Literary Birthdays – Week of May 16 – 22

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May 16

Olga_Bergholz Olga Berggolts (b. 1910) – Russian poet, radio broadcaster

Read about Olga Berggolts here and here

Listening to her at these moments it is easy to imagine the voice of her sister, Olga, born in 1910, broadcasting on the one working radio station during the blockade of Leningrad, a solitary familiar voice that many survivors have reported literally kept them alive during those dark and lean days.

From her microphone straight into the barricaded apartments of the besieged city, Olga read her own poems and those of other poets, delivered news about bombings or fires in the city, and, above all, encouraged the besieged Leningraders to hold on to their last hope of life.

* * *

“Berggolts!” he exclaimed, according to Maria. “Leningrad’s Madonna! It was she who helped me to survive the blockade, just hearing her voice on radio.”

Read Andrew Glikin-Gusinsky’s  translation of

Olga Berggolts’ poem “My Home”:

…No, I do not know who lives there now,

In these rooms where you and I used to live,

Who, in the evenings, knocks on that very door,

Who left the blue wallpaper as it was,

The very same wallpaper that was chosen so long ago…

I recognized it from outside through the window.

Berggolts poem inscribed at

Piskarevsky Memorial Cemetery, St. Petersburg:

Here lie Leningraders

Here are city dwellers, men, women, and children

Next to them, Red Army soldiers.

They defended you, Leningrad,

The cradle of the Revolution

With all their lives.

We cannot list their noble names here,

There are so many of them under the eternal protection of granite.

But know this, those who regard these stones:

No one is forgotten, nothing is forgotten.

Read more at the Voices From Russia blog (January 2010)


May 17

Jien (Jichin-daikasho) (b. 1155) – Japanese Buddhist poet (Lotus Sutra / Tendai school) and historian – Gukanshō / Jottings of a Fool

Read about Jien here

Jien was the son of Fujiwara Tadamichi, who was Regent for a long period of 37 years (1121-58). Tadamichi was continuously engaged in struggles against his brother Yorimaga, and their discord eventually became caught up in the larger problems of the imperial succession which finally resulted in the Hogen War of 1156. The succession dispute and ensuing war engulfed the bitter struggle between the father and the uncle of Jien, and eventually led to the collapse of the Heian political system and the rise of the military class… In fact the disorder does not seem to have affected him personally, for … Jien entered religion and rose rapidly to high rank, and eventually became Chief Abbot of the Tendai sect, the top position in the hierarchy of the Enryakuji Temple on Mount Hiei.

*  *  *

Gukansho was written, first, for the most simple and orthodox reason for writing history, to inform people about the past. …A second purpose of writing may have been to head off the impending war with a convincing admonition based on an understanding of history.

from Political Thought in Japanese Historical Writing

by John S. Brownlee, pp. 93-94

In today’s sky
the taste of rain
pouring on the universe
imbues the heart
of each and everyone

from “Reflections on Kokoro in Japanese Buddhist Poetry”
by Jean-Noël Robert
Bulletin, (No. 31 – 2007) Nanzan Institute for Religion & Culture

Those I saw
Just yesterday
Are now no more
Like flowers scattered
During the night

Jien, Shugyokushu, 90

from page v of The Making of Shinkokinshū
by Robert N. Huey


May 18

Tina Fey (b. 1970) – U.S. comedian, writer – 30 Rock (TV comedy)

Read Tina Fey’s mini-biography at the
Internet Movie Database

Listen to Tina Fey talk about writing her Liz Lemon character on the TV series 30 Rock


May 19

Elena Poniatowska (b. 1932? 1933?) – Polish-Mexican novelist, testimonial literature – La noche de Tlatelolco (Massacre in Mexico) 1971

Read the Wikipedia article about Elena Poniatowska

Read the CultureBase article here

Poniatowska’s next book, “La noche de Tlatelolco” (1971), is a reckoning with the massacre of students ordered by Mexican President Díaz Ordaz and his Minister of the Interior, later President Luis Echeverría, on October 2 1968 in Mexico City.

