Jul. 11, 2001

Makin' Jump Shots

by Michael S. Harper

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Poem: "Makin' Jump Shots," by Michael S. Harper from Images of Kin: New and Selected Poems (University of Illinois Press).

Makin' Jump Shots

He waltzes into the lane
'cross the free-throw line,
fakes a drive, pivots,
floats from the asphalt turf
in an arc of black light,
and sinks two into the chains.

One on one he fakes
down the main, passes
into the free lane
and hits the chains.

A sniff in the fallen air—
he stuffs it through the chains
riding high:
"traveling" someone calls—
and he laughs, stepping
to a silent beat, gliding
as he sinks two into the chains.

It's the birthday of the critic Harold Bloom, born in New York City in 1930, the son of Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe. Bloom's first language was Yiddish. He taught himself to read English before he was five. He holds the title of Sterling Professor of Humanities at Yale, where he has taught for almost forty years. His book The Western Canon, published in 1994, contained his list of the most important books and authors of Western literature. In his early books, Shelley's Mythmaking and The Visionary Company, he bucked the prevailing academic view by claiming that Romanticism was the central tradition of English poetry and a continuing force in literature.

It's the birthday of the tenor Nicolai Gedda, born in Stockholm, Sweden, in 1925. He debuted with the Stockholm Opera in 1952 and was an immediate success. In his long career, he sang in all the major opera houses, and was also renowned for his recitals of German lieder.

It's the birthday of writer Elwyn Brooks White, born in Mount Vernon, New York, in 1899. He was one of the first writers that editor Harold Ross hired for The New Yorker. He wrote essays, poems, sketches, stories, and at least one cartoon caption ("I say it's spinach and I say the hell with it") for the magazine.

On this day in 1804, Aaron Burr shot and killed Alexander Hamilton in a duel. They had long been political enemies, and Hamilton had thwarted Burr's ambitions several times, most recently in his bid for the governorship of New York. When Burr heard that Hamilton had called him "a dangerous man," adding that he had "a still more despicable opinion" of him, Burr demanded satisfaction. Hamilton opposed dueling but as a man of honor felt compelled to accept the challenge. They met early in the morning on the heights of Weehawken, New Jersey, where Hamilton's eldest son had died in a duel three years before. Hamilton fired first, deliberately missing Burr, who then aimed carefully before pulling the trigger. Hamilton left his wife and seven children deeply in debt. Burr's career was ruined.

It's the birthday of John Quincy Adams, sixth president of the United States, born in Braintree, Massachusetts, in 1767. Though he described himself as "reserved, cold, austere, and forbidding," and a "gloomy misanthrope," he was the most skilled and successful diplomat of his time. His presidency is generally considered a political failure, however, stymied as he was by the virulent opposition of the Jacksonians. When he was elected to the House of Representatives after leaving the presidency, it was suggested that he was degrading his former office. He replied, "No man could be degraded by serving the people, either as a representative to Congress or as a town selectman."

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