Aug. 28, 2001

Wynken Blynken

by Gerald Locklin

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Poem: "Wynken, Blynken," by Gerald Locklin from Go West, Young Toad (Water Row Press).

Wynken, Blynken

I've been having a little trouble with my eyes of late;
the most obvious symptom is that I blink a lot.

What I've found, however, is that people think
I'm winking at them.
And, invariably, they wink back.
They seem to conclude that I have put my finger
on that rare hidden quality of theirs
that sets them above all other people in the room.
They respect my perspicacity, my unparalleled taste.
We sit out the whole party
signalling across the room our brother or sisterhood
in the secret order of winkmanship.

If I had known about this little gimmick in my youth,
I'll bet it would have taken me a lot farther socially

than did my crushing handshake and my piercing

It's the birthday of poet Rita Dove, born in Akron, Ohio (1952)—Poet Laureate of the United States, 1993-95. Starting with the National Merit Scholarship she won in high school, she has received scores of awards, including Fulbright, Guggenheim, and Rockefeller Foundation grants and many honorary degrees. Her poem cycle Thomas and Beulah (1986—Pulitzer Prize in Poetry) traces the history of her maternal grandparents, born in the Deep South at the turn of the century. The poems are arranged in two sequences, one devoted to Thomas, born in 1900 in Wartrace, Tennessee, the other to Beulah, born in 1904 in Rockmart, Georgia.

It's the birthday of novelist Robertson Davies, born in Thamesville, Ontario (1913). For most of his life he lived in the Toronto area but started his career in London, England, as an actor at the Old Vic in the early 1940s. Then he returned to Canada to edit his family's newspaper, The Peterborough Examiner. In his own column, he came up with a character he called Samuel Marchbanks, an irascible old bachelor who issued blistering opinions about Canadians from his home in Skunk's Misery, Ontario. Among Davies's 30 volumes of fiction are three trilogies. The most highly regarded is the Depford Trilogy, written in the 1970s: Fifth Business (1970), The Manticore (1972), and World of Wonders (1975).

It's the birthday of bird expert Roger Tory Peterson, born in Jamestown, New York (1908). In his first years of school, he was known as a loner, a boy who would doze off in class, who was rebellious and was seen as strange by classmates. But when he was 11, a teacher started a Junior Audubon Club; for a dime, a member received a set of bird leaflets to study and color. Young Roger was soon obsessed with birds and watched for them wherever he went. Encouraged by other wildlife painters and ornithologists, he compiled his first Field Guide to the Birds, which came out when he was 26. It was an immediate success. Before Peterson, bird manuals had been over-embellished with confusing detail, and had grouped birds by species; he grouped them by their resemblance to one another.

It's the birthday of poet and architecture critic Sir John Betjeman, born in the Highgate section of London (1906). He was knighted in 1969; three years later he succeeded Cecil Day Lewis as Poet Laureate of England, where he remained for many years.

It's the birthday of novelist Count Leo Tolstoy, born to a landed family at Yasnaya Polyana, in the Tula province of Russia (1828). After leaving the army he went to France, Switzerland, and Germany, writing short stories about his travels. Back at his estate he started a school for peasant children, then returned to Europe and published magazines and books praised for their practical views on schooling. At 34 he married a well-educated girl to whom he seemed devoted; they had 13 children. Setting his interest in education aside, he spent the next six years writing War and Peace (1869), an epic tale that follows five Russian families during Napoleon's invasion of Russia. His other masterpiece, Anna Karenina (1877), examines a married woman who confronts society with her adulterous passion. But within two years of its publication, Tolstoy suffered a severe spiritual crisis (1879), and wrapped himself in a mystical, anarchic Christianity. He gave up his estate, gave away his personal possessions, and tried living as a poor and celibate peasant under his wife's roof. Within a decade, the Russian Orthodox Church excommunicated him (1901); nine years after that, he left home secretly with his youngest daughter and a doctor. Within a few days, he died in a remote railway station, 82 years old.

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