Monday

Aug. 31, 2009

How much meat moves
Into the city each night
The decks of its bridges tremble
In the liquefaction of sodium light
And the moon a chemical orange

Semitrailers strain their axles
Shivering as they take the long curve
Over warehouses and lofts
The wilderness of streets below
The mesh of it
With Joe on the front stoop smoking
And Louise on the phone with her mother

Out of the haze of industrial meadows
They arrive, numberless
Hauling tons of dead lamb
Bone and flesh and offal
Miles to the ports and channels
Of the city's shimmering membrane
A giant breathing cell
Exhaling its waste
From the stacks by the river
And feeding through the night

"Meat" by August Kleinzahler, from Sleeping It Off In Rapid City. © Farrar, Straus, & Giroux, 2008. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of the lyricist Alan Jay Lerner, born in New York City in 1918. He came from a well-to-do family — his father owned a chain of women's clothing stores, and Lerner went to school at Harvard, where he got his start with the Hasty Pudding Club. After graduation, he wrote advertising copy and lyrics for radio scripts.

Then, one day in 1942, he was at the Lambs Club in New York, and a man named Frederick Loewe took a wrong turn on his way to the men's room and ended up at Lerner's table. Loewe was Austrian, the son of a famous tenor, and he himself was a struggling composer. He recognized Lerner and asked him if he was the man who wrote lyrics. They decided to try working together and went on to write a string of hit musicals, including Brigadoon (1947), My Fair Lady (1956), Gigi (1958), and Camelot (1960).

He wrote:
Why can't the English teach their children how to speak?
This verbal class distinction by now should be antique.
If you spoke as she does, sir, Instead of the way you do,
Why, you might be selling flowers, too.
An Englishman's way of speaking absolutely classifies him,
The moment he talks he makes some other
Englishman despise him.
One common language I'm afraid we'll never get.
Oh, why can't the English learn to set
A good example to people whose English is painful to your ears?
The Scotch and the Irish leave you close to tears.
There even are places where English completely disappears.
In America, they haven't used it for years!

It's the birthday of Maria Montessori, (books by this author) born on this day in Chiaravalle, Italy (1870). She was a bright student, and she wanted to study engineering, so when she was 13, against her father's wishes she entered a technical school, where all her classmates were boys. After a few years, she decided to pursue medicine, and she became the first woman in Italy to earn a medical degree. It was so unheard of for a woman to go to medical school that she had to get the approval of the pope in order to study there.

As a doctor, she worked with children with special needs, and through her work with them she became increasingly interested in education. She believed that children were not blank slates, but that they each had inherent, individual gifts. It was a teacher's job to help children find these gifts, rather than dictating what a child should know. She emphasized independence, self-directed learning, and learning from peers. Children were encouraged to make decisions. She was one of the first to use child-sized tables and chairs in the classroom.

During World War II, Montessori was exiled from Italy because she was opposed to Mussolini's fascism and his desire to make her a figurehead for the Italian government. She lived and worked in India for many years, and then in Holland. She died in 1952 at the age of 81.

She wrote many books about her philosophy of education, including The Montessori Method (1912) and The Absorbent Mind (1949).

It's the birthday of William Shawn, (books by this author) born William Chon in Chicago (1907), who worked at The New Yorker for 54 years, and was the editor for 35. He was small, with big ears, and he spoke in a high, mild voice, always considerate. When he sat at his desk his feet barely touched the ground. He was extremely shy and he never discussed his personal life. He didn't give interviews or pose in photographs, and even his coworkers knew almost nothing about him outside of the office. They always called him "Mr. Shawn."

But his writers loved him, and he published many of the preeminent writers of the day, including E.B. White, John McPhee, Elizabeth Bishop, John Updike, Jamaica Kincaid, and J.D. Salinger. He personally edited Rachel Carson's Silent Spring and Truman Capote's In Cold Blood, and published themas long articles in the magazine before they came out as books.

He said: "Amid chaos of images, we value coherence. We believe in the printed word. And we believe in clarity. And we believe in immaculate syntax. And in the beauty of the English language.

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

 









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