May 1, 2007

Count your fingers

by C. D. Wright

TUESDAY, 1 MAY, 2007
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Poem: "Count your fingers" by C.D. Wright from One Big Self: An Investigation. © Copper Canyon Press. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Count your fingers

Count your fingers

Count your toes

Count your nose holes

Count your blessings

Count your stars (lucky or not)

Count your loose change

Count the cars at the crossing

Count the miles to the state line

Count the ticks you pulled off the dog

Count your calluses

Count your shells

Count the points on the antlers

Count the newjack's keys

Count your cards; cut them again

Literary and Historical Notes:

Today is May Day, a day on which you should wash your face with morning dew to keep yourself looking young and beautiful. You should also gather wildflowers and green branches, make some floral garlands, and set up a Maypole to dance around.

Today is the anniversary of the day in 1931 when the Empire State Building opened to the public on the corner of Fifth Avenue and 34th Street in New York City. It was built remarkably quickly, in just over a year. At 102 stories, it was the tallest building in the world until 1974.

It was on this day in 1786 that Mozart's first great opera, The Marriage of Figaro, premiered in Vienna.

It's the birthday of Joseph Heller, (books by this author) born in Brooklyn, New York (1923). He's best known for his novel Catch-22 (1961), about a World War II bomber pilot, Yossarian, who believes that the world is out to get him killed. The entire German army wants to shoot him down, and the men that are supposedly his countrymen keep sending him out on bombing missions, where he is likely to get shot down by those Germans. He spends all his time trying to get himself declared insane so he can stop flying bombing missions, but there is a regulation called Catch-22, which says that if you want out of combat duty you can't be crazy.

Heller wrote, "[A pilot] would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if he didn't, but if he was sane he had to fly them. If he flew them he was crazy and didn't have to; but if he didn't want to he was sane and had to."

It's the birthday of novelist and short-story writer Bobbie Ann Mason, (books by this author) born in Mayfield, Kentucky (1940). She grew up in rural Kentucky, the daughter of dairy farmers. When she got to high school, she realized just how different she was from the city kids. She became the first member of her family to go to college, and she eventually got a Ph.D. from the University of Connecticut. She wrote her dissertation about the novelist Vladimir Nabokov. By the time she was finished, she said, "I was so sick of reading about the alienated hero of superior sensibility that I thought I would write about just the opposite."

She began to write short stories about people in her home state of Kentucky. Her first collection, Shiloh and Other Stories (1982), got great reviews and made her one of the most prominent writers of the so-called New South. Her collection of short stories Nancy Culpepper will come out this August (2007).

It's the birthday of novelist and screenwriter Terry Southern, (books by this author) born in Alvarado, Texas (1924). He co-wrote the screenplays for the films Dr. Strangelove (1964) and Easy Rider (1969), but he started out as a novelist. His first novel was Candy (1958), an erotic retelling of Voltaire's Candide.

Terry Southern said, "The important thing in writing is the capacity to astonish. Not shock—shock is a worn-out word—but astonish."

It was on this day in 1941 that Orson Welles's movie Citizen Kane premiered at the RKO Palace in New York. It was his first feature-length film. At that point, Welles was famous for his work in theater and radio. But he'd gotten an unprecedented contract with RKO studios that gave him complete control over the creative process, even though he was just 24 years old.

When he arrived in Hollywood, he knew almost nothing about filmmaking. He hadn't even seen very many movies. So he spent most of his first year there just watching one movie after another, to get a feel for what was possible. He watched John Ford's film Stagecoach more than 40 times.

A screenwriter named Herman Mankiewicz gave Welles the idea for the movie, about the rise of a newspaperman named Charles Foster Kane. Welles decided to structure the movie as a series of five flashbacks, each from a different character's point of view, and each adding a little more information to the story. The movie was wildly innovative in part because Welles didn't know how to make movies, so he didn't know what the rules were. He used techniques he'd learned from watching German silent films, using unusual camera angles and exaggerated shadows, close-ups and lens distortions.

Unfortunately, for Welles, rumor got out before the movie that it was based on the life of William Randolph Hearst, the owner of the largest chain of newspapers in the country. Hearst attempted to buy the film from RKO Studios so that he could destroy it. When that failed, he announced that none of his newspapers would run advertisements for Citizen Kane, and he persuaded many of the major movie theaters around the country not to show the movie. When it finally premiered on this day in 1941, the movie got several good reviews, but it flopped at the box office largely because few people were able to go see it.

But by 1962, in a poll of movie critics around the country, Citizen Kane was voted the best film of all time. Many people still consider it among the greatest and most influential films ever made, largely because it expanded the language of movies and the possibilities for how a movie could be made.

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®




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