Are you nobody, too?
Then there’s a pair of us — don’t tell!
They’d banish — you know!

How dreary to be somebody!
How public like a frog
To tell one’s name the livelong day
To an admiring bog!

“Sonnet 49″ by Pablo Neruda

The best loved love poet as sung by jazz artist Luciana Souza.

It’s today: all of yesterday dropped away
among the fingers of the light and the sleeping eyes.
Tomorrow will come on its green footsteps;
no one can stop the river of the dawn.

No one can stop the river of your hands,
your eyes and their sleepiness, my dearest.
You are the trembling of time, which passes
between the vertical light and the darkening sky.

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“The Town of Books” : Don’t Even Ask About WiFi

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The Kingdom of Hay, in Wales, is more than just a little unique.  The entire “kingdom” is comprised of just 1,500 people but it boasts a whopping thirty second hand book stores… that’s one bookstore for every fifty people! Since 1960, the town has accepted used and discarded books and proudly calls itself  “The Town of Books.”  Kindles and their ilk, as you can see above, are not welcome.

The small hamlet lies on the border between England and Wales. Every year, to celebrate its love of books, Hay-on-Wye (its official name) hosts a literary festival dubbed “The Woodstock of the Mind.”

The town began its transformation to  a book haven in the mid-1960s  when one of its residents, Richard Booth, decided to start buying  books from libraries that were closing, both in the United States and Europe, and shipping them back to Hay-on-Wye. It didn’t take long to amass thousands of used books. Soon, the town had a “booming secondhand book scene.”

In 1988, the town hosted its first festival. In the intervening twenty-five years, the festival has grown in size and regularly attracts names not only in literature but also from science, and, gasp! technology, although those technophiles had better beware. (This year, Google’s Eric Schmidt was in attendance.) The town’s “Prince”  Derek Fitz-Pitt Booth Addyman warns, “People are smuggling e-readers into Hay-on-Wye, but I should make them aware that we are training poodle sniffer dogs to find them.” Probably a joke but…

If you are getting ready to pack your bags for this year’s ten day festival, better hold on. Unfortunately, the festival has just concluded. 2014’s Hay Festival runs from May 22 – June 1, 2014.

(Source)


The Daily Rituals of Ten of the World’s Most Creative People

Do you have a daily ritual when you write? I don’t know of a single writer who does not.  Maybe it’s summoning the Muse…everything must be just so if there is any hope of words appearing on paper.  Most of us are NOT like the writer, Muriel Spark who, Ann Lamott notes, “is said to have felt that she was taking dictation from God every morning — sitting there, one supposes, plugged into a Dictaphone, typing away, humming. But this is a very hostile and aggressive position. One might hope for bad things to rain down on a person like this.”stephen_king_desk

No, most writers have certain things they are committed to doing every day: common milestones are a starting time, and ending time, and a number of words that must be met. Oh, and a reward at the end (or perhaps that’s just me…. but I doubt it). Here are ten creative people who know that while the result may appear effortless, the process is paramount.

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Was Pablo Neruda Murdered?

pablo_neruda “I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where. I love you simply, without problems or pride: I love you in this way because I do not know any other way of loving but this, in which there is no I or you, so intimate that your hand upon my chest is my hand, so intimate that when I fall asleep your eyes close.”
― Pablo Neruda, 100 Love Sonnets

The man who wrote some of the most romantic verse in literature may have come to a very violent end. In 1973, just twelve days following the death of his close friend and political ally Salvadore Allende died, Neruda was found dead as well.  Allende was deposed by Augusto Pinochet, who ruled Chile for eight years, from 1973 to 1981.

allende

Salvadore Allende

pinochet

Augusto Pinochet

While the official cause was of Neruda’s death was  “complications due to prostate cancer,”  there has long been speculation that Neruda was poisoned, charges Neruda’s personal driver has leveled. In February, the court ordered that Neruda’s remains be exhumed for signs of foul play.

Some have objected to the exhumation, citing such things as the moist tropical soil that would degrade the body to such a state that any  traces would be long gone. Others argue that Chile’s forensics are not sophisticated enough to conduct a thorough analysis. Still, samples will be taken and sent elsewhere (location not announced) for the analysis.

We may never know for sure what took Neruda’s life.  But, of course, his words will live on. Here is one of my favorite of his many beautiful poems, translated by another of my favorite poets, W.S. Merwin:

Tonight I Can Write (The Saddest)

Tonight I can write the saddest lines.

Write, for example, ‘The night is starry and the stars are blue and shiver in the distance.’

