MONDAY, 23 AUGUST, 2004
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Poem: "My Daughter Snorkeling," by Harry Humes, from August Evening with Trumpet. © University of Arkansas Press. Reprinted with permission.

My Daughter Snorkeling

One more world
you entered on your own,
adjusting the mask, slipping off
face down through the water,
circling the dock,
breath tube sticking straight up,
a slow progression
over the sunken slime-coated tree,
a bottle, a fishing weight,
shimmer and play of light.
Waves broke softly over you.
A damselfly landed on your hair.
If you went out too far, this was to be the signal:
two stones clicked together underwater
and you would turn back to us,
still easy enough, still dependable.


Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of novelist and short story writer Sophie Kerr, born in Denton, Maryland (1880). She lived in New York for most of her writing career and published several hundred short stories, including more than one hundred each in the Woman's Home Companion and the Saturday Evening Post.

Sophie Kerr is known best not for her writing but for the half-million-dollar trust fund she left to Washington College in Chestertown, Maryland, after her death in 1965. Her will stated that one-half of the annual income from the trust be awarded each year to the graduating senior demonstrating the best potential for literary achievement.

At this year's commencement, the Sophie Kerr Prize, worth $56,159.00 and one of the largest literary prizes in the world, was awarded to Angela Haley, 21, an English major at Washington College.


It's the birthday of poet and novelist Edgar Lee Masters, born in Garnett, Kansas (1869). He lived and worked in Chicago most of his life as a lawyer who also wrote poems and novels. In 1913, William Marion Reedy, an editor in St. Louis, gave Masters a copy of the Greek Anthology. The Greek lyrics and epigrams gave Masters an idea. He would write epitaphs for all 244 dead people buried in an Illinois cemetery near Spoon River, a fictional town based on the small towns Masters knew in his youth.


It's the birthday of anthropologist and writer Clifford Geertz, born in San Francisco (1926), best known for his writings about the interpretation of culture. Geertz described anthropologists as "merchants of astonishment." He is known for breaking away from the 1950s emphasis on scientific inquiry and for introducing a more literary style to the discipline of anthropology. Geertz's fieldwork has taken him to Java, Bali, and Sumatra in Indonesia as well as to Morocco.

He wrote, "You do two or two-and-a-half years in Java in which all you do is live with the people, write down everything, and try to figure out what the hell is going on; then you come back and write-out of the notes, out of your memories, and out of whatever is going on in the field." Geertz is the author of twelve books and won the National Book Critics Circle Award for Works and Lives: The Anthropologist as Author (1988).


On this day in 1927, Italian immigrants Nicola Sacco, a shoemaker, and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, a fish seller, were executed in Boston. Seven years earlier, on April 15, 1920 at 3:00 in the afternoon, in the broad daylight of South Braintree, Massachusetts, two thieves shot and robbed a paymaster and his guard of the nearly $16,000 pay roll they were carrying. A few weeks later, Sacco and Vanzetti were arrested on a streetcar by a policeman who thought they looked suspicious. Both men were armed and lied to police about their guns. That September, Sacco and Vanzetti were indicted for the murders and on the evening of July 14 the jury returned its verdict: both men were declared guilty of murder in the first degree. Neither Sacco nor Vanzetti had a criminal record, nor were they communists. But they were known to the authorities as militant radicals. They were politically active and had been involved in the anti-war movement. Their arrest took place just after the Red Scare of 1919, a time of fear and political unrest.

Many well-known artists and intellectuals including H. G. Wells, Upton Sinclair, Edna St. Vincent Millary, Bertrand Russell, Dorothy Parker, John Dos Passos and George Bernard Shaw demanded and campaigned for a retrial. They were unsuccessful. On August 23, 1927, seven years after their arrest, Sacco and Vanzetti were sent to the electric chair. The execution caused riots in Germany, Paris, and London.

The case inspired poets and novelists. The trial is a major part of the novels Jailbird by Kurt Vonnegut and Upton Sinclair's Boston (1928). Sacco and Vanzetti are the subject of six plays, of which the best known is Maxwell Anderson's verse play (later a movie), Winterset. No single account nor any ballistics test has been able to put to rest all doubts about innocence or guilt. The Sacco-Vanzetti Case has been called "The Case That Will Not Die."




