June 4-6, 2018 – Alexander Puskin, Other Writers’ & Poets’ Birthdays
It’s the June 4-6, 2018, edition of Bidwell Hollow. This episode highlights the birthday of Alexander Pushkin, Maxine Kumin, and Val McDermid. Our poem for today is by James Verner. It’s titled, “Fernweh.” Verner reads the poem in the podcast version of this episode. And June 6 is the 74th anniversary of D-Day when 156,000 Allied troops landed along a 50-mile stretch of the Normandy coast to liberate much of Europe from the clutches of violence and hate.
In 1703 in Constantinople, Turkey, a seven-year-old boy was given as a tribute to the Ottoman Sultan. The boy was born in present-day Cameroon, in Africa, and kidnapped into slavery.
Russia’s ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, Count Peter A. Tolstoy, purchased the boy. Tolstoy, who would become great-grandfather to the writer Leo Tolstoy, delivered the boy to Russian Czar Peter the Great.
The czar adopted the boy as his son, giving him the name Abram Petrovich Gannibal.
Gannibal was educated and spent time learning military science in France. He returned to Russia in 1720. There he became a general, landowner, and governor.
Gannibal had 11 sons. One of his sons, Osip, had a daughter named Nadezhda. Nadezhda married Sergei Pushkin, and they had a son who is seen today as the creator of Russian literature: Alexander Pushkin (affiliate link).
Alexander Pushkin was born in Moscow on June 6, 1799. He was educated at the Imperial Lyceum near Saint Petersburg. He wrote about 130 poems while in school.
Some of these poems contained political themes that irritated Czar Alexander I, who forced Pushkin to take a government position in southern Russia.
There in June 1820, Pushkin published “Ruslan and Ludmila.” It’s an epic fairy tale that placed Pushkin’s name among Russia’s literary elite. And it contained verses that continued to anger the Czar.
Pushkin was pushed out of the government and banished to his family estate in 1824. There he wrote the historical tragedy, “Boris Godunov,” and many poems set to music.
Pushkin made-up with the new Czar, Nicholas I, and returned to St. Petersburg. He married Nathalie Goncharova in 1831.
But Nathalie had many admirers, even after marrying. Jealousy drove Pushkin to challenge one of the admirers to a duel. And it was in that duel that Pushkin was shot, resulting in his death in 1837.
Pushkin left behind a body of work that’s credited with establishing Russian literature. He is to Russia as Shakespeare is to England. And he was the descendant of a kidnapped African slave, Abram Gannibal.
Also born on June 6, in 1925 in Philadelphia, PA, was Maxine Kumin (affiliate link). She’s the author of many poetry collections, children’s books, essays, and works of fiction.
And Kumin is a Pulitzer Prize winner, claiming the award in 1972 for her volume of poetry, “Up Country: Poems of New England, New and Selected.”
Kumin became friends with poet Anne Sexton when both attended a poetry workshop in 1957. Sexton encouraged Kumin, who published her first poetry collection, “Halfway,” in 1961.
Sexton committed suicide in 1974. Kumin was the last person to spend time with her. The women enjoyed a lunch of vodka and tuna-fish sandwiches.
In 1982, Kumin published a book of poems, “Our Ground Time Here Will Be Brief,” that included work reflecting on Sexton’s suicide.
Kumin served as U.S. Poet Laureate from 1981-1982. And from 1989-1994 she served as poet laureate for New Hampshire, where she lived on a farm for many years until her death in 2014.
And today is the birthday of crime writer Val McDermid, born in Kirkcaldy, Scotland, in 1955.
McDermid is best known for a series of suspense novels featuring the character Dr. Tony Hill. Hill is a clinical psychologist who works for the United Kingdom’s Home Office.
McDermid introduced Hill in “The Mermaids Singing,” which was published in 1995.
To date, 10 Hill books have been published. The most recent, “Insidious Intent,” came out last year.
A British TV show based on McDermid’s Hill novels, “Wire in the Blood,” aired from 2002-2009. McDermid helped write the show and appeared in two of the show’s episodes.
At times, that place, was so familiar,
That place where the room,
The smells and light and sound
Converged into that one, poignant, painful,
I have been there before,
A few times,
And I walked, knowing,
With every fiber stirring,
With every nerve cell pulsing,
I was in that familiar place.
For me, it’s where fiddler crabs hustle,
In the pluffmud, among the reeds and in
Deep, brackish water,
That shines like a penny in the moonlight.
That’s cypress and old cedar
That’s salt breezes through rusty screens,
That’s blue crabs crawling, scratching
Hominy in the pot,
And scrambled eggs,
And lots and lots of butter.
They’ll sell it to you, if you want.
A hammock, a sticker, a tee shirt, a real giclee,
Sweet shrimp, okra, palmetto rose, a pretty girl with long, blond hair.
Gold, gold sun rising up,
Rising up by the old causeway,
Over by that place where we dug,
When our hands were small.
– James Verner, Used with permission of the author.