Feb. 5, 2001

MONDAY, 5 February 2001
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Poem: "To Elsie," by William Carlos Williams, from The Collected Poems of William Carlos Williams (New Directions).

To Elsie

The pure products of America
go crazy—
mountain folk from Kentucky

or the ribbed north end of
with its isolate lakes and

valleys, its deaf mutes, thieves
old names
and promiscuity between

devil-may-care men who have taken
to railroading
out of sheer lust of adventure—

and young slatterns, bathed
in filth
from Monday to Saturday

to be tricked out that night
with gauds
from imaginations which have no

peasant traditions to give them
but flutter and flaunt

sheer rags—succumbing without
save numbed terror

under some hedge of choke-cherry
or viburnum—
which they cannot express—

Unless it be that marriage
with a dash of Indian blood

will throw up a girl so desolate
so hemmed round
with disease or murder

that she'll be rescued by an
reared by the state and

sent out at fifteen to work in
some hard-pressed
house in the suburbs—

some doctor's family, some Elsie—
voluptuous water
expressing with broken

brain the truth about us—
her great
ungainly hips and flopping breasts

addressed to cheap
and rich young men with fine eyes

as if the earth under our feet
an excrement of some sky

and we degraded prisoners
to hunger until we eat filth

while the imagination strains
after deer
going by fields of goldenrod in

the stifling heat of September
it seems to destroy us

It is only in isolate flecks that
is given off

No one
to witness
and adjust, no one to drive the car

It's the birthday of Elizabeth Swados, born in Buffalo, New York (1951), into a family of artists and performers. She was part of the avant-garde La Mama Theatre Group in New York, where she did an adaptation of Medea (1972) that used Greek and Latin words chosen for sound rather than sense. She created similar versions of The Trojan Women and Electra, incorporating Asian, African, Mayan, Aztec and Native American languages. She has also written several novels, most recently Flamboyant (1999), and a memoir of her family entitled The Four of Us (1991).

It's the birthday of playwright John Guare, born in New York City (1938). In grade school he went to the theater every week and listened to Broadway albums by the hour. When he started writing plays at the age of ten, his parents gave him a typewriter that he still uses. To promote his first production, when he was eleven, he and a friend called Newsday and said, "Two boys are putting on a play in a garage and giving all the money to orphans," and they got their pictures in the paper. His works include House of Blue Leaves (1971), and Six Degrees of Separation (1990).

"I always tell my students...Whatever it is that wakes you up at four o'clock in the morning, that's what you have to write about. You have to write about the nightmares."

It's the birthday of baseball player Hank (Henry) Aaron, born in Mobile, Alabama (1934). He started off in the Negro Leagues with the Indianapolis Clowns, then spent 20 years with the Milwaukee (later, Atlanta) Braves. He hit 755 home runs—40 more than the record set by Babe Ruth.

The first issue of Reader's Digest magazine was published on this day in 1922: thirty-one condensed articles, edited by DeWitt Wallace.

It's the birthday of William S. Burroughs, born in St. Louis (1914). Most of his books are about heroin addiction, his homosexuality, or the drug culture. His first novel, Junky: Confessions of an Unredeemed Drug Addict (1951), was followed by Naked Lunch (1959) and many others, including Queen (1985).

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