The night wind revolves in the sky and sings.

Tonight I can write the saddest lines.
I loved her, and sometimes she loved me too.

Through nights like this one I held her in my arms.
I kissed her again and again under the endless sky.

She loved me, sometimes I loved her too.
How could one not have loved her great still eyes.

Tonight I can write the saddest lines.
To think that I do not have her. To feel that I have lost her.

To hear the immense night, still more immense without her.
And the verse falls to the soul like dew to the pasture.

What does it matter that my love could not keep her.
The night is starry and she is not with me.

This is all. In the distance someone is singing. In the distance.
My soul is not satisfied that it has lost her.

My sight tries to find her as though to bring her closer.
My heart looks for her,

and she is not with me.

The same night whitening the same trees.
We, of that time, are no longer the same.

I no longer love her, that’s certain, but how I loved her.
My voice tried to find the wind to touch her hearing.

Another’s. She will be another’s. As she was before my kisses.
Her voice, her bright body. Her infinite eyes.

I no longer love her, that’s certain, but maybe I love her.
Love is so short, forgetting is so long.

Because through nights like this one I held her in my arms
my soul is not satisfied that it has lost her.

Though this be the last pain that she makes me suffer
and these the last verses that I write for her.


Quoth “The Raven”: It’s My Birthday! Poe’s Poem turns 168

raven

Yesterday marked the anniversary of  the publication Edgar Allan Poe‘s classic, creepy poem “The Raven.” Although there is some dispute, the first publication of the work is generally attributed to The New York Mirror.  The poem made Poe a star, but sadly, not a fortune.

In the poem, a raven continuously visits a man who has been unlucky in love. The object of his affections, a woman named “Lenore” has been lost to him evermore. The poem’s internal rhymes and alliteration, along with its spooky, supernatural content made its lines easy to remember and it soon became incredibly popular.

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore —
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
“‘Tis some visiter,” I muttered, “tapping at my chamber door —
Only this and nothing more.”

 to render it manifest that no one point in its composition is referrible [sic] either to accident or intuition — that the work proceeded, step by step, to its completion with the precision and rigid consequence of a mathematical problem.

Let us dismiss, as irrelevant to the poem per se, the circumstance — or say the necessity — which, in the first place, gave rise to the intention of composing a poem that should suit at once the popular and the critical taste.

Poe’s formula obviously worked, as it is still popular with both critics and the public alike to this day.

Feeling like you want a little fright? Take a listen to the perennially creepy Christopher Walken read the poem in its entirety:

walken_raven


National Book Critics Circle Finalists Announced

national_book

It’s award season, not just for movies, but for books as well. Yesterday, the National Book Critics Circle announced its finalists for the 2012 publishing year.  Since 1976, the  National Book Critics Circle has given the award in order “to promote the finest books and reviews published in English.”  The American organization has selected thirty books eligible for a total of six prizes.  Those six categories are autobiography, biography, criticism, fiction, non-fiction, and poetry.

Two of the titles in contention have already received much critical and popular acclaim, Katherine Boo’s  Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity. 

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and Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk  by Ben Fountain

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Other Fiction Finalists:

Laurent Binet’s HHhH, about the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich

Zadie Smith’s London-set NW

Adam Johnson’s The Orphan Master’s Son, a frightening look into Kim Jong Il’s North Korea. (Both Fountain’s Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk and  Binet’s HHhH are first novels.)

Biographies

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Robert A. Caro’s The Passage of Power: The Years of Lyndon Johnson 

Tom Reiss’s The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo , about General Dumas, father of the famous novelist

Lisa Cohen’s All We Know: Three Lives  about early 20th-century trend setters Esther Murphy, Mercedes de Acosta and Madge Garland

Lisa Jarnot’s Robert Duncan, The Ambassador from Venus: A Biography

Autobiography

my_poets

My Poets by Maureen N. McLane

Swimming Studies by Leanne Shapton

The Distance Between Us by Reyna Grande

In the House of the Interpreter by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o

House of Stone: A Memoir of Home, Family, and a Lost Middle East by Anthony Shadid

Poetry 

bewilderment

Bewilderment: New Poems and Translations by David Ferry

Useless Landscape, or A Guide for Boys by D. A. Powell

Olives: Poems (Triquarterly) by A.E. Stallings

Non-fiction

far_tree

Far From the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity by Andrew Solomon

Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic by David Quammen

For a complete list of finalists, click here.

The winners will be announced on Thursday, February 28, 2013 at 6:00 p.m.


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