Apr. 19, 2000

The lowest trees have tops, the ant her gall

by Edward Dyer

Broadcast Date: WEDNESDAY: April 19, 2000

Poem: "The Lowest Trees Have Tops," by Sir Edward Dyer (1540-1607).

It's the birthday of poet ETHERIDGE KNIGHT, born in Corinth, Mississippi (1933). His family moved to Indianapolis when he was still a boy, and he dropped out of school at the age of 14. He began an addiction to drugs that only grew worse after he got a shrapnel wound in the Korean War. Eventually, he was arrested for robbery and sentenced to 20 years in the Indiana State Prison. It was there that his passion for poetry and the spoken word blossomed, and he published his first book of poems a year before his parole. He said, "I died in Korea from a shrapnel wound, and narcotics resurrected me. I died in 1960 from a prison sentence, and poetry brought me back to life." His books and performances brought him honors and awards. He died in 1991.

On this day in 1926, writer and actress MAE WEST WAS PUT IN A NEW YORK JAIL because a play she co-wrote, produced, and starred in was judged obscene (1926). The play was called Sex; in it she played a prostitute named Margy LaMont, who worked in a Montreal brothel. People were bothered not so much that Margy was a prostitute as that she didn't really have a problem with it, and isn't saved at the end. She was "bad," but she was sexy and likable anyway. Ms. West spent the night in a jail in Greenwich Village, and the next day she was moved to a prison on Roosevelt Island. In prison, she mingled with prostitutes, drug addicts, and the downtrodden, and she picked up some slang she'd use in her later plays. Her next play was about drag queens—but New York theater owners were reluctant to handle it, and The Drag closed out of town. May West said, "Sex is a misdemeanor. The more you miss, the meaner you get."

On this day at 6:15 a.m., the poet George Gordon LORD BYRON DIED, at Missolonghi, Greece (1824). Byron was a passionate believer in liberty, and was especially taken with the Greek War of Independence against the Turks. To help the Greek cause, he spent 4,000 pounds to outfit the Greek fleet and went down to Greece himself. But he became sick — historians think it was malaria or marsh fever — and the doctors kept bleeding him till he finally died. He became a Greek national hero, and to this day, there are still Greek boys and streets named George and Byron. The news devastated a 13-year-old boy, the future poet laureate Alfred Lord Tennyson, who went into the woods and carved "Byron is dead" on a sandstone rock.

It's the birthday of diarist SARAH KEMBLE KNIGHT, who was born in Boston (1666). She took a trip in 1704 from Boston to New York and back, and kept a witty and observant diary during her journey which is still read with pleasure today.

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




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