Jul. 30, 2013

My Father As House Builder

by Robert Peters

Cedar poles skidded by horse
from swamp to highland, stripped
of bark, hauled to the house-site
on a knoll near the county road.
A pattern in the sand
for two rooms and kitchen, drawn
with a sapling and a string.
Cedar poles adzed flat,
other Poles notched for walls.
We chinked logs with swamp moss
secured by slats, then plastered.
We puttied the windows.
Scrap lumber for the roof and floors.
A cellar hole in the living room,
the sand fetched up by buckets
and dumped in a marsh hole
filled in for a garden plot.
The upper story, hip-roofed, low,
built without plumb lines.
Tin smoke-pipe leaning north,
tied by guy wires to the roof.
We nagged Dad to finish the walls,
but he never did.
The studs, he said,
were good for hanging pots and clothes.
The walls we insulated
with flattened cardboard boxes
and decorated them with pictures
cut from Hearst's American Weekly Sunday News.

"My Father As House Builder" by Robert Peters, from Poems: Selected and New 1967-1991. © Asylum Arts, 1992. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of American blues guitarist Buddy Guy, born George Guy in Lettsworth, Louisiana (1936). He made his own guitar when he was 13, and learned to play it by listening to the records of John Lee Hooker and other blues artists. He soon began playing clubs in Baton Rouge, and moved to Chicago in 1957, when he was 21. That's where Muddy Waters discovered him, took him under his wing, and got him a gig at the 708 Club. He was popular in the 1960s, both as a solo artist and as a sideman for blues singers like Koko Taylor, Howlin' Wolf, and Little Walter.

As rock music grew more dominant in the 1970s, Guy's career waned, until young white guitarists like Eric Clapton, Keith Richards, and Stevie Ray Vaughn said they owed their inspiration to Guy and other blues musicians. Vaughn said, "Without Buddy Guy, there would be no Stevie Ray Vaughn," and Clapton said, "Buddy Guy was to me what Elvis was for others."

It's the birthday of Thorstein Veblen (books by this author), born on a farm in Manitowoc County, Wisconsin (1857). His parents were Norwegian immigrants, and he had 11 brothers and sisters. He's best known for his book The Theory of the Leisure Class (1899), in which he came up with the idea of "conspicuous consumption."

Veblen said, "The outcome of any serious research can only be to make two questions grow where only one grew before."

It's the birthday of Giorgio Vasari (books by this author), born in Arezzo, Italy (1511). He was trained as a painter, but is remembered now for his Lives of the Most Excellent Italian Painters, Sculptors and Architects, more commonly known as Lives of the Painters. Vasari's work is still regarded as the best contemporary source of information about Renaissance art. He was asked to compile the biographies by Cardinal Farnese, a great patron of the arts. Vasari invented facts when he could not find them, and he often got his stories wrong, but he was one of the first to claim that the artists of Italy had recovered the glories of classical art destroyed by the Goths, and to describe how they had done it.

It's the birthday of the essayist and novelist William H. Gass (books by this author), born in Fargo, North Dakota (1924). He taught philosophy at the university level for many years, and in 1966, he published Omensetter's Luck. He's also published several books of essays, including On Being Blue (1976) and Tests of Time (2002). And in 1995, he published The Tunnel, a novel that is more than 600 pages long and took him almost 30 years to write.

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