Literary Birthdays – Week of May 9 – 15

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May 9

Lucian Blaga (b. 1895) – Romanian philosopher, poet, playwright – Poems of Light Lucian Blaga1

Read the Wikipedia article about Lucian Blaga

Magic Sunrise
This is the way it was, the way it will be always.
I wait with my flower of flames in my hand.
Disturbing my greatly exaggerated weeks
the moon powerfully rises.

An earthquake shakes the midnight spheres.
In space—river, shadows, towers, hooves.
The hieratic star liturgically undresses the country.

Up there in the light how fragile the mountain!
The gods’ cities crumble in the eyes of children
like old silk.
How holy matter is,
all sound to the ear!

— (from Nebanuitele trepte, 1943) Translated from the Romanian by Andrei Codrescu

Read more about Blaga here and here

May 10

Olga Bancic (b. 1912) – Romanian activist (French resistance, WWII)

Read about Olga Bancic – U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum bio

Olga Bancic was beheaded at Stuttgart prison on May 10, 1944. The night before her execution Bancic threw out the window a letter to her 5-year old daughter:

My dear little girl, my dear little love,

Your mother writes her last letter, my dear girl — tomorrow at 6 o’clock, the 10th of May, I will be no more.

My love, do not cry; your mother will cry no more. I die with an easy conscience and with the conviction that tomorrow you will have a life and a future happier than that of your mother. You will not have to suffer. Be proud of your mother, my little love. I always have your image in front of me.

I am going to believe that you will see your father; I have the hope that he will have a different fate. Tell him that I have always thought about him, like I have of you. I love you with all my heart.

Both of you are my dears. My dear child, your father is, for you, a mother also. He loves you very much.

You will not feel the loss of your mother. My dear child, I close my letter with the expectation that you will feel happy for all your life, with your father, with the whole world.

I hug you with all my heart, so much, so much.

Goodbye, my love,
Your mother

(Translated from the French version in Wikipedia, here)

May 11

John Michael Hayes (b. 1919) – U.S. screenwriter – Rear Window (1954)

Read about John Michael Hayes at the
Writing With Hitchcock blog

Read the Washington Post obituary

See the John Michael Hayes filmography
on the Internet Movie Database

May 12

Claribel Alegria (b. 1924) – Nicaraguan poet, novelist, documentarist – No me agarran viva / They Won’t Take Me Alive (1983)

Read the Authors Calendar biography of Claribel Alegria

Read the Wikipedia entry for Claribel Alegria

Read an interview with Claribel Alegria in BOMB magazine (Winter 2000)

I met my husband, Bud, when we were students at George Washington University. We got married and traveled all over the world. But I went back to El Salvador all the time. I was in exile, but it was my choice. After Monsignor Romero died, I couldn’t go back anymore, because—I remember this very clearly—I had been invited to give a poetry reading at the Sorbonne and the day before the reading, Roberto Armijo called me—he was living in Paris—and told me about Monsignor Romero’s assassination. Bud said to me, “You said you were going to read poems tomorrow: Don’t. You are going to talk about Monsignor Romero. We will prepare something tonight, and tomorrow you are going to tell these people what is happening in your country.” Bud, an American, told me to do that, and we did. I talked about what had happened in my country and the horrible assassination of Monsignor Romero. And soon after that, my cousin, Vides Casanova, then Minister of Defense, sent word that I should never come back to El Salvador, otherwise, he would not be responsible for what happened to me. That was a forced exile. I did not go back for 11 years. The worst part of it was when my mother, who adored me and who I loved, was dying in El Salvador. She asked for me and my brother told me I could not go. That is in this book, Sorrow, a poem called “Rito Incumplido” (“Unfinished Rite”).

DFA Yes, your new book just published this year, Sorrow.

CA Sorrow in English, Saudade in Spanish; it is a Portuguese word, but it has been accepted by the academy. Saudade —what a word; it is more than nostalgia, it’s more than sorrow. I adore it.

DFA Tell me about the book.

CA Well, Daniel, you know that my husband, Bud, died about four and a half years ago. It was the most terrible blow I have ever had. He was such a wonderful companion. We lived together for 47 years and we had physical and spiritual children together. He was my translator for many, many years. We wrote a novel together, Ashes of Izalco, about the Indian massacre of 1932 in El Salvador. And we wrote several testimonial books together. It was a union that was so complete, that it’s too much. I thought that I was never going to write again. But then, thank goodness, poetry came to me and writing this book has helped me to understand. I don’t mind solitude, I am used to solitude. I love solitude. His absence is heavier and heavier every day, but writing this book has done me a lot of good, though it was a very hard exercise.

