Wednesday

Jan. 31, 2007

Thanks, Robert Frost

by David Ray

WEDNESDAY, 31 JANUARY, 2007
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Poem: "Thanks, Robert Frost" by David Ray, from Music of Time: Selected and New Poems. © The Backwaters Press. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Thanks, Robert Frost

Do you have hope for the future?
someone asked Robert Frost, toward the end.
Yes, and even for the past, he replied,
that it will turn out to have been all right
for what it was, something we can accept,
mistakes made by the selves we had to be,
not able to be, perhaps, what we wished,
or what looking back half the time it seems
we could so easily have been, or ought...
The future, yes, and even for the past,
that it will become something we can bear.
And I too, and my children, so I hope,
will recall as not too heavy the tug
of those albatrosses I sadly placed
upon their tender necks. Hope for the past,
yes, old Frost, your words provide that courage,
and it brings strange peace that itself passes
into past, easier to bear because
you said it, rather casually, as snow
went on falling in Vermont years ago.


Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of one of the most important folklorists in American history, Alan Lomax, (books by this author) born in Austin, Texas (1915). (Some sources give his birthday as January 15.) His father, John Lomax, was one of the first people ever to travel around the American South to write down the lyrics of folk songs sung by ordinary people in saloons and on back porches. It was John Lomax who discovered a folksong that became known as "Home on the Range." By the time Alan Lomax was born, his father had taken a banking job to support the family. But he lost that job during the Great Depression, and in 1933, he applied for a grant to start collecting folk songs for the Library of Congress. Alan was 18 years old and the time, and he went along as an assistant.

They got in their beat-up old Ford with a tent and a 500-pound recording machine and went off to scour the prisons, plantations, and lumber camps, looking for songs. One of the stops they made on that first trip was Angola prison, and it was there that they first recorded a barrel-chested man with a beautiful deep voice, who went by the name of Leadbelly and introduced them to songs like "Goodnight Irene" and "Rock Island Line."

Alan's father would go on to become the first curator of the Archive of American Folk Song in the Library of Congress, but it was Alan would do most of the collecting. He traveled all over, recording everything from church singers to voodoo ceremonies. Unlike other musicologists, Lomax always tried to get the best recording equipment available. And even though he was recording on the fly in the field, he was careful about microphone placement and did everything he could to capture a high-quality sound.

He was one of the first people to record Woody Guthrie and helped get him a recording contract. In 1941, he went on a quest to try to find the legendary bluesman Robert Johnson, only to find that Johnson was already dead. But along the way, he made the first recording of a bluesman who called himself Muddy Waters. Waters later said that it was hearing the recording that Lomax had made that persuaded him to pursue a career in music.

Lomax also wrote numerous books about folk music and, in 1993, published a memoir of his early life called The Land Where the Blues Began.


It's the birthday of Norman Mailer, (books by this author) born in Long Branch, New Jersey (1923). His novel The Naked and the Dead (1948) became the definitive literary novel about World War II, and it made Norman Mailer famous at the age of 25. His next two novels flopped, and critics said that he had failed to live up to his promise as a writer. He was depressed by the bad reviews he had gotten, and he decided that he would take a break from trying to write the great American novel. Instead he wrote one of the most confessional books that had been published up to that time, Advertisements for Myself (1959), about his own ambitions and fears.

Mailer became a regular and controversial guest on late-night talk shows, trying to stir people up against conformity. He also helped invent a new style of journalism, in which the journalist himself was a character in his own stories. He used that style in his book The Armies of the Night (1968), which won the Pulitzer Prize for non-fiction.

His most recent book is The Castle in the Forest, which just came out this month (2007). It's a fictionalized version of Adolf Hitler's childhood.


It's the birthday of short-story writer and novelist John O'Hara, (books by this author) born in Pottsville, Pennsylvania (1905). He was a newspaper reporter who started writing fiction on the side and went on to become one of the most popular serious writers of his lifetime, writing many best-selling novels, including Appointment in Samarra (1934) and A Rage to Live (1949). Most critics consider his best work to be his short stories, which were published as the Collected Stories of John O'Hara (1984). He holds the record for the greatest number of short stories published by a single author in The New Yorker magazine, more than 300.


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