Jun. 15, 2007
The County Fair
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Poem: : "The County Fair" by Ron Padgett, from You Never Know. © Coffee House Press, 2002. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)
The County Fair
The Holstein looks at us with big eyes but with no expression
in them. What images are flashing in its brain? The white goat
walks over as if to ask a question, but it has no question to ask:
there is no question mark in the goat world. The rabbit's pink
eyes dilate when a hand draws near, but it does not move, and
like a horseshoe, it says nothing. The two holes in the top of the
goose's beak are in search of something to get huffy about: the
poor goose is angry and without real nostrils. The black and
white feathers exploding from the head of the rooster show that
he is ready for war against the Infidel. The piglet walks and
trots around with white eyebrows. He likes the Infidel.
Literary and Historical Notes:
It's the birthday of Charles Dickens's famous illustrator, Hablot Knight Browne (books by this author), better known as "Phiz," born in Lambeth, near London (1815), who illustrated David Copperfield, Bleak House, and A Tale of Two Cities.
It's the birthday of Saul Steinberg (books by this author), born in a little village near Bucharest, Romania, in 1914. He came to this country and became a longtime artist at The New Yorker magazine. He painted many covers, including his most famous, "View of the World from 9th Avenue," which shows a New Yorker's view of the country with New York City huge in the foreground and the rest of the country off in the distance, little bumps of details.
Saul Steinberg said of his childhood, "I got high on elementary things like the luminosity of the day and the smell of everything mud, earth, humidity, the delicious smells of cellars and mold, grocers' shops."
His mother was a cake decorator. His father designed specialty cardboard boxes. As a boy, Steinberg liked to rummage through his father's supply of paper and rubber stamps and colored cardboard and blocks of type. He also loved to read, and he later said that he would have become a writer if he had inherited a better language, but instead he learned to draw.
He studied architecture in Italy, got a degree, and at the same time started contributing satirical drawings to humor magazines. He got out of Europe just in time 1941 and he sailed for America from Portugal, carrying a passport that he had doctored with his own rubber stamps. Through the intervention of the editor of The New Yorker, he was allowed to enter the United States in 1942. He enlisted in the Navy, went off to fight in World War II, and then came back to draw cartoons and covers for The New Yorker magazine. He parodied most of the popular styles of painting of the 20th Century, cubism and abstract expressionism, even children's art. His work was always playful and funny. He put in Easter bunnies and the Statue of Liberty, the Chrysler Building, Santa Claus, Mickey Mouse. He once drew Uncle Sam as a bullfighter, fighting a turkey instead of a bull. He loved to make elaborate counterfeit documents currency, passports, licenses, and especially diplomas.
It was Saul Steinberg who said, "The life of the creative man is led directed and controlled by boredom. Avoiding boredom is one of our most important purposes."
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