Poem: "Anatomy" by Jennifer Gresham, from Diary of a Cell. © Steel Toe Books, Bowling Green. Reprinted with permission.
We did not expect a young woman.
her skin still tight, but cold.
We were afraid to touch, her features
not the kind to beckon young men:
her nose a mountain on the plain
of her face, her neck and arms
thin as dried reeds. But here,
hands sheathed in latex,
our scalpel blades disappeared
into her skin, until we pushed back
the clean lines of dermis like curtains,
her small muscles and organs revealed.
Awestruck, the Latin rose to our lips
like a sigh: the graceful length
of her gracilis, her shapely gluteus medius,
the sweep of the orbicularis oris
beneath her stiff, unsmiling lips.
We were never satisfied again
to kiss the surface of a pretty face.
At last we'd learned the secrets
of the deep, become enamored
with what lay beneath.
Literary and Historical Notes:
It's the birthday of playwright Moss Hart, born in New York City (1904). In his lifetime he was known as the prince of Broadway. He co-wrote plays such as You Can't Take It With You, The Man Who Came to Dinner, and he directed the musicals My Fair Lady and Camelot. Over the course of his career he collaborated with George S. Kaufman, George Gershwin, Kurt Weill, Irving Berlin, Richard Rodgers, Lorenz Hart, Judy Garland, and Julie Andrews.
His father was a cigar maker who lost his business when the mechanical cigar roller was invented, but his eccentric Aunt Kate began taking him to the theater when he was seven years old. It later turned out that she suffered from mental illness and had a habit of setting fires in the theaters she visited. But all Hart knew was that his aunt was taking him to Broadway on a regular basis, even when he should have been in school. He always credited her for getting him hooked on the theater.
By the time he was a teenager, Broadway was at its height. There were 90 major theaters in New York City, putting on an average of 225 new plays or musicals every year. Plays and musicals were still more popular forms of entertainment than movies. Broadway was the most glamorous place in America, and Moss Hart wanted nothing more than to be a part of it. Unfortunately, he had to drop out of high school and take a job as a clothing folder at a garment factory to support his family. But he was so enterprising that he got his boss to let him write and produce a musical review to show off the factory's latest clothing line.
A few years later, Hart got a job as the entertainment director for a series of summer resorts along the Borscht Belt in the Catskills. He later said that keeping city folks sufficiently entertained when they are confronted with a few weeks of nature was the toughest job he ever had, but he learned a lot about drama from the experience.
He wanted more than anything to write a big important play, like his idol Eugene O'Neill, but producers kept turning him down, telling him that they wanted comedies. So Hart decided to give them what they wanted, and the result was his play Once in a Lifetime. The legendary playwright George S. Kaufman agreed to help rewrite the script. The two of them worked on it for months, showing rough versions to audiences and noting what made people laugh and what didn't. When it came out in 1930, the play was a big hit and Moss Hart became rich and famous almost overnight. He was just 25 years old.
Hart is best known for co-writing You Can't Take It With You (1936) with Kaufman. It's a play about the strange Sycamore familywhose home is full of snakes, playwriting, ballet dancing, Russian Royalty, candy and fireworks. It is still one of the most popular plays for amateur productions. In 2004 alone, it was produced by more than 500 amateur theaters.
It's the birthday of the man who created Batman: Bob Kane, born in the Bronx (1916). He's one of the few boys in American history ever encouraged by his father to become a cartoonist. His father worked as an engraver for a newspaper, and he learned that cartoonists were being paid quite well. He knew his son had a talent for drawing, so he told young Bob to work on cartoons. By the time he was 16, Bob Kane was selling his work for $5 a page.
Batman is the alter-ego of multimillionaire Bruce Wayne and one of the few superheroes in the history of comic books who doesn't have any special powers.
