Feb. 5, 2001
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Poem: "To Elsie," by William Carlos Williams, from The Collected Poems of William Carlos Williams (New Directions).
The pure products of America
mountain folk from Kentucky
or the ribbed north end of
with its isolate lakes and
valleys, its deaf mutes, thieves
and promiscuity between
devil-may-care men who have taken
out of sheer lust of adventure
and young slatterns, bathed
from Monday to Saturday
to be tricked out that night
from imaginations which have no
peasant traditions to give them
but flutter and flaunt
sheer ragssuccumbing without
save numbed terror
under some hedge of choke-cherry
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
house in the suburbs
some doctor's family, some Elsie
expressing with broken
brain the truth about us
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
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
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 runs40 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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