Here floats the mind on summer’s dock.
The knees loose up, hands dither off,
the eyes have never heard of clocks.
The mind won’t feel the hours, the mind spreads wide
among the hours, wide in sun. Dear sun,
who gives the vision but is not the vision.
Who is the body and the bodies
that speak into the dark below the dock.
Who to the minnows in the sand-sunk tire
seems like love.
Make us the brightness bent through shade.
The thing, or rush of things, that makes
an opening, a way.
K. A. Hays, “Petition” from Windthrow. Copyright © by K. A. Kays. Used by permission of The Permissions Company, Inc., on behalf of Carnegie Mellon University Press. (buy now)
It’s the birthday of poet and essayist John Ciardi (books by this author), born in Boston, Massachusetts (1916). He’s remembered today for his book How Does a Poem Mean? (1959), which has become a standard textbook in high school and college poetry classes. He also published several collections of his own poetry, and his Collected Poems came out in 1997.
But he may be best known for his translation of Dante’s Divine Comedy, published in 1954. More than 50 English translations of the Divine Comedy were published in the 20th century, but Ciardi’s is considered one of the best. For years, it was the standard translation used in English classes in the U.S.
Ciardi said, “The reader deserves an honest opinion. If he doesn’t deserve it, give it to him anyhow.”
It’s the birthday of “The Manassa Mauler,” also known as heavyweight boxing champion Jack Dempsey (books by this author) (1895). Dempsey was the heavyweight champion from 1919 to 1926 and was the first boxer to earn a million-dollar gate, which means ticket sales to one of his matches topped a million dollars.
Dempsey was born in Manassa, Colorado, and grew up poor. His father had difficulty keeping a job and the family moved around a lot. Dempsey had to drop out of elementary school to find work and left home at 16. He worked in the mines, lived in hobo camps, shined shoes, picked fruit, and fought in saloons for money, where his nickname was “Kid Blackie.” He once said, “I can’t sing and I can’t dance, but I can lick any SOB in the house.”
He was 187 pounds and liked to hum in the ring as he advanced on his partners. In his first championship bout in Toledo, Ohio, in 1919, he knocked down Jess Willard seven times in three minutes and broke his cheekbone in 13 places. Some people accused Dempsey of loading his gloves with plaster of paris, but he always denied it. Over the course of his career, he had 21 first-round knockouts. He was good natured and prone to greeting people with, “Hiya, pal,” and once when he lost a bout so badly his face was like a purple watermelon, he shrugged to his wife and said, “Honey, I forgot to duck.”
Dempsey was so popular he even appeared in Broadway plays and in the movies, often playing himself. He opened a popular restaurant in New York City called “Jack Dempsey’s,” which was near the old Madison Square Garden. When fans asked for autographs, he wrote, “Keep punching.”
Jack Dempsey’s advice to young fighters was simple: “Some night, you’ll catch a punch between the eyes and all of a sudden you’ll see three guys in the ring against you. Pick out the one in the middle and hit him, because he’s the one who hit you.” Jack Dempsey died in 1983.
It’s the birthday of satirist and short-story writer Ambrose Bierce (books by this author), nicknamed “Bitter Bierce,” born near Horse Cave Creek, Ohio (1842). He was the 10th of 13 children, and his parents were strict Puritan farmers. But his father had a library, and Ambrose said that those books allowed him to pull himself “out of the life of obscurity, privation, and labor in the fields.”
Bierce became a journalist, and within a few years, he was labeled “the most irreverential person on the Pacific Coast,” and “the wickedest man in San Francisco.” He started writing dark short stories like “Chickamauga” (1889) and “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” (1890).
It’s the birthday of poet Stephen Dunn (books by this author), born in Forest Hills, New York (1939). He published more than 10 books of poetry before his collection Different Hours won the Pulitzer Prize in 2000. His latest collection, Lines of Defense, came out in 2014.
Dunn said: “I think one of my early motivations for writing was that other people’s versions of experience didn’t gel with my own. It was a gesture toward sanity to try to get the world right for myself. I’ve since learned that if you get it right for yourself, it often has resonance for others.”
And, “You must be a little driven, and what you’re doing must be crucial to you in order not to be defeated by the likely neglect that awaits you, the lack of rewards, and the fact that, by and large, your culture doesn’t take you seriously.”
It’s the birthday of St. John of the Cross, born in Hontiveros, Spain (1542). He was a mystic and poet as well as a saint. He grew up in poverty — his parents were silk weavers, his father died when he was young, and he worked at a hospital for the poor to help earn some money for his mother. Along with Saint Theresa, he reformed the Carmelite order. He was arrested for his attempts at reform, and he was treated brutally, given a public lashing once a week. But he wrote his most beautiful poetry while he was in jail. He managed to escape from prison, and he continued to work on church reform and to write poetry, and even today he is considered one of Spain’s greatest poets, with poems like Spiritual Canticle and Dark Night of the Soul. He is the patron saint of mystics, contemplatives, and Spanish poets.