It's the birthday of Antony van Leeuwenhoek, born in Delft, the Netherlands (1632). He studied to be a draper's assistant in Amsterdam. He became a draper and haberdasher, and eventually took an administrative job in the government. But in his work as a draper, he got the chance to use a magnifying lens to count the number of threads in a piece of cloth, and the experience got him interested in lenses. He began to spend all his spare time learning how to grind out lenses and use them in combination with each other to look at smaller and smaller things. Over his lifetime, he ground over 400 lenses and built many microscopes, using techniques that he kept secret.
Eventually, he developed the first microscope that could show him things too small for the human eye, and he became the first person to observe bacteria. He called the animals he saw in his microscope animalcules. He was also the first to see red blood cells.
Poem: "A Small Psalm" by Catherine Wing, from Enter Invisible. © Sarabande Books, Louisville, Kentucky. Reprinted with permission.
A Small Psalm
Sorrow be gone, be a goner, be forsooth un-sooth, make like a
suit and beat it, vamoose from the heavy heavy, be out from
under the night's crawlspace, call not for another stone, more
weight more weight, be extinguished, extinguish, the dark,
that which is deep and hollow, that which presses from all
sides, that which squeezes your heart into an artichoke-heart
jar and forbids it breathe, that which is measured by an
unbalanced scale, banish the broken, the unfixable, the
shattered, the cried-over, the cursed, the cursers, the curses
curse them, the stone from the stone fruit, let it be fruit, the
pit from the pitted, the pock from the pocked, the rot from the
rotten, tarry not at the door, jam not the door's jamb, don't
look back, throw nothing over your shoulder, not a word, not
a word's edge, vowel, consonant, but run out, run out like the
end of a cold wind, end of season, and in me be replaced
with a breath of light, a jack-o'-lantern, a flood lamp or fuse
box, a simple match or I would even take a turn signal, traffic
light, if it would beat beat and flash flood like the moon at
high tide, let it, let it, let it flare like the firefly, let it spark and
flash, kindle and smoke, let it twilight and sunlight, and
sunlight and moonlight, and when it is done with its lighting
let it fly, will'-o-the-wisp, to heaven.
Literary and Historical Notes:
It's the birthday of the poet John Berryman, born John Smith in Oklahoma (1914). He had published a few unnoticed collections of poetry when, one summer, he began an affair with a graduate student and fell helplessly in love with her. The first night they kissed, he wrote a sonnet about her, and he began writing sonnets obsessively, one after another, and he wrote more freely than he ever had before, expressing his thoughts and emotions in a kind of stream-of-consciousness style, full of jokes and slang and plays on words.
He didn't publish the sonnets until twenty years later, as Berryman's Sonnets (1967), but they were a breakthrough for him, and the first major poem he wrote after those sonnets was Homage to Mistress Bradstreet (1948), his first big success.
Berryman's masterpiece was The Dream Songs, which he began writing after he started keeping a dream journal. He considered the book a kind of surreal autobiography or diary, and he referred to himself as Henry. He published The Dream Songs in two volumes: 77 Dream Songs (1964) and His Toy, His Dream, His Rest (1968). He wrote, "These Songs are not meant to be understood, you understand. They are only meant to terrify and comfort."
Berryman said, "The artist is extremely lucky who is presented with the worst possible ordeal which will not actually kill him. At that point, he's in business."
It's the birthday of the artist Pablo Picasso, born in Malaga, Spain (1881). He was a kind of artistic chameleon. Whenever he admired another artist's work, he would imitate it, master it, and turn it into something new. Some critics called him a mere imitator, with no real style of his own. But Picasso said, "I am always doing that which I cannot do, in order that I may learn how to do it." He also said, "When there's anything to steal, I steal."
He had trouble getting out of bed in the morning, and usually spent the afternoon conversing with friends. It was at night that he did most of his work, usually in the dark, except for two spotlights shining directly on his canvas. He didn't use a palatehe just had the cans of paint sitting on the floor, and he would dip the brushes right in and then wipe the excess off on newspapers. He stood up while he painted, often for three or four hours at a time. Then once in awhile he'd take an hour off to go sit on the other end of the room in a wicker armchair and stare at his painting, analyzing his work.