TUESDAY, 24 AUGUST, 2004
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Poem: "I Got Beat Up A Lot in High School," by Christopher Murray, from Bend, Don't Shatter. © Soft Skull Press. Reprinted with permission.

I Got Beat Up A Lot in High School

He says. He smiles. He's sweet,
has become a lovely, gentle person.
I probably provoked them a lot,
he says. He's still small and sensitive.
There were lots of pregnancies, he says,
and suicides. They would drive off
a cliff in their cars, he says, just outside
of Blissing, Montana. And one girl,
he says, didn't know that her car
had airbags and she survived the impact
against the boulders on the bottom.
When she finally came back to school,
they said she could never do anything right,
Or they'd shoot themselves.
They all had gun racks on their pickups,
he says. Everyone drank quite a bit.
There was one gay bar, he says, where once
he saw his statistics teacher, soused,
and trolling for sex. But that's the past,
he says, sighing, sanguine and philosophic.
Now, I live in New York City, he says,
surrounded by friends and I can't conceive
of what I must have felt back then.
I'm sorry, I say, for all this pain in your past
and wrap my arms around his beautiful body.
It's not your fault, he says, and smiles,
looking out from inside himself.


Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of novelist Jean Rhys, born in Dominica, in the West Indies (1894). She made one the great literary comebacks of the 20th century. After years as a vagabond and bohemian, working as a ghostwriter and a manikin, she became one of the most promising writers of her generation after publishing several novels, including Good Morning, Midnight (1939).

But during World War II, she stopped publishing, and vanished from public life. Many of her fans assumed she had died. Then, in 1958, the BBC decided to make a movie of her book Good Morning, Midnight, and they placed published an advertisement, seeking information about Jean Rhys, and she responded. That advertisement inspired her to start publishing fiction again, and in 1966, twenty-seven years after her previous novel, she published Wide Sargasso Sea.

Jean Rhys said, "If you want to write the truth, you must write about yourself. It must go out from yourself. I don't see what else you can do. I am the only real truth I know."


It's the birthday of novelist Oscar Hijuelos, born in New York City (1951). His novel The Mambo Kings Sing Songs of Love (1989) was the first novel by a Latino American writer to win the Pulitzer Prize for Literature, and it helped spark a renaissance of Latin American literature in this country. It's the story of the Castillo brothers, who move from Cuba to the United States to become jazz musicians. Hijuelos' most recent novel is A Simple Habana Melody (2002).


It's the birthday of novelist A. S. Byatt, born Antonia Susan Drabble in Sheffield, England (1936). She began working on her first novel as an undergraduate and was still working on it when she began her doctorate in seventeenth-century literature at Oxford. Her academic advisor told her to give up on writing fiction and stick to scholarship, because every young woman with a degree in English fancies herself a novelist, and none are. Byatt didn't listen and published her first novel, Shadow of a Sun in 1964.

For twenty-five years she worked as a teacher and a mother and wrote several novels on the side, none of which sold well. Finally, when she was forty eight years old, she quit her job and devoted herself to her writing and the result was Possession, (1990), about a pair of literary critics falling in love as they uncover the story of two Victorian poets who fell in love more than a hundred years in the past. In order to write the book, she composed dozens of poems in the Victorian style by each of the two Victorian lovers.

Possession won the Booker Prize and became a bestseller in both Great Britain and the United States.


It's the birthday of short story writer and poet Jorge Luis Borges, born in Buenos Aires, Argentina (1899). After studying in Europe, he moved back to Argentina and got a job at a small municipal library in Buenos Aires, and eventually worked his way up to director of the National Library of Buenos Aires. He was able to complete his library work in one hour every morning, and he spent the rest of the day wandering the stacks, reading, or writing. It was there that he began to write the short stories for which he is remembered, stories about imaginary books and imaginary writers. His stories were collected in books such as Garden of Forking Paths (1941) and Ficciones (1944).

