Nov. 18, 2007


by Charles O. Hartman

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Poem: "Ticket" by Charles O. Hartman, from Island. © Ahsahta Press, 2004. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)


I love the moment at the ticket window—he says—
when you are to say the name of your destination, and realize
that you could say anything, the man at the counter
will believe you, the woman at the counter
would never say No, that isn't where you're going,
you could buy a ticket for one place and go to another,
less far along the same line. Suddenly you would find yourself
—he says—in a locality you've never seen before,
where no one has ever seen you and you could say your name
was anything you like, nobody would say No,
that isn't you, this is who you are. It thrills me every time.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of novelist and poet Margaret Atwood, (books by this author) born in Ottawa, Ontario (1939), who as far as anyone can tell, has had an extremely happy life, a happy childhood, a happy marriage, but who has written a series of very disturbing books, including The Edible Woman (1969), about a woman who stops eating after her boyfriend proposes marriage; The Handmaid's Tale (1985), about an imaginary America where most women have lost the ability to have babies, and the few fertile women left are forced to become surrogate mothers for the upper class; and Cat's Eye (1988), about an artist whose retrospective forces her to return to her hometown and relive the memories of being tortured by her closest childhood friend, Cordelia.

Critics started calling Atwood "the high priestess of pain," but Atwood said, "All that means is that I'm good at describing certain kinds of emotions. ... I'm also good at writing fake newspaper reports. [I could be the] high priestess of fake newspaper reports." She also said, "Women see me as living proof that you don't have to come to a sticky end — put your head in an oven, stay silent for 30 years, not have children — to be a good and serious writer." Her most recent book is The Tent (2006), a collection of stories and poems.

It's the birthday of American statistician George Gallup, (books by this author) born in Jefferson, Iowa (1901). He was a student at the University of Iowa when he conducted his first poll for the Daily Iowan, to find the prettiest girl on campus. The winner was Ophelia Smith, whom Gallup later married. In 1935, he set up the American Institute of Public Opinion at Princeton University and became the first person to show that small samples of the populace could accurately predict general attitudes. He became famous when he predicted the margin by which Franklin D. Roosevelt would beat Alf Landon in 1936. About 200 newspapers began publishing his reports, and he only made one major mistake, predicting that Thomas Dewey would defeat Harry Truman in 1948. George Gallup said, "Polling is merely an instrument for gauging public opinion. When a president or any other leader pays attention to poll results, he is, in effect, paying attention to the views of the people. Any other interpretation is nonsense."

It's the birthday of playwright and humorist W.S. (William Schwenk) Gilbert, (books by this author) of Gilbert and Sullivan, born in London (1836). He was a writer of humorous verse when he met composer Arthur Sullivan in 1870, and they went on to write 14 comic operas in the 25-year period from 1871 to 1896, including H.M.S. Pinafore (1878) and The Pirates of Penzance (1879). W.S. Gilbert, who wrote, "Life's a pudding full of plums; / Care's a canker that benumbs, / Wherefore waste our elocution / On impossible solution? / Life's a pleasant institution, / Let us take it as it comes."

It's the birthday of the man who helped invent the art of photography, Louis Daguerre, born just outside of Paris, France (1789), who started out as a theater designer, using hand-painted translucent screens and elaborate lighting effects to create the illusion of a sunrise or a sudden storm onstage. But in 1829, he learned about a new technology that made it possible to use light to capture an image on a metal plate, though the quality of the image was poor. Daguerre set out to improve the process, and he came up with a combination of copper plate coated with silver salts that could be developed with the application of mercury vapor and table salt.

He first used this process to capture a series of images of Paris, including pictures of the Louvre and Notre Dame. The camera needed about 15 minutes exposure time to capture an image, so most of Dagurre's early pictures don't show any people. The one exception is a picture of a boulevard that shows a man in the foreground who has stopped to shine his shoes. He was the first human being ever caught on film. Daguerre announced his invention in 1839, and the images he produced became known as daguerreotypes.

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