Picasso became the most famous artist in the world. No artist before him had such a large mass audience in his own lifetime. And no other artist has ever dominated so many different fields. Picasso painted, drew, sculpted, worked with pottery, sheet metal printmaking, and collage. Though he's considered the father of modern art, he never once painted an abstract picture. All his works are representations of things that existed in the world.
It's the birthday of the novelist Anne Tyler, born in Minneapolis, Minnesota (1941). She's the author of many novels, including Searching for Caleb (1974), The Accidental Tourist (1985), and Breathing Lessons (1988), which won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.
Her parents were interested in living the simple life, so she grew up in a series of utopian Quaker communes, where she was home schooled and isolated from the modern world. She spent so much time walking around without shoes on that she could light a match on the sole of her bare foot. She first attended public school at the age of 11, and her classmates were amazed that she'd never used a phone. She said, "My upbringing made me view the normal world with a certain amount of distance...to this day I am surprised by the taste of Coca-Cola."
She has gone on to write many novels about characters who find the modern world strange and alien. She's best known for her novel The Accidental Tourist, about a man named Macon Leary who makes a living writing travel guides for people who dislike traveling and who withdraws almost completely from the world after the murder of his 12 year old son, until he meets a dog trainer named Muriel Pritchett.
Anne Tyler gave a few interviews in her early career, but after that she decided she didn't want to be a public person. She never goes on book tours or speaks on talk shows, and if she answers any questions from journalists, she only does so in writing.
Her novel Back When We Were Grownups begins, "Once upon a time, there was a woman who discovered she had turned into the wrong person. She was fifty-three years old by thena grandmother. Wide and soft and dimpled, with two short wings of dry, fair hair flaring almost horizontally from a center part. Laugh lines at the corners of her eyes. A loose and colorful style of dress edging dangerously close to Bag Lady. Give her credit. Most people her age would say it was too late to make any changes."
Poem: "If You Are Reading This" by Lynn Levin, from Imaginarium. © Loonfeather Press, Bemidji, Minnesota. Reprinted with permission.
If You Are Reading This
GIRL WITH DOG IN RAIN! Sweetheart, where are you now?
Saw you at 16th and Walnut with your chocolate lab under an awning.
It was raining parking lights and car horns. I was the guy double-
parked delivering a tray of bagels to a corporate meeting. Nice stuff, 5
flavors, cream cheese and chives, butter daisies. Our eyes met, do you
remember? I can't get you out of my mind. [Box 347]
OLD LADY AT QUIK MART. When I weighed your peppers, you
said I had my thumb on the scale, then you called over the manager
who yelled at me and docked my pay. You: Old bag in a tan overcoat,
muffler, purple pocketbook, evil eye. Me: Goatee, geek glasses, facial
hardware. Please give me the opportunity to stab you. [Box 1601]
CHAD, LET ME EXPLAIN. That guy you saw me with on R7
local on Columbus Day meant nothing to me. He's just a commuter.
Your silent treatment is unbearable! I'm beggin' you baby, come back!
PENN CENTER ELEVATORS FROM 16th TO 30th FLOOR. I
want to push your magic buttons. I want to draw Mona Lisas on your
beautiful skin. You: Backless red dress, black heels. Me: Bald guy, 35.
We rode up together, you got off at 19. I was too shy to talk to you.
Now full of regrets. How about sushi or tantric sex? [Box 1446]
GUY ON R7 LOCAL OCT. 10, EVENING COMMUTE. You sat
next to me and suddenly it was Valentine's Day. You liked my Offspring
button. I told you about med tech school. You let me take your pulse. It
was almost like holding hands. You: Hilfiger sweatshirt, laptop, got off
at Somerton. Me: Hip chick, red hair, Capri jeans. Let's pick up where
we left off. [Box 777]
YO! YOU THERE ON DEERPATH DR. I'm the telemarketer you
dissed. Wasn't selling you anything, SOB, just giving you a free estimate
on kitchen cabinets. I know your number and where you live. Call now
to apologize. [Box 961]
OFFICEMAX, FEASTERVILLE, YEAR AND A HALF AGO. You:
long black trenchcoat with three-piece suit. Me: Asian girl with black
jacket, wet curly hair, tight black pants, sunglasses on my head. You
stared at me a long time waiting at checkout. We looked at each other
as you walked out. Will renew until I find you. [Box 1674]
Literary and Historical Notes:
It was on this day in 1900 that Henry James wrote his first letter to the budding novelist Edith Wharton, beginning one of the great friendships in American literature.
