Mar. 30, 2001

Talk About Walking

by Philip Booth

FRIDAY, 30 March 2001
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Poem: "Talk about Walking," by Philip Booth, from Lifelines: Selected Poems 1950-1999 (Viking Press).

Talk about Walking

Where am I going? I'm going
out, out for a walk. I don't
know where except outside.
Outside argument, out beyond
wallpapered walls, outside
wherever it is where nobody
ever imagines. Beyond where
computers circumvent emotion,
where somebody shorted specs
for rivets for airframes on
today's flights. I'm taking off
on my own two feet. I'm going
to clear my head, to watch
mares'-tails instead of TV,
to listen to trees and silence,
to see if I can still breathe.
I'm going to be alone with
myself, to feel how it feels
to embrace what my feet
tell my head, what wind says
in my good ear. I mean to let
myself be embraced, to let go
feeling so centripetally old.
Do I know where I'm going?
I don't. How long or far
I have no idea. No map. I
said I was going to take
a walk. When I'll be back
I'm not going to say.

In 1943 on this date, Rodgers and Hammerstein's musical Oklahoma! opened on Broadway. It had been in previews for three weekends at the Shubert Theater in New Haven, under the title Away We Go! Its producer, Richard Todd, had no faith in it: he said, "No legs, no laughs, no chance." But Richard Rodgers' first collaboration with Oscar Hammerstein was, of course, an immense success.

It's the birthday of novelist Jon Hassler, born in Minneapolis (1933), author of a dozen novels set in small, Midwestern towns: Staggerford (1977), Simon's Night (1979), North of Hope (1990), Rookery Blues (1995), The Dean's List (1997), and others.

It's the birthday of Tom Sharpe, born in London (1928). He's the author of many satiric novels, including Indecent Exposure (1973), set in South Africa; and parodies of academic life: Porterhouse Blue (1974), Wilt (1978), and Vintage Stuff (1982)

It's the birthday of playwright Sean O'Casey, born in Dublin (1880), into a poor Protestant family. He wrote his best-known plays in the early 1920s: The Shadow of a Gunman (1923), Juno and the Paycock (1924), and The Plough and the Stars (1926).

It's the birthday of painter Vincent Van Gogh, born in Zundert, Netherlands (1853). The oldest child of a Protestant pastor, he served briefly as a minister himself, then went through a spiritual crisis and gave away all his possessions. He withdrew to practice drawing, and the last 10 years of his life were packed with furious effort and progress as a painter. After a quarrel with Gauguin, he cut off part of his own ear, was placed in an asylum at St-Rémy, and, shortly after his release, shot himself. He died two days later, 37 years old.

It's the birthday of French poet Paul Verlaine, born in Metz, France (1844). He was associated with the Symbolists poets and with Stéphane Mallarmé and Charles Baudelaire.

On this day in 1842, an anaesthetic was first used in a surgical operation. Dr. Crawford Long, of Jefferson, Georgia, used ether while removing a cyst from the neck of a boy named James Venable.

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