He said, "Through the years, a man peoples a space with images of provinces, kingdoms, mountains, bays, ships, islands, fishes, rooms, tools, stars, horses, and people. Shortly before his death, he discovers that the patient labyrinth of lines traces the image of his own face."



WEDNESDAY, 25 AUGUST, 2004
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Poem: "Idyll," by Wendy Cope, from If I Don't Know. © Faber and Faber, Ltd. Reprinted with permission.

Idyll
(after U. A. Fanthorpe)

We'll be in our garden on a summer evening,
Eating pasta, drinking white wine.

We won't talk all the time. I'll sit back,
Contemplating shadows on the red-brick path,

And marvel at the way it all turned out.
That yellow begonia. Our gabled house.

Later we'll stroll through Kingsgate Park.
My leg won't hurt, and we'll go home the long way.

Asked to imagine heaven, I see us there,
The way we have been, the way we sometimes are.


Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of novelist Martin Amis, born in Oxford, England (1949). He wrote The Rachel Papers (1973), Money (1984), London Fields (1989) and The Information (1996). He's the son of Kingsley Amis, who wrote Lucky Jim (1954), a satire about a junior faculty member at a small university.

While growing up, Amis attended fourteen schools. One headmaster called him "unusually unpromising." His own father said Amis read only science fiction. He didn't think his son was university material. Amis' stepmother introduced him to Jane Austen. He took a crash course in Latin and poetry and graduated from Exeter College after three years with first class honors.

Amis worked as a book reviewer and editor. He later became a writer for the London Observer and published his first novel, The Rachel Papers (1973), in his mid-twenties.


It's the birthday of conductor and composer Leonard Bernstein, born in Lawrence, Massachusetts (1918). When he was 40, he became the youngest music director ever in charge of the New York Philharmonic. He was the director at the Philharmonic for ten years. Bernstein wrote scores for many musicals, including "On the Town," "Wonderful Town," "Candide," and "West Side Story."

He also wrote a book called "The Joy of Music" (1959), a collection of essays and conversations about music. He said, "Any great work of art . . . revives and readapts time and space, and the measure of its success is the extent to which it makes you an inhabitant of that world - the extent to which it invites you in and lets you breathe its strange, special air."


It's the birthday of journalist and novelist Frederick Forsyth (1938), born in Ashford, Kent, England. He writes thrillers like The Day of the Jackal (1971), The Odessa File (1972), The Devil's Alternative (1980), and The Fourth Protocol (1984). At 17, he quit school and left home to see the world. He learned to fly a Tiger Moth biplane. He considered becoming a matador in Spain, and instead joined the Royal Air Force as England's youngest pilot.

He said, "I'm a writer with the intent of selling lots of copies and making money. I don't think my work will ever be regarded as great literature or classics. I'm just a commercial writer and I have no illusions about it."

He wrote The Day of the Jackal (1971), his first book, in 35 days. Forsyth said the book took twelve years of research. The book grew out of his experience as a correspondent in Paris during the Algerian Crisis in the early 1960's. Political tensions were high when French President Charles de Gaulle proclaimed Algeria independent from France. Feeling betrayed, leaders of France's Secret Army Organization plotted to kill de Gaulle and hired a professional assassin whose code name was "Jackal." As it turned out, De Gaulle died of natural causes in 1970. The identity of the Jackal is still a mystery.

Later, Forsyth drew on his work as a journalist in East Germany and Nigeria as he wrote The Odessa File and The Dogs of War. When The Dogs of War was finished, Forsyth had fulfilled his contract (for three books) with his publisher. He told the press his writing career was over. He said, "I just don't like writing ... I'm not a compulsive writer, never was, never could be. I don't need the bread any more. Let's see—compulsion, money—those are the only two reasons to go through the hell of trying to fill 500 blank sheets of paper."


It's the birthday of novelist Brian Moore (1921) born on this day in Belfast, Northern Ireland. He wrote The Feast of Lupercal (1957), The Luck of Ginger Coffey (1960), and The Doctor's Wife (1976). His books were never bestsellers, but he managed to live off the money his writing brought him. Brian Moore said, "If misery loves company, then triumph demands an audience."