Many books have been written since then examining the tragic events, but the significance of Elena Poniatowska’s book, one of her most famous, overshadows them all. In this work Elena Poniatowska proves herself a master in the treatment of diverse types of source material, such as the oral testimony of the survivors, official documents and a wide range of newspaper articles. This literary form is typical of Elena Poniatowska’s work, enabling her books to give voice to a broad spectrum of the Mexican population.

Watch Elena Poniatowska talk about her reasons for writing La Noche de Tlatelololco in this “virtual” interview

“I think to react against injustice doesn’t happen very often in Latin America. Usually people accept their destiny because the weight of religion is so heavy. Because they tell them, like the Wobblies, ‘You’ll eat pie in the sky!’ ”

Excerpt from Nothing, Nobody: the Voices of the Mexico City Earthquake (1988) by Elena Poniatowska

Thursday, September 19, 1985

“…Through the window the spectacle is terrifying. Parked cars move forward, backward, collide with each other. Electric wires stretch, contract, and thrash about, spitting sparks.
But the worst are the buildings of twelve to fourteen stories that surround us, moving several yards from left to right in front of me.
I understand at that point that the shocks that jar the hotel come from the oscillations of the building next door.
I seem to remember that it is four times as tall (later verified to have fourteen stories).
My hotel and the neighboring tower are out of sync. When the hotel leans to the right, the tower bows to the left, and they bump each other as the movement is repeated, each time with a greater intensity.
The people who are on the street huddle together in the middle. They cannot remain standing. I can’t either. Two policemen cling to each other by their belts.”

Read more here


May 20

Sirivennela Sastry.jpg Sirivennela Seetharama Sastry (Chembolu Seetharama Sastry) (b. 1955) – Indian film lyricist and poet in the Telugu language – Sirivennela (film, 1986)

Read the Wikipedia article for Sirivennela

Read a positive review of Seetharama Sastry’s lyrics

 Listen to “Vidhata Thalapuna”
(aka “Virinchinai Virachinchitini” ) from the film

Read the Wikipedia film summary for Sirivennela

“A particular highlight of the movie is the song Vidhata Thalapuna, sung by S. P. Balasubrahmanyam and P. Susheela. The song is about Aum, the most sacred syllable in Hinduism, from which the Veda traditions originated.”

Vidhata talapuna
Vidhata talapuna prabhavinchinadi anaadi jeevana vedam…ommm…
prananadulaku spandananosagina aadi pranavanaadam…om…
kanula kolanulo pratibimbinchina viswaroopa vinyaasamm…
edakanumalalo prathidhvaninchina virinchipanchi gaanam….aaa..
[tabla and flute]
sarasaswarasurajhareegamanamavu samaveda saramidi…sarasaswarasurajhareegamanamavu samaveda saramidi…
nepaadina jeevana geetham…ee geetham…virinchinai virachinchitini ee kavanam..
vipanchinai vinipinchithini ee geetham….
prathisa vaeneeya paina dinakara mayoogha tantrulapaina..
jagrutha vihanga tathulai vineela gaganapu vedica paina…prathisa vaeneeya paina dinakara mayoogha tantrulapaina…
jagrutha vihanga tathulai vineela gaganapu vedica paina…
palikina kilakila tvanamula swaragathi jagathiki sreekaramu kaaga..
viswakaryamunakidi bhashyamugaaa….
virinchinai virachinchitini ee kavanam…
vipanchinai vinipinchithini ee geetham….
janinchu prathisishu galamuna palikina jeevananaada tarangam
chetana pondina spandana dhvaninchu hrudayamrudangadhvanam…janinchu prathisishu galamuna palikina jeevananaada tarangam
chetana pondina spandana dhvaninchu hrudayamrudangadhvanam…
anaadiraagam aadi talamuna anantha jeevana vaahini gaa…
saagina srushti vidhaanamu ne…
virinchinai virachinchitini ee kavanam…
vipanchinai vinipinchithini ee geetham….
naa uchwasam kavanam naa nishwasam gamanam….

naa uchwasam kavanam naa nishwasam gamanam….
sarasaswarasurajhareegamanamavu samaveda saramidi…
nepaadina jeevana geetham…ee geetham..

