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Shared Birthday

June 2021

When I was a teen and first interested in writing poetry, I noticed in an almanac that I shared a birthday with the poet Arthur Rimbaud. I thought that perhaps because we shared a birthday (October 20) even though I was born 99 years later, perhaps we were similar. 

I looked up Jean Nicolas Arthur Rimbaud. Right off, I realized that I had been pronouncing his name in my head incorrectly - not rim-baud but ramˈ-bo. He was a French poet known for surreal themes, though he prefigured surrealism. He started writing at a very young age, was an excellent student, but abandoned formal education when he was my age and ran away from home to Paris during the Franco-Prussian War.

He was described as an enfant terrible of poetry. He was a literary bad boy, and became a mercenary arms dealer. He produced most of his writing in his late adolescence and early adulthood. He completely stopped writing literature at age 20, after he had put together assembling his last major work, Illuminations.

I was not a bad boy. I never dealt weapons. He wrote a lot of prose poetry and his poetry is nothing like mine.

Years later, I discovered that the American poet Robert Pinsky also shares my birthday. Not only was he born on October 20 but we share a birthplace (New Jersey) and both received our BA at Rutgers College. Robert was born during WWII and I was born during the Korean War but at least we were born in the same century. 

I like Pinsky's poetry, but it is not like my poetry. He was our Poet Laureate (1997-2000) and he is the author of nineteen books. I met him twice when he gave readings at the Dodge Poetry Festivals. I mentioned our shared birthday and he reminded me that we also share the day with NY Yankees legend Mickey Mantle. Mantle was my birthday inspiration as a kid. I wanted to become a Yankee. I was a decent ballplayer, played the outfield like Mickey, but though I got lots of hits and stolen bases, I could not hit those long balls.

Did I learn anything about poetry from my poetry birthday buddies? Yes. First off, I looked up their poetry which I had not read earlier. I learned some other things, but that brings us to this month's prompt.

Do some research and find out who was born on your birthday. (Just search on Wikipedia for the date to start.) See if you find a poet. Any connections to your own life or poetry? You could also choose a writer or really anyone that interest you or you feel some connection to as the inspiration for your poem.

Did I learn anything about poetry from my poetry birthday buddies? Yes. First off, I looked up their poetry which I had not read earlier. I learned some other things, but that brings us to this month's prompt.

Do some research and find out who was born on your birthday. (Just search on Wikipedia for the date to start.) See if you find a poet. Any connections to your own life or poetry? You could also choose a writer or really anyone that interest you or you feel some connection to as the inspiration for your poem.

Postscript: I could not find a model poem for this prompt, but I did find that Pinsky and Rimbaud both have poems titled "Antique." Are they connected? Did Pinsky know Rimbaud's poem and was he influenced by it? Give them a read: "Antique" by Robert Pinsky and "Antique" by Arthur Rimbaud

For more on all our prompts and other things poetic, check out the Poets Online blog.


In 12th grade I was swept away
by a Jesuit priest sailing turbulent seas
in a rhythm-sprung boat, alone
between deeps and heights all stormy,
dark with stars, shot through
with raptor wings and piercing light.
I didn’t know we shared
a birthday, 100 years apart.
He died young, undiscovered
in his life, verses castaway on rocks –
a beacon I still glimpse afar
and can’t quite reach.
I puzzle over his meaning;
give up grabbing for lifeline logic,
for the guide of grammar,
and let rising tide’s abrupt, buoyant
music take me beyond English.

Taylor Graham

a conversation with Paul Celan

We are not that much alike
Unless you count the common birthday
Twenty-three years apart
Ironic, given the day itself - the 23rd
Of November
Yours, before the War
And "what happened" during it
Mine, in the middle of
What happened ... "over there"

I was more fortunate
My Army Air Corps Dad
Served stateside
He did not die
At the hands of blue eyed Nazis
My Mom died of old age
At 92
She was not shot by Death Camp
Guards who deemed her unfit
For work

I do not plan to suicide
At least, not at the moment

But, like you, I have lived
Through Wars fought
Over bigotry and hate
Fear of The Other
The urge to inflict pain
As if
We can expunge our own
By making others suffer

We who have
Danced with death
Invent incantations
To dull the memory
Search in vein for ...
Words, our only weapons
Bearing witness

Frank Kelly


Listening to him sing, crammed into the middle of our bamboo-framed couch, sisters on both sides of me hopping off it to grab the knob of the B&W Zenith, knowing it would be tuned back to Ed Sullivan as soon as our mother noticed, flints of awe and acceptance confirm that such a voice could never come from me.

If only sharing a birthday has the alchemical power of turning the larynx of an eight-year-old suburban ordinary into the steady baritone of a French Canadian my father’s age, his aura of dark brooding, his sardonic smirk to the camera, projecting Sir Lancelot’s confidence.

Does his older sister also have a birthday just days after his own? Does his special day also disappoint because Thanksgiving gets in the way? Does he also have a pair of battling uncles who ruin even that hated holiday? Would I ever escape to Camelot and stand between Arthur and Guinevere? Would I ever muster the courage to sing “If Ever I Should Leave You” to Alice Rose?

That we also share a first name should bolster the outcomes of magical thinking. I close my eyes and open my chest of amulets and spells.