THURSDAY, 26 AUGUST, 2004
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Poem: "II," by Wendell Berry, from A Timbered Choir. © Counterpoint. Reprinted with permission.

"II"

When my father was an old man,
past eighty years, we sat together
on the porch in silence
in the dark. Finally he said,
"Well, I have had a wonderful life,"
adding after a long pause,
"and I have had nothing
to do with it!" We were silent
for a while again. And then I asked,
"Well, do you believe in the
'informed decision'?" He thought
some more, and at last said
out of the darkness: "Naw!"
He was right, for when we choose
the way by which our only life
is lived, we choose and do not know
what we have chosen, for this
is the heart's choice, not the mind's;
to be true to the heart's one choice
is the long labor of the mind.
He chose, imperfectly as we must,
the rule of love, and learned
through years of light what darkly
he had chosen: his life, his place,
our place, our lives. And now comes
one he chose, but will not see:
Emily Rose, born May 2, 1993.


Literary and Historical Notes:

It was on this day in 1968 that the Democratic National Convention opened in Chicago. In the wake of Robert Kennedy's murder, the Democratic establishment chose Vice-President Hubert H. Humphrey as their candidate, but the anti-war faction of the party wanted Senator Eugene McCarthy. Thousands of college students and anti-war activists showed up at the convention on this day to protest the choice of Humphrey, and the Democratic Party's support of the war in Vietnam.

Abbie Hoffman, leader of the "Yippies," announced that they planned to lace the city's water supply with hallucinogenic drugs, release animals from the zoo, and seduce the wives and daughters of delegates. Chicago Mayor Richard Daley called in 7,500 U.S. Army troops and 6,000 National Guardsmen to keep the peace.

For the first two days of the convention, protesters shouted insults at the police and threw rocks and other objects. On the evening of the third day, the police responded by charging toward Grant Park where thousands of protestors were gathered, attacking everyone in their path with billy clubs and tear gas.

At that very moment, the delegates were beginning their roll call to choose Humphrey as their nominee. Connecticut was about to be called when news footage of the riot outside appeared on the monitors in the convention hall. In his notebook that night, the reporter and historian Theodore White wrote, "The Democrats are finished." Hubert Humphrey lost the election to Richard Nixon that year. Before 1968, the Democrats had won seven of the nine presidential elections since 1932. In the nine presidential elections since 1968, Democrats have won only three.


It was one this day in 1920 that the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, guaranteeing American women the right to vote, was declared in effect. After the Congress passed the amendment, it had to be ratified by a majority of state legislatures. The state that tipped the balance was Tennessee and the man who cast the deciding vote was the twenty-four year old representative Harry Burn, the youngest man in the state legislature that year. Before the vote, he happened to read his mail, and one of the letters he received was from his mother. It said, "I have been watching to see how you stood but have noticed nothing yet .... Don't forget to be a good boy and...vote for suffrage."

At the house, supporters of suffrage sat in the balcony wearing yellow roses. On the house floor, those who opposed suffrage wore red roses. When Burn entered the room, he wore a red rose and the anti-suffrage camp thought they had his vote. But when he was called on to say aye or nay for the ratification of the 19th amendment, he said, "Aye," and the amendment was ratified by a vote of 49 to 47. A witness there that day said, "The women took off their yellow roses and flung them over the balcony, and yellow roses just rained down."


It's the birthday of novelist Julio Cortazar, born in Brussels, Belgium to Argentine parents (1914). He moved to France as a young man and began publishing dream-like, fantastic stories, collected in books such as Blow Up and Other Stories (1956). Critics consider his masterpiece to be the novel Hopscotch (1963), which can be read in the normal manner, following chapters one through fifty-six, or it can be read by hopscotching between the first fifty-six chapters and 100 additional chapters in an order prescribed by the author.



FRIDAY, 27 AUGUST, 2004
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Poem: "The Eulogy," by Tim Nolan. Reprinted with permission.

The Eulogy

He could be funny, but only in small groups
of meek women—which is to say—he was not

very funny. He had beautiful and expressive
hands which he normally kept in his pockets.