Wharton had been hoping to meet Henry James for years. She'd first seen James from afar when she was a young woman, and she said, "I tried to get his attention so that I might at last pluck up courage to blurt out my admiration for Daisy Miller and The Portrait of a Lady." But James had a habit of avoiding lady admirers ever since one of them had fallen in love with him and then committed suicide.
It took another 15 years before Wharton got up the nerve to send James a short story she had written. At that time, she was just beginning her career as a writer, and he had already written most of the books which made his name. He liked her story, so she sent him her first novel, an historical novel about Europe. In response, James gave Wharton the advice that changed her career. He wrote, "My desire [is] earnestly, tenderly, intelligently to admonish you... in favour of the American Subject... [you should] be tethered in native pastures, even if it reduces [you] to a back-yard in New York."
His advice inspired her to write about the New York society she'd grown up in, and the result was The House of Mirth (1905), which became her first big success.
In the summer of 1904, James came to visit Wharton in Massachusetts. The two of them took a series of trips around the countryside in Wharton's new motorcar. Wharton was one of the early enthusiasts of motoring in New England. James had long thought the motorcar was a grotesque invention, but Wharton changed his mind. After one of their trips through the country, he wrote, "[A car can] rope in, in big free hauls, a huge netful of impressions at once... A great transformer of life and of the future... I have been won over to motoring!"
They remained friends for the rest of James's life, but their fortunes slowly reversed. James's novels sold less and less well, while Wharton became one of the best-selling novelists of her generation. She secretly found ways to support him financially. He was sometimes jealous of her success. When he learned that she'd used the proceeds from a recent book to buy herself a new car, he joked that he hoped his next book would provide enough money for him to buy a new wheelbarrow.
It was her friendship that sustained him in his last years, as he suffered a series of illnesses and depression. He once wrote to her, "Your letters come into my damp desert here even as the odour of promiscuous spices... might be wafted to some compromised oasis from a caravan of the Arabian nights."
Poem: "Nursery, 11:00 p.m." by Robyn Sarah, from Questions About the Stars. © Brick Books. Reprinted with permission.
Nursery, 11:00 p.m.
Asleep, the two of you,
daughter and son, in separate cribs,
what does it matter to you
that I stand watching you now,
I, the mother who did not smile all day,
who yelled, Go away, get out, leave me alone
when the soup-pot tipped over on the stove,
the mother who burned the muffins
and hustled bedtime, tight-lipped.
You are far away,
beyond reach of whispered
amends. Yet your calm
breathing seems to forgive,
into the air to mesh
like lace, knitting together
the holes in the dark.
It makes of this dark
one whole covering
to shawl around me.
How warm it is, I think,
how much softer
than my deserving.
Literary and Historical Notes:
It was on this day in 1904 that the first rapid transit subway opened in New York City. It's still the largest subway system in North America, with 699 miles of main line track. Average weekday ridership on the subway is 4.5 million. A total of 1.4 billion people ride the subway every year. Times Square is the busiest station, with 600,000 passing through each day.
It's the birthday of Dylan Thomas born in Swansea, Wales (1914). The name Dylan was an extremely rare name at the time of his birth. His father found the name in a collection of old Welsh folk tales. Today, Dylan is one of the top 20 most popular names for boys in the United States.
Thomas kept a notebook for his poems as a teenager, and he continued to borrow lines and even whole poems from that notebook for his entire career. Almost every poem he wrote as an adult had an early version in that original notebook, written when he was 18 years old.
