Oct. 30, 2014

The Writer's Almanac with Garrison Keillor


People Who Eat in Coffee Shops

by Edward Field

People who eat in coffee shops
are not worried about nutrition.
They order the toasted cheese sandwiches blithely,
followed by chocolate egg creams and plaster of paris
wedges of lemon meringue pie.
They don't have parental, dental, or medical figures hovering
full of warnings, or whip out dental floss immediately.
They can live in furnished rooms and whenever they want
go out and eat glazed donuts along with innumerable coffees,
dousing their cigarettes in sloppy saucers.

"People Who Eat in Coffee Shops" by Edward Field, from Counting Myself Lucky. © Black Sparrow Press, 1992. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Today is the birthday of the man who said, "Television makes so much at its worst, that it can't afford to do its best." That's the pioneering broadcast journalist Fred W. Friendly, born Ferdinand Friendly Wachenheimer in New York City (1915). While still a boy, Fred and his family moved to Providence, Rhode Island, where after college, Fred changed his name and began work as a reporter for the local radio station. He served as a war correspondent in World War II and joined CBS in 1950. Along with his colleague Edward R. Murrow, whom he'd first worked with in radio, Friendly essentially invented the news documentary for television. Weaving together unrehearsed interviews, reports from the field, and original film clips, his work earned him 10 Peabody Awards over his career. He worked as a producer for Murrow's influential "See it Now" documentaries, including his exposé on Sen. Joseph McCarthy and the Red Scare, and soon took the helm as president of CBS News. A large persuasive man, with strongly held opinions, he frequently butted heads with the network executives over their commitment to commercial interests over hard news. His forthright criticism of the network's priorities caused him to leave CBS in 1966 when coverage of a hearing on Vietnam was scrapped in place of a rerun of I Love Lucy.

Friendly was an outspoken advocate for fairness and ethics in journalism, and after leaving CBS, he developed a series of popular seminars for public television that brought together journalists, educators, and politicians to discuss the most pressing issues of the day. He died at his home in the Bronx in 1998 at the age of 82. His colleague Dan Rather remembered him as "a fierce and mighty warrior for the best [...] principles in journalism, [...] for his friends, and for his country. He never gave up, he never gave in; he never backed down, and he never backed up."

It's the birthday of Ezra Pound (books by this author), born 127 years ago today in Hailey, Idaho (1885). He was known as "the poet's poet" because he was so generous about promoting the work of other writers — including James Joyce, William Carlos Williams, D.H. Lawrence, Marianne Moore, Hilda Doolittle, and T.S. Eliot.

In his early 20s, he started teaching literature at a small college in the Midwest, until he caused a scandal by allowing a stranded vaudeville actress to sleep over at his place and was fired. But the college gave him the rest of his year's salary, and he headed off to Europe with it.

He believed that Yeats was the greatest poet writing in English, and he was determined to make himself an apprentice to Yeats. He found him, befriended him, worked as his secretary, and later, he married the daughter of Yeats's former lover.

In 1914, Pound met T.S. Eliot, and he campaigned to get "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" published in Poetry magazine. He's sometimes credited as "discovering" Eliot because of this.

He spent most of his writing life on The Cantos, a modern epic. There are 109 completed Cantos; the first of The Cantos begins:

"And then went down to the ship,
Set keel to breakers, forth on the godly sea, and
We set up mast and sail on that swart ship.
Bore sheep aboard her, and our bodies also
Heavy with weeping, and winds from sternward
Bore us out onward with bellying canvas
Circe's this craft, the trim-coifed goddess."

It's the birthday of the second president of the United States, John Adams, born in Braintree, Massachusetts (now part of Quincy, Massachusetts) (1735). He made a name for himself as a young man by arguing against the British right to tax the colonies. He was elected to the First Continental Congress in 1774, and began to argue that the British Parliament lacked any legal authority over the colonies. He quickly became the most respected advocate for breaking with Great Britain. People began to call him the "Atlas of Independence."

It was Adams who nominated Washington to serve as commander of the Continental Army, and it was Adams who chose Jefferson to write the Declaration of Independence. And it was he who persuaded the delegates from the colonies to adopt the resolution in favor of independence. He stood up on July 1, 1776, and spoke about independence, without notes, for about two hours. No one knows exactly what he said that day, because no one transcribed his words, but Thomas Jefferson later said, "[Adams spoke] with a power of thought and expression that moved us from our seats." The resolution was adopted the following day, on July 2, 1776. It was probably the greatest day of Adams's life.

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


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