Jul. 28, 2000

Serious Doll, The

by John Ashbery

Broadcast date: FRIDAY, 28 July 2000

"The Serious Doll," by John Ashberry, from Three Books (Penguin Books).

It's the birthday of poet John Ashbery, born in Rochester, New York (1927)-known for the elegance, originality, and obscurity of his poems. His collection Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror (1975) won not only the National Book Award for poetry, but the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle prize. He said,

"It's important to try to write when you are in the wrong mood, or the weather is wrong. Even if you don't succeed, you'll be developing a muscle that may do it later on. And I think writing does get easier as you get older. It's a question of practice-and also of realizing you don't have the oceans of time to waste you had when you were young."

It's the birthday of radical artist Marcel Duchamp, born in Blainville, Normandy (1887). His father, the town 'notary,' negotiated contracts and arbitrated disputes. Four of the family's 6 children became artists. Marcel became famous in 1913 for a painting of his shown at New York's Armory Show: "Nude Descending a Staircase, #2." He's also known for his 'ready-made' sculptures, such as his bicycle wheel mounted upside-down on a kitchen stool (1913). After his death, friends were astounded to learn he had spent his final 20 years working secretly on a major piece now on view at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Its abbreviated title, Étant donnés, means 'Being given.' The viewer approaches what seems to be an old wooden barn door, finds a peep-hole at eye level, peers through it and sees a strange diorama featuring a woman's reclining nude torso, legs splayed toward the peep-hole, her face out of viewing range, her raised hand holding a gas lamp. "In my time," he said, "we artists were pariahs. We knew it and we enjoyed it."

It's the birthday of poet Gerard Manley Hopkins, born in Stratford, Essex (1844). He wrote a great deal of poetry in his youth, and then, after converting to Catholicism and becoming Jesuit, he burned all his early work. In 1876, he broke a 7-year silence and wrote his long poem "The Wreck of the Deutschland." (1876). He lived his last 5 years in Dublin, deeply depressed, writing his 'Dark Sonnets.' He died of typhus at 44.

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




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