Rob Friedman


Me and Shelly Lefebvre shared a birthday
in 8th grade. We also shared pages
in our junior high school literary mag Potpourri.
My poem was a king’s lament to his kidnapped Mongolian
concubine, complete with an illustration of a dragon.
Shelly’s poem was shorter than mine but the words
were longer and harder, unrhymed and unfamiliar--
I gave it only one reading. Mine I gave a second, then a third,
and eventually took to declaiming it in the shower.
Years later, I found Potpourri in an old trunk
smelling just like itself. The pleasure was downright Proustian
as I opened it up. And of course I instinctively looked
for my own poem first, found it, then found that it stunk.
But Shelly’s poem was good. Damn good. Downright
precocious. It so impressed me that I’ve kept it as a token
of the cost of loving my own scent best. For I
have sniffed myself to death for a whiff of virtuosity.

Paul Hostovsky

"You could listen to his songs and actually learn how to live. " ― Bob Dylan

I’ve loved you for a quarter-century,
you, singing of see-through
tater stew, you, speaking
for the working man and woman,
you, giving us voice and hope in your
three-thousand songs and ballads, you,
who took us riding in your car
and put us on the train bound for glory.

                              I, who share
your July birthday want to learn your way.
Teach me. Show me how to live, to hobo
across this land of yours and mine, hanging
out under bridges and in tent cities, among people
whose dreams have morphed into nightmares,
with shoeless children, paining for food,
whose eyes have circled and darkened and caved
like sinkholes. Teach me, as John taught you and
as you taught The Boss, to look into kids’ eyes
and see myself. Teach me to stay glad
and dream good and to play good and sing
and to love. To love everybody.
To wake up every day and fight. Fight
through injustice and prejudice,
through fires and bad luck, through fate and
tragedy as big as insane asylums even when
I don’t feel at home in this world anymore.
I am your disciple, Woody, ready
for instruction when you are. Until that time,
So, long, I’ve got to be driftin’ along.

Jo Taylor


I have a noble birthday that I share with
Roman Emperor Antoninus Pius,
Byzantine Leo VI,
Mu Zong, emperor of the Liao Dynasty,
Albert IV, Duke of Austria,
Marie of Cleves, Duchess of Orléans
and Henry III of France.
I was almost Prom King once upon a time.
I have done noble deeds.

Once when I went to the Feast of San Gennaro
on Mulberry Street in Little Italy, NYC,
I saw a statue of Saint Januarius,
Patron Saint of Naples, whose feast day
is my birthday, and when I was staring at it,
a nun next to me said,
“You look like him.”
I said, “Today is my birthday.”
“Of course it is,” she replied.
She made the sign of the cross
and said, “Bless you.”

Charles Michaels

for Dora Wilcox, 24 November

If only we could
Slip through time portals,
I would accept
Your invitation to
look upon the wattle tree
At the drop of a hat!

We could sit
Under this golden dome,
Have a picnic if you fancy
With cheese platter
And mulled wine.

In between sips,
I would lean over
To let you know
I understand
You weren't exaggerating
When you said
A tree is a treasure trove
That fills empty cups,
Overflowing them
With ecstasy.

That I too,
Know of a shining tree
In my backyard
Awaiting your acquaintance.

With your nudge of assurance,
I then begin my poem

Ellen Chin


Hirshfield, Nimitz, Jobs, and Grimm,
poet, admiral, apple, whim,
all born on my natal day,
all with more or less to say,
leaving me to wonder why
each gained fame before they died,
each made their mark, but not I.

Robert Miller


My birthday. Also the 125th day of the year
(Well, the 126th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. 240 more to go. It is the approximate midpoint of spring in the Northern Hemisphere.
(Well, it is midway into autumn in the Southern Hemisphere, but I’m not there)
It is Cinco de Mayo which means many people have parties and get very drunk for my birthday (Well, not really for but on my birthday.)I share my birthday with lots of people.
(Well, I assume I do.) One is the actor Henry Cavill. He has been Superman and Sherlock Holmes. I don’t see any connection. And Danielle Fishel is a May 5 girl who is only a year younger than me. She played Topanga on Boy Meets World which I watched when I was 13 and she was 12. Still, no connections in the her non-fictional or fictional lives. I have watched films directed by Cinco de Mayo guy John Waters. Nothing.
Hey, William Henry "Hank" Green II is an American vlogger, science communicator, entrepreneur, author, internet producer, and musician
(Well, according to Wikipedia) and we were born on the same day and year so we should really have a connection. Haven’t found it yet. Give a call, Hank.
I discovered that Bret Harte, American short story writer and poet, died on my birth day in 1902 when it wasn’t my birth day at all. I read his story,"The Luck of Roaring Camp," in school. It is about the birth of a baby boy in a 19th-century gold prospecting camp. He is seen as lucky though as I recall there is not a whole lot of luck in Roaring Camp.
I am a Taurus along with millions of people. We never get together or even email each other.
I visited a mystical woman last week and she said my Tarot card is the 6 of Pentacles. It points to sharing and the beginning of a positive cycle. I may soon be a benefactor or beneficiary.
Well, maybe.

Lianna Wright