Watch / listen to Claribel Alegria read her poem
“Carta a un desterrado” (Letter to an exile)

Claribel Alegria crop

Mi querido Odiseo:
Ya no es posible más
esposo mío
que el tiempo pase y vuele
y no te cuente yo
de mi vida en Itaca.
Hace ya muchos años
que te fuiste
tu ausencia nos pesó
a tu hijo
y a mí.
Empezaron a cercarme
eran tantos
tan tenaces sus requiebros
que apiadándose un dios
de mi congoja
me aconsejó tejer
una tela sutil
que te sirviera a ti
como sudario.
Si llegaba a concluirla
tendría yo sin mora
que elegir un esposo.
Me cautivó la idea
que al levantarse el sol
me ponía a tejer
y destejía por la noche.
Así pasé tres años
pero ahora, Odiseo,
mi corazón suspira por un joven
tan bello como tú cuando eras mozo
tan hábil con el arco
y con la lanza.
Nuestra casa está en ruinas
y necesito un hombre
que la sepa regir
Telémaco es un niño todavía
y tu padre un anciano
preferible, Odiseo
que no vuelvas
los hombres son más débiles
no soportan la afrenta.
De mi amor hacia ti
no queda ni un rescoldo
Telémaco está bien
ni siquiera pregunta por su padre
es mejor para ti
que te demos por muerto.
Sé por los forasteros
de Calipso
y de Circe
aprovecha Odiseo
si eliges a Calipso
recuperarás la juventud
si es Circe la elegida
serás entre sus chanchos
el supremo.
Espero que esta carta
no te ofenda
no invoques a los dioses
será en vano
recuerda a Menelao
con Helena
por esa guerra loca
han perdido la vida
nuestros mejores hombres
y estas tú donde estas.
No vuelvas, Odiseo
te suplico.

Tu discreta Penélope

Read this poem and more at

May 13

NYT2008111912053087C Clive Barnes (b. 1927) – British-born U.S. theatre and dance critic

Read the Telegraph obituary for Clive Barnes

Read a tribute to Barnes in the Village Voice

Read Barnes’ review of Love’s Labor’s Lost (New York Post, February 28, 1989)

Watch an excerpt from a 2005 interview where Clive Barnes describes what the New York Times required in a dance critic

Watch / listen to the Broadway “critiqued” remember Clive Barnes

May 14

sofia-coppola Sofia Carmina Coppola (b. 1971) – U.S. film director,, screenwriter – Lost in Translation (2003)

Read the Wikipedia article for Sofia Coppola

Read the script of Lost in Translation at the Internet Movie Script Database


Bob sits alone at the bar. Charlotte sits down a seat away from him, lost in his thoughts, he doesn’t see her until he turns and finds her next to him. They look at each other. A young BARTENDER with a sweet face tends to them.

What can I get you?

I’m not sure.

(line from commercial)
For relaxing times, make it—

‘Suntory time’!

Charlotte smiles at him sympathetically

What are you doing here?

My wife needs space, I don’t know my
kids ‘ birthdays. Everyone wants
Tiger Woods, but they could get me,
so I’m here doing a whiskey

She looks at him.


She lifts a cigarette, he lights it for her.

I’ll just have a beer.

He makes small talk about the pickled seaweed breakfast and
jet lag, they commiserate about having not slept in days.

What about you? Why are you here?

My husband’s here for work-he’s a
photographer- and I just came
along…I’m not really doing anything
right now, and we have some friends
who live here.

How long have you been married?

Two years.

Try twenty-five.

You’re probably just having a mid-life crisis. Did you buy a Porsche?

I’m thinking about it.

Watch Charlie Rose interview Sofia Coppola about Lost in Translation

(2003 – 29 mins.)


May 15

Asala Nasri (b. 1969? 1965?) – Syrian music artist Asala Nasri

Read the Wikipedia article for Asala Nasri

Watch Asala Nasri’s music videos
“Ya Magnoon” and “Asalah Aktar”

Read the translation of “Ya Magnoon” on the
Arabic Song Lyrics blog

The title “ya magnuun (يا مجنون)” which means “O madman” refers to an old Arabic story, which in fact, is uncannily similar to Romeo and Juliet and precedes it by centuries. This is the story of Qays the Madman (Al Magnuun) and his lover Layla. The story goes back to poetry of the Omayyad, that is, the 7th century, and is based on poetry that said Qays wrote about his lover Layla. The corollary to this story is that Layla’s father forbade Qays from marrying her, and this drove him insane, thus making him “Majnuun Layla (مجنون ليلى)” “the guy that went crazy from Layla” a.k.a. “Layla’s madman.”

And for this reason Asala says “O madman, I’m not Layla” i.e. “I’m not Layla (from the stories), so stop acting so crazy.”

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