Jul. 28, 1998

This is Just to Say (for William Carlos Williams)

by Erica-Lynn Gambino


Today's Reading: "This is Just to Say (for William Carlos Williams)" by Erica-Lynn Gambino from THE MUSE STRIKES BACK, published by Story Line Press.

It's the birthday in Rochester, New York, 1927, of poet JOHN ASHBERY, whose 1975 collection, Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror, won the National Book Award, the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Prize. His other collections since then have include, Houseboat Days and Flow Chart.

It was on this day in 1914 that AUSTRIA DECLARED WAR ON SERBIA, marking the beginning of World War I. Exactly one month earlier, a Serbian nationalist assassinated Archduke Ferdinand of Austria at Sarajevo. And when Austria declared war on Serbia, the Serb's ally, Russia, jumped in, then Germany sided with the Austrians. The war pitted the Central Powers – mainly Germany, Austria, and Turkey – against the Allies: France, Great Britain, Russia, Italy, Japan, and, from 1917, the United States.

It's the birthday in 1902, Oak Park, Illinois, a Chicago suburb, of poet and novelist KENNETH FEARING. When he was in his early 20s he moved to New York and began work as a freelance writer, publishing his poems in The New Yorker, free verse that usually incorporated newspaper and advertising jargon. His collections included Dead Reckoning (1938), and Stranger at Coney Island (1948). Then he turned to writing psychological thrillers, books like The Big Clock (1946), and The Generous Heart (1954).

It's the birthday in France, 1887, of the artist MARCEL DUCHAMP (mar-SELL dew-SHAWM), best known for his 1912 painting "Nude Descending a Staircase," that caused a scandal here in the U.S. when it was exhibited. When that ruckus died down, Duchamp lived a quiet, almost unrecognized life until he was nearly 70 years old; then his painting, sculptures, and pieces called "ready-mades" were hailed as precursors to Pop art. A "ready-made" was an art piece Duchamp specialized in that used everyday items, like his 1913 "Bicycle Wheel" – just a plain old bicycle wheel; or his "Pharmacy," a painting of a winter scene to which he added a pair of pharmacists' bottles.

It's the birthday in 1866, just outside London, of BEATRIX POTTER, author of children's stories about Peter Rabbit, Jeremy Fisher, Jemima Puddle-Duck and other animals. Potter was the only child of wealthy parents and, growing up, got to go on long vacations in the English Lake District and Scottish Highlands where she painted the landscape and animals, and made up little stories about what she saw. When she was 27 years old she sent one from the Highlands to a former governess' sick child – complete with pictures – about four rabbits named Flopsy, Mopsy, Cotton-tail, and Peter. In 1900 she published The Tale of Peter Rabbit and during the next 20 years wrote 22 more books.

It's the birthday in Essex, England, 1844 of the poet and priest GERARD MANLEY HOPKINS, who as a young man loved to write poetry, but forsook it all when he joined the Roman Catholic church. But he continued making notes in his journals, and after seven years one of the priests encouraged him to try poetry again. He turned out a series of sonnets like nothing anyone had ever seen before. One of his first was "The Windhover: To Christ Our Lord," which reads in part: I caught this morning morning's minion,/ kingdom of daylight's dauphin,/dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon, in his riding/Of the rolling level underneath him steady/air, and striding.

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®




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