Jan. 28, 2000

It Can Happen

by James Laughlin

Broadcast Date: FRIDAY: January 28, 2000

Poem: "It Can Happen" by James Laughlin from The Bird of Endless Time published by Copper Canyon Press.

It’s the birthday of English novelist and scholar David Lodge, born in southeast London (1935). He followed his first novel, The Picturegoers (1960), with a 700-page master’s thesis on the Catholic Novel. He continued to write both novels and books of academic criticism while teaching Modern English Literature at the University of Birmingham. His other book includes The British Museum is Falling Down (1965), Nice Work (1988), and Therapy (1995).

It’s the birthday of sculptor Claes (Thure) Oldenburg, born in Stockholm (1929), the son of a Swedish diplomat. He grew up in America and attended Yale and the Chicago Art Institute. In 1960 he drew attention with his "Store," stocked with plaster copies of all sorts of banal consumer goods, a project that vaulted him into the front rank of Pop artists. He has proposed numerous huge monuments for public places—some of which have actually been erected, such as his "Colossal Ashtray with Fag-ends" at the Pompidou Center in Paris. Among his ‘soft sculptures’ are enormous gooey ice cream cones, bulging hamburgers, and a towering cylindrical lipstick.

It’s the birthday of abstract painter (Paul) Jackson Pollock, born in Cody, Wyoming (1912) who abandoned his brushes in favor of ‘Action Painting’ —dripping, pouring, and hurling his colors onto huge canvases stretched over the floor. He was as famous for the way he looked as for his work: a 1949 Life magazine photo showed the painter as macho rebel—dark jeans, work jacket, arms defiantly crossed, cigarette dangling. Asked in the early 1940s why he didn’t work from nature, Pollock responded: "I am nature."

It’s the birthday of French novelist (Sidonie Gabrielle) Colette, born in the village of Saint-Sauveur-en-Puisaye, Burgundy (1873). When she was 17, she met Henri Gauthier-Villars, who went by the name ‘Willy’ and was well known in the Paris publishing world for using starving ghostwriters to churn out tawdry novels he published under his own name. They married when Colette was 20, and Willy promptly set her to work writing memoirs of her girlhood. When the book sold well, he took to locking his young bride in her room for 4 hours every day, after assigning her a certain number of pages to write. Later, after she had divorced Willy, and the period she called her ‘apprenticeship’ was over, she began writing her masterpieces. Some feature semi-depraved characters, such as the male hero of Cheri (1920) and The Last of Cheri (1926), with his young wife and older mistress; another features teenagers who lose their innocence in The Ripening Seed (1923). This was followed with A Lesson in Love (1928), The Other One (1929), and The Cat (1933). Colette concentrated on how men and women got along. She felt that the basic needs of men and women were different, even incompatible, which meant true communication between them wasn’t possible. To her, love and independence were—especially for women—mutually exclusive. In most of her novels, the woman is the one who loses her independence. But as compensation, women are more centered than men, more connected to nature, and better at absorbing shocks and carrying on with life. Her last novel, Gigi (1944), tells of a girl’s grandmother and great aunt, both retired prostitutes, who try teaching the girl their line of work. A great success, the novel was adapted for both stage and screen. Colette was elected president of the prestigious Goncourt Academy, and was the only Frenchwoman in history to be granted a state funeral with full honors (1954).

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