Aug. 23, 2004
My Daughter Snorkeling
Poem: "My Daughter Snorkeling," by Harry Humes, from August Evening with Trumpet. © University of Arkansas Press. Reprinted with permission.
My Daughter Snorkeling
One more world
you entered on your own,
adjusting the mask, slipping off
face down through the water,
circling the dock,
breath tube sticking straight up,
a slow progression
over the sunken slime-coated tree,
a bottle, a fishing weight,
shimmer and play of light.
Waves broke softly over you.
A damselfly landed on your hair.
If you went out too far, this was to be the signal:
two stones clicked together underwater
and you would turn back to us,
still easy enough, still dependable.
Literary and Historical Notes:
It's the birthday of novelist and short story writer Sophie Kerr, born in Denton, Maryland (1880). She lived in New York for most of her writing career and published several hundred short stories, including more than one hundred each in the Woman's Home Companion and the Saturday Evening Post.
Sophie Kerr is known best not for her writing but for the half-million-dollar trust fund she left to Washington College in Chestertown, Maryland, after her death in 1965. Her will stated that one-half of the annual income from the trust be awarded each year to the graduating senior demonstrating the best potential for literary achievement.
At this year's commencement, the Sophie Kerr Prize, worth $56,159.00 and one of the largest literary prizes in the world, was awarded to Angela Haley, 21, an English major at Washington College.
It's the birthday of poet and novelist Edgar Lee Masters, born in Garnett, Kansas (1869). He lived and worked in Chicago most of his life as a lawyer who also wrote poems and novels. In 1913, William Marion Reedy, an editor in St. Louis, gave Masters a copy of the Greek Anthology. The Greek lyrics and epigrams gave Masters an idea. He would write epitaphs for all 244 dead people buried in an Illinois cemetery near Spoon River, a fictional town based on the small towns Masters knew in his youth.
It's the birthday of anthropologist and writer Clifford Geertz, born in San Francisco (1926), best known for his writings about the interpretation of culture. Geertz described anthropologists as "merchants of astonishment." He is known for breaking away from the 1950s emphasis on scientific inquiry and for introducing a more literary style to the discipline of anthropology. Geertz's fieldwork has taken him to Java, Bali, and Sumatra in Indonesia as well as to Morocco.
He wrote, "You do two or two-and-a-half years in Java in which all you do is live with the people, write down everything, and try to figure out what the hell is going on; then you come back and write-out of the notes, out of your memories, and out of whatever is going on in the field." Geertz is the author of twelve books and won the National Book Critics Circle Award for Works and Lives: The Anthropologist as Author (1988).
On this day in 1927, Italian immigrants Nicola Sacco, a shoemaker, and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, a fish seller, were executed in Boston. Seven years earlier, on April 15, 1920 at 3:00 in the afternoon, in the broad daylight of South Braintree, Massachusetts, two thieves shot and robbed a paymaster and his guard of the nearly $16,000 pay roll they were carrying. A few weeks later, Sacco and Vanzetti were arrested on a streetcar by a policeman who thought they looked suspicious. Both men were armed and lied to police about their guns. That September, Sacco and Vanzetti were indicted for the murders and on the evening of July 14 the jury returned its verdict: both men were declared guilty of murder in the first degree. Neither Sacco nor Vanzetti had a criminal record, nor were they communists. But they were known to the authorities as militant radicals. They were politically active and had been involved in the anti-war movement. Their arrest took place just after the Red Scare of 1919, a time of fear and political unrest.
Many well-known artists and intellectuals including H. G. Wells, Upton Sinclair, Edna St. Vincent Millary, Bertrand Russell, Dorothy Parker, John Dos Passos and George Bernard Shaw demanded and campaigned for a retrial. They were unsuccessful. On August 23, 1927, seven years after their arrest, Sacco and Vanzetti were sent to the electric chair. The execution caused riots in Germany, Paris, and London.
The case inspired poets and novelists. The trial is a major part of the novels Jailbird by Kurt Vonnegut and Upton Sinclair's Boston (1928). Sacco and Vanzetti are the subject of six plays, of which the best known is Maxwell Anderson's verse play (later a movie), Winterset. No single account nor any ballistics test has been able to put to rest all doubts about innocence or guilt. The Sacco-Vanzetti Case has been called "The Case That Will Not Die."
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