Tuesday

Nov. 19, 2002

Topography

by Sharon Olds

TUESDAY, 19 NOVEMBER 2002
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Poem: "Topography," by Sharon Olds from The Gold Cell (Alfred A. Knopf).

Topography

After we flew across the country we
got in bed, laid our bodies
delicately together, like maps laid
face to face, East to West, my
San Francisco against your New York, your
Fire Island against my Sonoma, my
New Orleans deep in your Texas, your Idaho
bright on my Great Lakes, my Kansas
burning against your Kansas your Kansas
burning against my Kansas, your Eastern
Standard Time pressing into my
Pacific Time, my Mountain Time
beating against your Central Time, your
sun rising swiftly from the right my
sun rising swiftly from the left your
moon rising slowly from the left my
moon rising slowly from the right until
all four bodies of the sky
burn above us, sealing us together,
all our cities twin cities,
all our states united, one
nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.


On this day in 1863, President Abraham Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address at the dedication of the National Cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. After a two-hour speech by orator Edward Everett, President Lincoln gave his ten-sentence address, which lasted less than two minutes and many people were not even aware that he had spoken.

It's the birthday of poet Sharon Olds, born in San Francisco, California (1942). Olds was, in her own words, raised as a "hellfire Calvinist" in Berkeley, California. She graduated from Stanford and then moved East finally to attend graduate school at Ph.D. she stood on the steps of the library at Columbia University and vowed to give up all that she learned at Columbia in order to write her own poems, even if they were bad. Her first collection, Satan Says, was published in 1980 when she was 37 years old. Over the course of five books, however, she has quickly become one of America's most highly regarded poets; her readings attract overflow audiences, and her volume The Dead and the Living won the 1983 National Book Critics Circle Award. Her later works include The Father (1992), The Wellspring (1992), and Blood, Tin, Straw (1999).

It's the birthday of trombonist and bandleader Thomas Francis "Tommy" Dorsey, born in Shenandoah, Pennsylvania (1905), known as "The Sentimental Gentleman of Swing." He was the son of a miner and self-taught musician who led a band in his spare time. The father was determined that Tommy and his older brother, Jimmy, would not follow him into the mines. He saw music as their means of escape and began giving them lessons on the cornet as soon as they could blow a horn. Both boys were soon playing in their father's band; and by the time Tommy was sixteen, they had a band of their own, Dorsey's Wild Canaries. They played with Bix Beiderbecke, Joe Venuti, and joined Paul Whiteman's orchestra. At the urging of Glenn Miller, the Dorseys had formed an eleven-piece orchestra for which Miller wrote most of the arrangements. They broke up a year later on May 30, 1935. Temperamentally, the brothers were exact opposites. The brothers' differences stemmed largely from the fact that "Tommy was always a great one for pushing," as their mother recalled, "and Jimmy for taking his own sweet time." On that day, Tommy beat the tempo for "I'll Never Say 'Never Again' Again." "Isn't that a little too fast?" asked Jimmy. "Let's do it right or not do it at all." "All right!" exclaimed Tommy. "We won't do it at all." With a derisive blast on his trombone, he walked off the bandstand.

It's the birthday of poet and novelist (John Orley) Allen Tate, born in Winchester, Kentucky (1899). During his time at Vanderbilt, Tate was the only undergraduate to be admitted to membership in the Fugitives, an informal group of Southern intellectuals that included poet Robert Penn Warren. The Fugitives met once a week to discuss poetry--their own and others'--and to mount a defense against the notion that the South did not possess a significant literature of its own . The Fugitives were practitioners and defenders of formal technique in poetry and were preoccupied with the defending the traditional values of the agrarian South against the effects of urban industrialization. He is best known for his poem "Ode to the Confederate Dead" (1926).




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