Monday

Jun. 17, 2013

The Swiss Family Robinson

by Ron Padgett

I never quite understood who
the Swiss Family Robinson were.
The inversion of their name
confused me at an early age,
just as the name of Mary Baker Eddy
sounded as though she started out
as a woman and turned into
a guy named Eddy. At Walt
Disney World there is an attraction
called Swiss Family Robinson that
involves a tree house, so I assume
they lived in a tree. Why they did
I don't know. It sounds rather
stressful to me, the fear
of falling out. I could look up
the Swiss Family Robinson
in a reference book, but
it's interesting not to know
something that everyone else knows.
However, I would like to know if there
are many people named Robinson
in Switzerland. If there are,
I would know something that
most people don't know.

"The Swiss Family Robinson" by Ron Padgett, from How to Be Perfect. © Coffee House Press, 2007. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

On this day in 1885, the Statue of Liberty arrived in New York Harbor on board the French frigate "Isere," a gift from France to the United States to commemorate the centennial and the friendship between the two countries that began during the American Revolution. The statue arrived in 350 individual pieces and would not be erected for another four months.

It's the birthday of novelist and journalist John Hersey (books by this author), born in Tientsin, China, to missionary parents in 1914. After graduating from Yale, he served as a foreign correspondent for Time and Life.

He was commissioned by The New Yorker to write a piece on the aftermath of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima in 1945. He structured his reporting through personal narratives, focusing on the experiences of six people living in Hiroshima at the time of the explosion. The article, titled "A Noiseless Flash," was 31,000 words long, and the editors devoted the entire space of the issue to it. When it hit newsstands in August of 1946, it immediately sold out, and it was published as Hiroshima soon after.

Hersey's novels include The Wall (1950), The War Lover (1959), and A Bell for Adano (1944), which won thePulitzer Prize.

It's the birthday of poet Ron Padgett (books by this author), born in Tulsa, Oklahoma (1942). When he was growing up, Oklahoma was a dry state, and his father made a living as a bootlegger. Padgett read voraciously as a child and began jotting down poems in spiral notebooks when he was 13. He went to Columbia University and studied at the Sorbonne in France on a Fulbright scholarship.

His poetry collections include Tulsa Kid (1979), Poems I Guess I Wrote (2001), and most recently, How Long (2011).

It's the birthday of the avant-garde composer Igor Stravinsky (1882), born in Oranienbaum, near St. Petersburg, Russia. His first major success as a composer was a ballet based on a Russian folk tale, called The Firebird (1909). It was wildly popular, and he traveled all over Europe to conduct it. He then got an idea for a ballet about a pagan ritual in which a virgin would be sacrificed to the gods of spring by dancing herself to death. Stravinsky composed the piece on a piano in a rented cottage, and a boy working outside his window kept shouting up at him that the chords were all wrong. When Stravinsky played part of the piece for director of the theater where it would be performed, the director asked, "How much longer will it go on like that?" Stravinsky replied, "To the end, my dear." He titled the piece The Rite of Spring. At its premiere in 1913 in Paris, the audience broke out into a riot when the music and dancing turned harsh and dissonant. The police came to calm the chaos, and Stravinsky left his seat in disgust, but the performance continued for 33 minutes and he became one of the most famous composers in the world.

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

 









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