When he was roused to passion, as he seldom was,
it would usually go unnoticed. He did have

strong feelings for animals—his family crest included
the loon—that symbol of fidelity and lonely song.

He was quite a mimic—I personally remember
how he could sound just like Bobby Kennedy—underwater—

if he was drunk enough. I suppose you all remember
his obsession with orchids—it was strange at the end—

his fretting over their blossoming—when would it happen?
Then, his disappointment when they would fade and drop.

He was a collector of sales receipts—some of you
may not know this—he would ask you to empty

your pockets to show him where you'd been, what you bought.
At his confirmation on June 4, 1954, he chose a verse

from the Old Testament, The Book of Haggai—"He that
earneth wages earneth wages to put in a bag with a hole.

Consider your ways, sayeth the Lord." Let us consider
him ... as we head downstairs. There must be other stories.


Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of the philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, born in Stuttgart, Germany (1770). He started out as a philosopher of Christianity, and he was particularly interested in how Christianity is a religion based on opposites: sin and salvation, earth and heaven, church and state, finite and infinite. He wanted to create a philosophy that described how and why human beings created communities and governments, made war, destroyed each other's societies, and built themselves up to do it all over again.

What Hegel came up with was his concept of Dialectic, which is the idea that all human progress is driven by the conflict between opposites. That, for example, each political movement is imperfect and therefore gives rise to a counter-movement, which, if it takes control, is also imperfect and therefore gives rise to yet another counter-movement, and so on to infinity. Hegel believed that perhaps, someday, the progress of humanity would come to an end when all the opposites would be resolved.


It's the birthday of novelist who wrote under the name C. S. Forester, born Cecil Smith in Cairo, Egypt (1899). His father was a British official working in Africa. Forester went to school in London, and then started his literary career writing hack biographies and thrillers.

His experiences as the captain of a ship inspired him to write his first really successful novel The African Queen (1935) about an evangelical English spinster and a grizzled small-boat captain who fall in love while navigating a river through Central Africa. Forester had never been to Central Africa, but he managed to make the novel convincing anyway. The book was made into a movie starring Katherine Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart.

Forester kept sailing in his spare time, and it was on a long, slow sea voyage along the coast of Central America that he got the idea for his most famous character, Horatio Hornblower, a fictional Royal Navy midshipman, born July 4, 1776, who becomes a hero in the naval wars against Napoleon. The first novel featuring the new character was The Happy Return (1937), and Forester published many successful sequels.

Readers still remember the character today because he is so unique: heroic but also introverted, suffering from sea-sickness, full of self-doubt, class-conscious, a fanatic about discipline and efficiency, and a hater of the poetry of Wordsworth.


It's the birthday of novelist Theodore Dreiser, born in Terre Haute, Indiana (1871). He was the twelfth of thirteen children. His father was injured in a factory accident, and his mother had to take in lodgers and washing to keep the family from starving. Dreiser's daily chore was to look for stray lumps of coal along the railroad tracks that the family could burn for heat. He finally left home at sixteen and moved to Chicago, where he started out as a driver for a laundry wagon, but eventually became a newspaper reporter, covering labor issues, murder trials, lynchings, and politics.

One of his newspaper editors persuaded Dreiser to try writing fiction. He was trying to come up with an idea for a novel, when one night, he wrote the words "Sister Carrie" on a half-sheet of yellow newspaper, as if in a trace. Within a year, he had finished his first novel, called Sister Carrie (1900). He went on to become perhaps the greatest American realist of the 20th century. Because of his newspaper background, he had a genius for factuality: he re-created the inner workings of a factory, a stock exchange, and a luxury hotel.

Dreiser got the idea for his novel An American Tragedy when he read a newspaper article about a man who had murdered his pregnant girlfriend to keep their relationship a secret. He followed the story of the trial and clipped articles from the paper when they were published. He didn't start to work on the novel until years after the real murderer had been executed in the electric chair.

An American Tragedy finally came out in 1925, the same year as many other great works of literature, including Hemingway's In Our Time and Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby. Theodore Dreiser said, "Art is the stored honey of the human soul, gathered on wings of misery and travail."