English translation adapted from the Videsi blog:

In the thoughts of the creator the ancient living veda has been born…omm
The earliest hymn of praise has given human beings sensation…omm
The image of vishwarupa reflected in the ponds of your eyes…omm
The Brahma’s song that reverberates through the mountains of your heart…aaa
This is the essence of sama veda — the movement of angels
The life song I shall sing…this song

I rewrote this poem By becoming Brahma himself …
I made you hear this song By becoming a bird …

On a flute from the East; on the strings of the morning sun
awakening birds become sounds on a stage of blue skies
where the rhythm of their twittering begins the world
By making it the holy message of universal act.

I rewrote this poem By becoming Brahma himself …
I made you hear (sang) this song By becoming a bird …

The waves of living sounds spoken by every infant ever born
Like a Mrudanga drum, the heart responds to emotions (chetana)
Its earliest tunes made to an adi tala beat in the saga of eternal life
Nature’s continuous process of creation …

I rewrote this poem By becoming Brahma himself …
I made you hear this song By becoming a bird …

My Inhalation is the poem..
My Exhalation is the song..


May 21

(Liv) Marit Bergman (b. 1975) – Swedish-U.S. singer/songwriter

Marit Bergman photo by Anna Branten

photo: Anna Branten /

Read the Wikipedia entry for Marit Bergman

Watch Marit Bergman’s music video
“Their Eyes Were Blue”

Read a blog review of Marit’s Baby Dry Your Eye album

reminds me of the year we spent 2500 km away from each other…

…And so it’s all the same,
goodbye ,with a flicker I’m off again
a kiss that doesn’t want to end
oh it’s all, all the same
I saying my I love you’s
and the saddest voice
Saying my I love you’s
I don’t wanna go…
Read an interview with Marit Bergman on the
Von Pip Musical Express blog
I would describe my music as pop. Emotional pop. But not emo (neither in the 90´s nor 00´s sense.) A lot of feelings. Lyrics are mostly very upfront but as I get older I get more poetic. A lot of songs on my albums have horns and strings.


May 22

Georges Remi / Hergé (b. 1907) – Belgian comic book author – Tintin series

Read a bio of Hergé

Read the Comiclopedia article about Hergé

January 10th, 1929 – The debut, in the 11th issue of the Petit Vingtième, of Tintin in the Land of the Soviets: Hergé creates his fictional character in order to escape as script writer of Flup, Nénesse…, and no one complains!

1930 – Thursday, January 23rd: first appearance of “Quick and Flupke.”
Thursday, May 8th: triumphant return of Tintin, “coming from Russia,” at the North Brussels train station. The reporting of the Petit Vingtième says notably “Tintin and Snowy, celebrated like princes (…) The enormous crowd warmly applauds the speech which Tintin gives from the height of the balcony”… Beneath the photo, one reads “Here we see Mr. Georges Remi (Hergé ), editor-in-chief of the Petit Vingtième
Also in 1930, the French weekly Coeurs vaillants undertakes the publication of Tintin in the Land of the Soviets, but begins it accompanying each frame with a caption. Hergé protests.

Visit the TinTinesque blog

Well, I have already discussed the censorship of Tintin albums in Iran, but as many of you know, the Americans too asked Hergé to “modify” a lot of the books before publishing them.

Among many changes, they asked him to replace black people with white people. For instance, they didn’t like a black person beating the captain (who is white) and enjoying it!

So they asked Hergé to change him, and the result is a middle-eastern looking guy now

Watch the artist draw TinTin


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