Aug. 25, 2012
Today's poem is available in audio form only. Listen to it here.
It's the birthday of poet Charles Wright (books by this author), born in Pickwick Dam, Tennessee (1935). His father was a civil engineer for the Tennessee Valley Authority, and the Wrights moved to different dams around the South, living in government housing. He never thought seriously about writing — when he went to Davidson College, there was only one creative writing course every other year, and he said the college "turned out lawyers, doctors and Presbyterian ministers." When he was 23, he joined the Army and was stationed in Italy, and there he read the poem "Blandula, Tenulla, Vagula" by Ezra Pound, which was set in the part of Italy where Wright was stationed. He said, "I loved the sound of it — it was in iambic pentameter, although I didn't know it at the time, and even if I had, I wouldn't have know what that was." He was so inspired by Pound that he started writing poems, and he went on to publish more than 20 books of poetry.
His books include Country Music: Selected Early Poems (1982), Black Zodiac (1997), Scar Tissue (2006), and, most recently, Outtakes (2010).
He said: "Good sounds make good sense. At least we hope so. Pure style is pure meaning. [...] How you say it, in the end, becomes what you have to say."
It's the birthday of novelist Martin Amis (books by this author), born in Swansea, Wales (1949). His father was the novelist Kingsley Amis. As a child, Martin read nothing besides comic books and science fiction. When he was a teenager, his father married a novelist named Elizabeth Jane Howard. One day, his new stepmother asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up, and he responded, "a writer." She pointed out that he never read anything, so he asked for a book. She gave him Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. Amis said: "I read 20 pages and then besieged my stepmother's study until she told me what I needed to know. I needed to know that Darcy married Elizabeth. (I needed to know that Bingley married Jane.) I needed this information as badly as I had ever needed anything."
Amis was just 24 years old when he published his first novel, The Rachel Papers (1974). The day after he finished writing it, he started on his next book. He has written many novels since then, including Money (1984), Night Train (1997), Yellow Dog (2003), and The Pregnant Widow (2010). His most recent novel, Lionel Asbo: State of England, is just out this month — it's the story of a criminal named Lionel Asbo who wins £140 million in the lottery and becomes an instant celebrity.
It's the birthday of King Ludwig II of Bavaria, born near Munich (1845). When he was 15 years old, Ludwig attended the opera Lohengrin, by the composer Richard Wagner, and he was smitten. His father died when he was 18, and Ludwig became king. Soon after being crowned, Ludwig asked that Wagner be brought to his court. After meeting Ludwig, Wagner wrote: "Alas, he is so handsome and intelligent, so splendid, and so full of soul, that I tremble lest his life should dissolve like a fleeting dream of the gods in this vulgar world." Ludwig offered to be Wagner's patron, to relieve his many debts, and to set him up in a beautiful villa.
As Ludwig showered gifts, praise, and attention on the composer, his Bavarian subjects grew increasingly resentful. Finally, Ludwig's advisers told him he had no choice but to tell Wagner to leave Bavaria. On the day Wagner left, the local newspaper wrote: "The news that Richard Wagner has been ordered to leave Bavaria ran through the city the day before yesterday like wildfire, which is enough in itself to show the extent and the depth of the agitation that the man has aroused by his behavior [...] in spite of all the previous denials, Wagner has tried to exploit our youthful monarch's favor, even going so far as to influence him in matters of state." Wagner moved to Switzerland, where Ludwig paid his rent. The young king sent Wagner a note that began: "Ever increasing longing for the Dear One. The horizon grows ever darker, the crude sunlight of peaceful day torments me unspeakably. I beg my friend for a speedy answer to the following questions: If the Dear One so wishes and wills, I will joyfully renounce the crown and its barren splendor, and come to him, never to part from him again." Wagner replied to Ludwig that he should focus on matters of state and stay in Bavaria. Ludwig ignored the advice and went to visit Wagner, only to find that the composer was living with Cosima von Bülow, the wife of a conductor.
During his reign, Ludwig remained a patron of the arts — theater, music, and architecture. He designed and paid for intricate, fairy-tale castles up in the mountains, and he personally oversaw every detail about the design, layout, and decorating. He became increasingly less involved in politics, and he declined to attend large social events. He was well liked by average Bavarians — he enjoyed touring around the country, visiting people and handing out gifts. But his ministers wanted Ludwig gone. They commissioned a medical report to declare that Ludwig was insane and unfit to rule, although the doctors who wrote it up had not examined him. He was taken into custody at a castle, and the next day, he and one of the doctors went on a walk around the lake there; the doctor asked his servants not to follow them. The men never returned, and both men were found dead in the shallow water near the shore of the lake.
Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®