SATURDAY, 28 AUGUST, 2004
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Poem: "When Our Women Go Crazy," by Julia Kasdorf, from Sleeping Preacher. © University of Pittsburgh Press. Reprinted with permission.

When Our Women Go Crazy

When our women go crazy, they're scared there won't be
enough meat in the house. They keep asking
but how will we eat? Who will cook? Will there be enough?
Mother to daughter, it's always the same
questions. The sisters and aunts recognize symptoms:
     she thinks there's no food, same as Mommy
     before they sent her away to that place,
     and she thinks if she goes, the men will eat
     whatever they find right out of the saucepans.
When our women are sane, they can tomatoes
and simmer big pots of soup for the freezer.
They are satisfied arranging spice tins
on cupboard shelves lined with clean paper.
They save all the leftovers under tight lids
and only throw them away when they're rotten.
Their refrigerators are always immaculate and full,
which is also the case when our women are crazy.


Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of poet Rita Dove, born in Akron, Ohio (1952). Her father encouraged his daughter to take advantage of education, and she was at the top of her class. Her parents assumed that she would go on to become a doctor or lawyer, so when she announced she wanted to be a poet, they weren't sure what to make of it. She said, "[My father] swallowed once and said, 'Well, I've never understood poetry, so don't be upset if I don't read it." Her teachers at college told her that she was throwing her education away if she didn't study something more practical.

But with her poetry collection Thomas and Beulah (1986), based loosely on the lives of her grandparents, she became only the second African American to win the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry, and she went on to become the first African American National Poet Laureate.

Her new book of poems, American Smooth, comes out next month. She wrote, "Poetry is language at its most distilled and most powerful ... like a bouillon cube: You carry it around and then it nourishes you when you need it."


It's the birthday of the novelist Janet Frame, born in Dunedin, New Zealand (1924). After a nervous breakdown as a young woman, she was confined to a mental institution for ten years, misdiagnosed as schizophrenic, and subjected to electroshock therapy. She managed to write a book of short stories in the hospital, The Lagoon (1951), and it was published without her knowledge.

When a hospital official learned that the book had won numerous literary awards, he arranged for Frame's release from the hospital, and she managed to escape the frontal lobotomy that she had been scheduled to receive. She went on to write many novels, including Faces in the Water (1961) and The Edge of the Alphabet (1962).

She said, "I write from obsession, habit, and because I have a thorn in my foot, head and heart and it hurts and I can't walk or think or feel until I remove it."


It's the birthday of the novelist and playwright Robertson Davies, born in Thamesville, Ontario (1913). In his lifetime he was called the greatest Canadian man of letters, but he never liked being called that. He said, "Canada expects nothing from her writers. [To be a Canadian writer is] as innocuous as being a manufacturer of yogurt." He's best known for his Deptford Trilogy, Fifth Business (1970), The Manticore (1972), and World of Wonders (1975) about a small town Ontario boy who grows up to become involved with magicians, millionaires, and modern-day saints.

He became a successful Shakespearean actor in the 1930's and moved to London, but in 1939, the war closed down all of London's theaters. Davies returned to Canada, out of a job, not sure what to do next. His father encouraged him to take over the family newspaper. He thought it would be an awful job, but he loved it. He covered small-town murders, incest, children locked away in barns and basements, all kinds of scandals, and he found it all tremendously interesting. He said, "I have been among people who would make your hair stand on end. And this is where I find the stuff I put in my books." Davies didn't start writing novels until he was in his forties, and it wasn't until he was fifty-seven that he published Fifth Business (1970) which established him as Canada's most celebrated novelist.


It's the birthday of Germany's great man of letters, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, born in Frankfurt (1749). In his lifetime, he was called "The greatest man the world has ever produced." The founder of German literature, he was also a politician, philosopher, geologist, botanist, anatomist, physicist, and historian of science. He spent much of his later life studying light, and he believed that his theories about the scientific properties of color were more important than all his poetry. Goethe spent about fifty years writing his masterpiece, Faust, about a man who sells his soul to the devil but gets into heaven anyway. The first volume was published in 1808, and he didn't finish the second volume until a few months before he died.

