Friday

Nov. 10, 2000

Semi-Literate

by Joyce Sutphen

Broadcast date: FRIDAY 10 November 2000

Poem: "Semi-Literate" by Joyce Sutphen from Coming Back to the Body (Holy Cow Press)

Semi-Literate

Once I had no sense of the alphabet's
Song, of its long train that wound along
The top of the chalkboard in the schoolroom.

I was anxious about little pairs of letters
That seemed to hold hands and go off into
The woods together: c and d; e and...

F(thatís right!); h and I (hi!); j and k.
And then there was the caterpillar of
l-m-n-o-p. What could that be?

I was sure it meant something, something
Important, but Iíve never met one yet.
Q-r-s was curious, that was certain,

T-u-v I liked because it reminded
Me of a little cabin by a lake
Where waves crashed on rocks all night. W.

Was that only one letter? One piece
Of the alphabet? Or did it come apart
To make another u and v? X, oh

Yesóthat one made sense, but Y didnít
Sound the way it looked, and when you asked
"Why?" that wasnít it, but z was something

I could love: a little striped horse, gazing
Out the window, longing to go home.

On this day in 1969, the TV show Sesame Street made its first appearance on PBS. In a preview show, as if to admit the difficulty its writers had in finding a suitable name, 6 muppets sat around a conference table and argued whether to call the program "The Two-and-Two-Are-Five Show" or "The Little Kiddy Show" or "The Nitty Gritty, Little Kiddy Show." Then the name "123 Sesame Street" was considered -- the numbers signifying the street address where most of the showís characters lived, and also suggesting the number-counting theme of the show. To simplify the title, the numbers were dropped.

On this day in 1928, the first installment of the antiwar novel All Quiet on the Western Front (in German, Im Westen nichts Neues) was published in the German newspaper Vossische Zeitung. Two months later it was published in book form. The author, Erich Maria Remarque, had been drafted into the German army at 18 and was wounded several times in the course of World War I. In terse, understated style, he described the daily horrors faced by soldiers in the trenches. The novel's matter-of-fact tone shocked many German readers, who found it amoral, in contrast to the patriotic rhetoric on the rise in Germany. In 1933, a year after gaining power, the Nazis banned the book.

Itís the birthday of poet Karl Shapiro, born in Baltimore (1913).

Itís the birthday of playwright and poet (Johann Christoph) Friedrich Von Schiller, born in Marbach, in what is now Germany (1759). After attending a military academy, he became an army surgeon in Stuttgart, where he started writing his Sturm und Drang (storm and stress) style of verse and drama. He was "ennobled," adding the "von" to the middle of his name, in 1802 when he was 42 years old. His works include the blank-verse drama Don Carlos (1787), the Wallenstein trilogy of plays (1800-1801), the drama William Tell (1804) -- and the poem "An die Freude" ("Ode to Joy"), later set to music by Beethoven in his Choral Symphony.

Itís the birthday of playwright Oliver Goldsmith, born in Kilkenny West, County Westmeath, Ireland (1730). He spent some unhappy years as an undergraduate at Trinity college in Dublin, and took his B. A. at 19, intending to study in the medical school at Edinburgh through the generous support of his relatives. He took no degree there, managed to squander his allowance on a trip through Europe, and arrived in London, bedraggled and penniless, when he was twenty-five. But, he managed to rise from total obscurity to established writer in only a few years, mixing with aristocrats and the intellectual elite of London. He worked as an apothecary's assistant, physician, and hack writer ≠ reviewing, translating, and compiling ≠ and his graceful, lively, and readable style was soon noticed by booksellers. He emerged as an essayist with The Citizen of the World (1762), a collection of mildly satiric essays on English life as viewed by an imaginary Chinese visitor. Two years later he had won a reputation as a poet with "The Traveler," a poem praising English freedom but attacking the social evils that kept wealth in the hands of a few and drove the poor to emigrate to America. That reputation was confirmed with The Deserted Village (1770), a verse collection containing charming vignettes of rural life while denouncing the evictions of the country poor at the hands of wealthy landowners. In his late thirties, Goldsmith turned to the theater and wrote two successful plays, The Good-Natured Man (1768) and She Stoops to Conquer (1773), a witty attack on the sentimental drama of the day. Goldsmith's success as a writer enabled him to live comfortably, but his extravagance continually ran him into debt. His only novel, The Vicar of Wakefield (1766), helped keep him out of debtor's prison the year it was published.

"The true use of speech is not so much to express our wants as to conceal them."

It's the birthday of English painter and engraver William Hogarth, born in London (1697). His best-known works are several series of popular satiric engravings in which he ridiculed the viciousness and folly that he saw in the world around him ≠ A Harlot's Progress (1731), A Rake's Progress (1735), and Marriage à la Mode (1745).

Itís the birthday of the Augustinian monk Martin Luther, born in Eisleben, Saxony (1483), who was a founder and leader of the Reformation and Protestantism. He was 33 when, "for the purpose of eliciting truth," he tacked his 95 theses - or propositions - onto the door of Wittenberg's castle church (October 31, 1517) on the eve of All Saints' Day. Many of his views were still tentative; he did not, for example, deny papal prerogative, but did find fault with papal policy, such as the sale of indulgences by the Catholic hierarchy. A turning point in Luther's thinking came when he discovered the message of grace - that a sinner is saved by God through faith alone, not by the sinnerís actions, and certainly not by donating money to the Church. Luther's protest might well have gone unnoticed if not for the recent invention of the printing press, which made it possible for copies of his Theses to be circulated far and wide.

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

 









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