Sep. 17, 2009

Getting to Sleep in New Jersey

by John Stone

Not twenty miles from where I work,
William Williams wrote after dark,
after the last baby was caught,
knowing that what he really ought

to do was sleep. Rutherford slept,
while all night William Williams kept

scratching at his prescription pad,
dissecting the good lines from the bad.

He tested the general question whether
feet or butt or head-first ever

determines as well the length of labor
of a poem. His work is over:

bones and guts and red wheelbarrows;
the loneliness and all the errors

a heart can make the other end
of a stethoscope. Outside, the wind

corners the house with a long crow.
Silently, his contagious snow

covers the banks of the Passaic River,
where he walked once, full of fever,

tracking his solitary way
back to his office and the white day,

a peculiar kind of bright-eyed bird,
hungry for morning and the perfect word.

"Getting to Sleep in New Jersey" by John A. Stone, from Music From Apartment 8: New and Selected Poems. © Louisiana State University Press, 2004. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of filmmaker Baz Luhrmann, born on this day in 1962 in Sydney, Australia. He grew up in a village in rural New South Wales, and his dad ran a gas station and a movie theater. When customers came to fill up their gas tanks, the boy would make up radio shows on the spot to entertain them.

His mother was a ballroom dance teacher, and Baz Luhrmann had been going to ballroom dance competitions from the age of six. So when he started making movies of his own, he decided to make a movie about the world of ballroom dance, and that was Strictly Ballroom (1992)

And then he decided to take on Shakespeare. He said: "What people forget is that Shakespeare was a restless entertainer. When he played the Elizabethan stage, he was basically dealing with an audience of 3,000 drunken punters who were selling pigs and geese in the stalls. He played to everyone from the street sweeper to the Queen of England. And his style was to have stand-up comedy one moment, a song, and then the highest tragedy right next to it. … He was a rambunctious, sexy, violent, entertaining storyteller, and we've tried to be all those things." And the movie he made was Romeo + Juliet (1996), set in a mythical city of Verona Beach (instead of Verona), full of gangs and violence, and with a pop soundtrack. It grossed almost $50 million. Baz Luhrmann also directed Moulin Rouge (2001) and most recently, Australia(2008).

Today is Constitution Day in the United States, because it was on this day in 1787 that the final draft of the Constitution was signed. There were 55 delegates working on the Constitution, and they had been showing up day after day for almost four months to the State House in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

It was on this day in 1862 that more Americans died in one day than in any other day in the nation's history, in the Battle of Antietam. The battle was near Sharpsburg, Maryland. General Lee was hoping to get supplies and men in Maryland, which was a slave state even though it had remained part of the Union and had many pro-Confederate sympathizers. It was this first of just two times that the Confederate Army fought a battle in Union Territory — the other, the Battle of Gettysburg, took place 10 months later.

The fighting began on a cornfield at the Miller Farm, outside Sharpsburg, Maryland, and lasted for 12 hours. The Confederate troops had a better position, but a Union scout discovered a copy of their opponents' battle plans. Both sides suffered huge death tolls — more than 12,000 Union soldiers and almost 11,000 Confederate soldiers died.

It's the birthday of short-story writer Frank O'Connor, (books by this author) born Michael O'Donovan in Cork, Ireland (1903). He grew up in poverty and dropped out of school at age 14, both because the family needed money and because his teachers had decided that he was unteachable.

He joined the Irish Republican Army for a few years, and then he became a librarian, the head of the Cork County Library. He wrote plays, poetry, novels, and biographies, but he's most famous for his short stories, published in his Collected Stories (1981).

It's the birthday of writer Ken Kesey, (books by this author) born in La Junta, Colorado (1935). He wrote One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1962).

And it's the birthday of a doctor and poet who wrote, "It is difficult/ to get the news from poems,/ yet men die miserably every day/ for lack/ of what is found there." That's William Carlos Williams, (books by this author) born in Rutherford, New Jersey (1883). He worked in Rutherford as a doctor for his whole life, and he wrote poetry as well, up until his death at age 80. His books include Spring and All (1923), Imaginations (1970), and a five-volume epic poem called Paterson, the name of the city near Rutherford where he was head pediatrician of the hospital.

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




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