Goethe said, "One ought, every day at least, to hear a little song, read a good poem, see a fine picture, and if it were possible, to speak a few reasonable words."




SUNDAY, 29 AUGUST, 2004
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Poems: "Believing in Fate" and "The Wind Throws Back," by Hal Sirowitz, from before, during, and after. © Soft Skull Press. Reprinted with permission.

Believing in Fate

I don't have a telephone, she said,
so I can't give you a number.
I'm not a great fan of planned dates.
But if I happen to bump into you
on the street I'd be willing to go for coffee.
Let's leave it to chance. It brought
us together once. It could work a second time.
You could help fate along by hanging out
in Chelsea. That's where I live. If I
gave you any more information I'd be cheating.


The Wind Throws Back

I lied when I told you I didn't have
a phone number, she said. I wasn't
sure about you, but now that I know
you're sane & responsible—aren't you?—
I'm going to throw caution to the wind
& hope it doesn't blow back in my face.
But if you ever spent any time in a mental hospital
I'd like to know. I won't let
it prejudice me against you.
I'm willing to give you a chance,
provided you get a letter from a psychiatrist
stating your case was closed.


Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of physician, poet, and humorist Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., born in Cambridge, Massachusetts (1809). He first achieved national prominence with his poem "Old Ironsides" (1830), about the 18th century battleship USS Constitution being taken apart for scrap. People responded to his poem, and the ship is now maintained as a historic monument. He also wrote "The Chambered Nautilus" (1858). After studying medicine in Paris for three years, Holmes returned to the United States and enrolled at Harvard the same year his first book of verse was published (1836). Holmes became an anatomy professor, a job he held for forty-seven years. In his spare time, he wrote his essays and poems. He helped found, with James Russell Lowell, The Atlantic Monthly magazine in 1857.

Holmes said, "I find that the great thing in this world is not so much where we stand as in what direction we are moving: To reach the port of heaven, we must sail sometimes with the wind and sometimes against it—but we must sail, and not drift, nor lie at anchor."


It's the birthday of British philosopher John Locke, born in Somerset, England (1632). He said, "Reading furnishes the mind only with materials of knowledge; it is thinking that makes what we read ours." Locke studied medicine at Oxford. His health, always delicate, suffered from the London climate. He left England in search of mild air. After traveling about Europe, he ended up in the south of France where he settled for many months. Locke wrote Two Treatises of Government (1690). He believed in Natural Law, and that people have Natural Rights, under which the right of property is most important. He wrote, "... every man has a property in his own person. This nobody has any right to but himself." He believed government exists to protect those rights and he argued in favor of revolt against tyranny. His ideas were a foundation for much of the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution.


It's the birthday of jazz saxophonist Charlie Parker, born in Kansas City, Kansas (1920). He is considered one of the half-dozen greatest jazz musicians, right up there with Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong. He received early in his career the nickname of "Yardbird," and became known as "Bird." He grew up listening to Count Basie's band, and moved to New York where he helped create "bebop." He was also a great blues player and is known for his improv piece, "Parker's Mood."

As a teenager, Parker became addicted to morphine while hospitalized after a car accident. He later became addicted to heroin which contributed to his death at 34. He said, "I realized by using the high notes of the chords as a melodic line, and by the right harmonic progression, I could play what I heard inside me. That's when I was born."


It's the birthday of poet Thom(son) Gunn, born in Gravesend, Kent, in 1929. He is known for his book, Fighting Terms (1954), a collection of poetry described by the critic John Press as a postwar volume all serious poetry readers need to study. As an undergraduate, Gunn left Cambridge for Stanford and eventually made San Francisco his home during the Beat movement. He gave up a tenured position at Berkeley in the 1960's because he couldn't stand going to department meetings. Since then, he published eight collections of poetry, including Touch (1967), The Passages of Joy (1982), The Man With Night Sweats (1992), and Boss Cupid (2000). Thom Gunn died on April 25, 2004. He was 74. He once said, "I love streets. I could stand on the street and look at the people all day ..."






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