Mar. 1, 2000


by Howard Nemerov

Broadcast Date: WEDNESDAY: March 1, 2000

Poems: "Poetics" by Howard Nemerov from Trying Conclusions: New and Selected Poems 1961-1991 (University of Chicago Press).

MARCH takes its name from the Roman god of war, Mars, because it was the first month warm enough for Roman armies to take to the field and do battle.

Richard Wright's novel, NATIVE SON, was published on this day in 1940, the story of Bigger Thomas, set in Chicago. Thomas is jailed for two murders, the first accidental, the second intentional to cover up the first.

It's the birthday of poet RICHARD WILBUR, born in New York (1921). While a college student, he took his summers off and rode the rails, hoboing all around America in freight cars. He fought in Italy and France during World War Two, then began writing poetry as soon as the war ended. In a day when most poets were using free verse, Wilbur still used formal technique and rhyme. He won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1957 for Things of This World (1956) and 1989 for New and Collected Poems (1988). He also translated many of the plays of Moliére, and wrote the lyrics for Leonard Bernstein's musical comedy version of Voltaire's Candide (1957).

HOWARD NEMEROV, who followed Wilbur as the nation's Poet Laureate in 1988, was also born on this date, in New York (1920). He graduated from Harvard, served as a bomber pilot in World War Two, and after the war taught at various colleges. He wrote:

They say the war is over.
I took it quietly enough.
I tried to wash the dirt out of
My hair and from under my fingernails,
I dressed in clean white cloth and went to bed.
Yet I heard the dust falling between the walls.

The Collected Poems of Howard Nemerov (1977), a retrospective of 30 years of his work, won the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize in 1978.

It's the birthday RALPH ELLISON, born in Oklahoma City (1914), best known for his first novel, Invisible Man. For the rest of his life, Ellison worked on his second novel, most of which went up in flames in 1967, when his house burned. He spent nearly 3 decades rewriting, and when he died in 1994 it had grown to 2,000 pages. Ellison's literary executor cut it down to 400 pages, titled it Juneteenth, and brought the book out last spring.

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




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