May 9, 2014
Early one morning, late at night,
Two dead boys went out for a fight.
Back to back they faced each other,
Drew their swords and shot each other.
A deaf policeman heard their noise,
And came and shot the two dead boys.
If you don't believe this lie is true,
Go ask the blind man, he saw it, too.
Pease porridge hot,
Pease porridge cold.
Pease porridge in the pot,
Nine days old.
Some like it hot,
Some like it cold.
Some like it in the pot,
Nine days old.
Great green gobs of greasy grimy gopher guts,
Mutilated monkey meat, little birdies' feet.
Great green gobs of greasy grimy gopher guts,
All without a spoon. Yum, Yum!
Nobody likes me, everybody hates me,
Guess I'll go eat worms.
Long, skinny, slimy worms,
Big, fat, juicy worms,
Oh, how I love worms.
First one was easy,
Second one was greasy,
Third and fourth went down easy,
Fifth got stuck and the sixth came up
Oh, how I hate worms.
It's the birthday of Ellen Bryant Voigt (books by this author), born in Danville, Virginia (1943). She grew up on a farm with lots of relatives in the area, and so she started playing piano because it was a way for her to be alone. She went to school to study piano and become a high school band director. She got a job playing piano at a resort, but she hated it. Then one of her friends read her "The Panther" by Rilke and a poem by E.E. Cummings, and she was so inspired that she switched to studying literature. She has written several books of poetry, including Kyrie (1995), The Forces of Plenty (1983), and most recently, Headwaters (2013). She said, "Resist any temptation to use the poem to make its readers like you, or admire you, or forgive you."
It's the birthday of Mona Van Duyn (books by this author), born in Waterloo, Iowa (1921). She was shy, and others kids made fun of her for being smart and tall. She filled notebook after notebook with poems. No one knew she was a writer until she published her first book of poetry, Valentines to the Wide World (1959), at age 38. She said: "I believe that good poetry can be as ornate as a cathedral or as bare as a pottingshed, as long as it confronts the self with honesty and fullness. Nobody is born with the capacity to perform this act of confrontation, in poetry or anywhere else; one's writing career is simply a continuing effort to increase one's skill at it."
It's the 80th birthday of playwright Alan Bennett (books by this author), born in Leeds, England (1934). He grew up in an apartment above his father's butcher shop. He said of his life growing up in Yorkshire: "It's partly sentimental I'm sure, but it's also partly the way of talking. I've always thought this, the Yorkshire and Lancashire way of talking is inherently dramatic. I think it's a Germanic thing but the point of a sentence is often kept till the end which is ideal for comedy writing." After high school, he did two years of National Service, training as a Russian interpreter at the Joint Services School for Linguists. There he met another young interpreter, Michael Frayn, who also went on to become a great playwright. The two men began writing and performing satire for service reviews.
Bennett went to Oxford, and there he discovered his talent for comic writing by jotting down funny little comments in the suggestions book in the Junior Common Room. He said, "As a repository of actual suggestions, the Suggestions Book was useless, but it served besides as a college newspaper, a diary, a forum for discussion, and a space in which those who were so inclined could attempt to amuse and even paddle in the direction of literature." There were comic revues at the end of each semester, and Bennett performed a satiric monologue as a vicar. His routine was a hit, and in 1959, Bennett performed it again with the Oxford Theatre Group on the fringe of the Edinburgh Festival. It did so well that the next year, the Festival asked a group of four young comedians, including Bennett, to write and perform a revue in the Festival itself. That performance, Beyond the Fringe (1960), was a huge success, moving to the West End and Broadway. Bennett abandoned his career as a medieval history professor to pursue theater instead.
He has written for nearly every medium — stage, television, radio, print, and film. Talking Heads was a series of dramatic monologues written for television, aired in 1988 and 1998. Mostly set in Leeds, the narrators of Talking Heads were ordinary people — an alcoholic vicar's wife who has an affair with an immigrant grocer, an antiques dealer who butters up her elderly neighbors and then buys all their possessions when they die, a woman in a nursing home waiting for a congratulatory telegram from the queen on her 100th birthday, a middle-aged man who undermines his elderly mother's romantic relationship. He said: "I find it easier to write about women than I do to write about men. When I was a child the women did all the talking, really, as they tend to do in the north. My father was rather taciturn and my mother had two sisters who talked a lot. As a child I got used to women talking so I find it easier to write dialogue for them. It's a bit of a stretch to write aristocratic dialogue for posh ladies."
He wrote The Lady in the Van (1990) for radio, the true story of an eccentric woman who parked her yellow van in his driveway for 15 years. He wrote the plays Forty Years On (1969), The Madness of King George III (1992), and The History Boys (2004). He did a famous reading of The Wind in the Willows in 1989, and adapted it to the stage in 1991. He said: "People have a notion of you, and it's all right. You know, they have a notion of me being this cosy, northern creature, cup-of-tea and all that stuff. That's all right, it doesn't bother me most of the time." A few years later, he said: "I think it is a case of out-flanking your public. It's very nice to be appreciated but, at the same time, you don't want to be boxed in." His most recent prose work is called Smut: two unseemly stories (2011). Recently, the London Review of Books has been publishing excerpts from his diaries — Bennett said of his diaries, "I use them as joke books."
Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®