Jan. 10, 2010
Praise my plain young mother for leaving
her husband's bed at four in the morning
fumbling around for her bifocals
carting her stained velour slippers
down the raw-grained stairs not tying
her robe sliding her violin from between
the magazine rack and the firewood
easing past the mantelpiece scattered
with wedding portraits
praise the caked galoshes drying beside
the basement door swollen away
from its frame and the top step's narrow slat
praise her large bare feet
their tough and knotty bunions
the cool of her hand on her sheet music
praise the scotch tape on the spine
of her Bach and its weakening glue
her penciled maiden name
praise the steadfast ladderback chair
and the music stand there in the basement
the set tubs the damp socks
and undershirts draped too close
to her shoulders praise her shoulders
limber and painless for three brief hours
praise the rosin's glide down her bow
the throaty fifths the sacrament
of her tuning
praise the measure she counted aloud
and the downbeat's breath-lunge
praise her calloused and lovely fingerpads
the noteprints the sixty-watt bulb
the mud-plashed screen through which
the unsorrowing ends of the night slipped in
and although she did not ask to be touched
praise how they lifted up the brittle
wisps of her perm.
It's the 82nd birthday of poet Philip Levine, (books by this author) born in Detroit (1928), the son of Russian Jewish immigrants. He won the National Book Award in 1991 for What Work Is and the Pulitzer Prize in 1995 for The Simple Truth.
He was in his 20s, working in the Detroit auto manufacturing plants by day and going to night school at Wayne State University, when he began writing poetry. He said that he realized that his co-workers were "voiceless in a way," that nobody in American literature spoke for them. He said, "As young people will, you know, I took this foolish vow that I would speak for them and that's what my life would be."
His most recent book of poems came out just a few months ago, in October; it's called News of the World: Poems (2009).
It's the birthday of Stephen E. Ambrose, (books by this author) born in Lovington, Illinois (1936), who wrote several best-selling books about American history, including Band of Brothers (1992) and Undaunted Courage: Meriwether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson, and the Opening of the American West (1996).
He was a longtime professor, and many of the stories he wrote in his popular history books were ones he'd told over and over to his college students, trying hard to entertain them. He said, "There is nothing like standing before 50 students at 8:00 a.m. to start talking about an event that occurred 100 years ago, because the look on their faces is a challenge — 'Let's see you keep me awake.' You learn what works and what doesn't in a hurry."
It was on this day in 1776 that a 77-page pamphlet called "Common Sense" was published anonymously, making the case that the American colonies should declare independence from Great Britain. It was written by Thomas Paine. (books by this author) The pamphlet sold more than 500,000 copies, more copies than any other publication had ever sold at that time in America.
John Adams (books by this author) would always be somewhat jealous of the attention "Common Sense" and its author received, but even he had to admit that it was "Common Sense," more than anything else, that had persuaded most ordinary Americans to support independence.
It's the birthday of the poet Robinson Jeffers, (books by this author) born in Allegheny, Pennsylvania (1887). He was still trying to figure out what to do for a living when he inherited enough money to support himself writing poetry, so he moved to the coast of California and built himself an observation tower so that he could observe the natural world and write about it.
He was living in his tower, without electricity or plumbing, publishing his books of poetry at his own expense, when an editor chose one of his poems for an anthology of California verse. Jeffers sent the editor his new collection Tamar and Other Poems (1924) as a thank-you gift, and the editor liked it so much that he sent it around to various magazines, where it got great reviews. Jeffers sent all the copies of the book he had to New York, and they immediately sold out.
Within a year, Jeffers was hailed as a genius, compared to Sophocles and Shakespeare and Walt Whitman. He appeared on the cover of Time magazine. Real estate agents started using his name to sell land in Carmel, California, where he lived. But after his initial success, he began to write long narrative poems that no one could categorize. By the 1940s, Jeffers had sunk back into obscurity. He's been reassessed in the last two decades as possibly one of the greatest American poets of the 20th century. A new collection of his work, The Selected Poetry of Robinson Jeffers, came out in 2001.
Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®