Nov. 3, 2007


by Philip Dacey

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Poem: "17" by Philip Dacey, from The New York Postcard Sonnets: A Midwesterner Moves to Manhattan. © Rain Mountain Press, 2007. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)


Still more talk heard in passing on the street:
"I can't figure out if he's shy, retarded, or gay."
"Art feeds this town the way cars feed Detroit."
"Just earning interest is so yesterday."

"Did you say 'get' or 'make' a porn flick?" "Hey,
a Starbucks!" "I wonder what it's like to live here."
"Breath-taking!" "I hate those kinds of dog. What are they?"
"I'm not much of an actor, but I love Shakespeare."

"Liam Neeson lives in our neighborhood."
"86th street is a forgettable stop."
"The body's an engine, don't put in fuel that's bad."
"He's got the money, muscles, broads. I've got zip."

"It's got to come back to me another way."
"You really didn't like the Tom Stoppard play?"

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of the photographer Walker Evans, (books featuring this artist) born in St. Louis, Missouri (1903), who wanted to be a writer but suffered from terrible writer's block. He said, "I wanted so much to write that I couldn't write a word." He felt like a failure until one day he picked up a camera and realized that with a camera he didn't have to create things, he could just capture them. The popular photography of the day was highly stylized, so Evans decided to go in the opposite direction, to take pictures of ordinary, unpretentious things. He said, "If the thing is there, why there it is."

Evans photographed storefronts and signs with marquee lights, blurred views from speeding trains, old office furniture, and common tools. He took pictures of people in the New York City subways with a camera hidden in his winter coat. He especially loved photographing bedrooms: farmers' bedrooms, bohemian bedrooms, middle-class bedrooms. He'd photograph what people had on their dressers and in their dresser drawers. In 1933, Evans was given the first one-man photographic exhibition by the new Museum of Modern Art.

In the summer of 1936, he collaborated with the journalist James Agee on a book about tenant farmers Greensboro, Alabama, called Let Us Now Praise Famous Men (1941), which included Evans's photographs of the Burroughs family, the Fields family, and the Tingle family at work on their farms and in their homes. Those photos are among the most famous images of the Great Depression.

Walker Evans said, "Stare, pry, listen, eavesdrop. Die knowing something. You are not here long."

It's the birthday of the playwright Terrence McNally, (books by this author) born in St. Petersburg, Florida (1939), who started out writing absurdist comedies. He thought he'd made it big when his very first full-length play, And Things that Go Bump in the Night, premiered on Broadway in 1965, but it closed after just two weeks. He spent the next two decades writing a series of plays that had some moderate success, but he didn't have a really big hit until he wrote Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune (1987), about a middle-aged short-order cook who wants to sweep a shy middle-aged waitress off her feet, when all she wants to do is stay home every night and watch television. The play was made into a movie in 1991. McNally's most recent play, Deuce, about two former professional tennis players, just finished a run of 121 performances this past August (2007).

It's the birthday of the humorist and cultural critic Joe Queenan, (books by this author) born in Philadelphia (1950), who had been working a series of manual labor jobs, loading trucks and selling tennis racquets, when he sat down one day and wrote an essay called "Ten Things I Hate about Public Relations," and when he sent it to The Wall Street Journal, they published it. He went on to make a career for himself as a freelance writer, and he's collected his work in books such as Red Lobster, White Trash, and the Blue Lagoon (1999), and Balsamic Dreams: A Short but Selfish History of the Baby Boomer Generation (2001). Joe Queenan's advice to aspiring writers is, "Don't write until you're 25. Don't write for the high school yearbook. Don't write for the college literary magazine. Don't write that stuff — you never had any experiences, you don't know anything, just shut up."

It's the birthday of André Malraux, (books by this author) born in Paris (1901), who dropped out of school when he was 16, taught himself about art by spending all his time in museums, and began writing art criticism for avant-garde magazines. He then went off to Southeast Asia to make a living smuggling stolen art works back to Europe and almost wound up in prison. But it was in Asia that he witnessed a series of communist uprisings that inspired his first few novels, including Man's Fate (1933). He went on to fight against the Fascists in the Spanish Civil War, organizing a squadron of planes to help bomb Franco's fascist army, which he wrote about in his book Man's Hope (1937), and while he was living in besieged Catalonia, he made a feature film about the war, with bombs falling as his camera rolled. André Malraux, who said, "Youth is a religion from which one always ends up being converted."

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