He made his name among general readers with the poems he wrote about the bombing raids on London During World War II, including "Ceremony After a Fire Raid," "Among Those Killed in the Dawn Raid Was a Man Aged a Hundred" and "A Refusal to Mourn the Death, by Fire, of a Child in London."
Once he'd become famous, he spent most of his time going on reading tours, especially in the United States, where he could make the money he needed to support his family. He had an extraordinarily deep, sonorous reading voice, and people came in droves to listen to him read his own poetry as well as the poetry of others. In the last eight years of his life, Thomas wrote only eight poems. He died on his last reading tour of the United States in 1953.
It's the birthday of Sylvia Plath, born in Boston, Massachusetts (1932). She was a straight-A student, got into Smith on a scholarship and won all the prizes for writing contests. She was beautiful and outgoing, and she wrote cheerful letters home to her mother about all her successes. But while she was in college, she began to suffer from bipolar disorder, and she started keeping a journal about her growing mood swings. She wrote, "It is as if my life were magically run by two electric currents: joyous positive and despairing negativewhichever is running at the moment dominates my life, floods it."
She had little success as a poet in her lifetime, but after her suicide, a collection of her late poems, including "Daddy" and "Lady Lazarus," was published as Ariel in 1965, and it became the model for a new kind of confessional poetry. When her Collected Poems was published in 1981, it won the Pulitzer Prize.
It's the birthday of the novelist Zadie Smith, born in London (1975). She grew up in a working-class London suburb where she was one of the few black kids in the neighborhood. She said, "If you're black... everyone turns and looks at you. So my instinct... was always to overcompensate by trying to behave three times as well as every other child in the area." Her good behavior and good grades got her into Cambridge University.
As a young girl, she had wanted to become a tap dancer, but she said, "I got fat." So she started writing. She published a short story in her undergraduate literary journal that attracted a lot of attention, and people said she should try to get a book contract for a novel. So while she was cramming for her final exams, she banged out 100 pages of a potential novel and sent it off to an agent. Those hundred pages started a bidding war among London publishers, and when all was said and done, Zadie Smith had a very lucrative two-book contract before she'd even graduated from college. Her novel White Teeth came out two years later, in 2000, and it was an international bestseller.
Her latest novel, On Beauty, came out this year (2005).
Poem: "The Pitch" by Catherine Wing, from Enter Invisible. © Sarabande Books, Louisville, Kentucky. Reprinted with permission.
It's the story of a math genius posing as an imbecile or the one
where Porky is saved form the slaughterhouse by a woman
who wears no underpants. It's the story of a rapacious weed
that takes over the earth, of One-Breasted Wanda falling in
love with Jungle Jack. Ed Anger writes the story up. It's the
story of a rash. And the story of a rash of deaths caused by a
sea hag. It's the story of a woman who could not open her
mouth and a woman who could not close her mouth. Maybe
they meet. Maybe they don't. Maybe they are the perfect
couple. It is the story of a man possessed by his tattoo. It's an
exclusive. It's a curse or a commandment; it's a commandment
on cursing which says for God's sake thou shalt not laze about
on your chaise lounge. It's a true story. It is the story of a man
who talked his way out of credit-card debt. It is the story of
the sunrise on July 10, 2003. It is the story of a traveling
shadow. It is an old-man-walling-down-the-road story. It has a
sculpted base to rest upon which can be yours if you act now.
Literary and Historical Notes:
It was on this day in 1886 that the Statue of Liberty was officially unveiled and opened to the public. A group of French intellectuals came up with the idea for the statue one night while talking about how much they admired the example of democracy and freedom in the United States, especially since the U.S. had recently abolished slavery. One of the men suggested that France should build a monument to liberty and give it to the U.S. as a symbol of their shared love of freedom.
Both French and Americans helped raise funds for the statue through lotteries and art exhibitions and boxing matches. The statue was assembled in France, then broken down into parts and shipped to the U.S. in 214 crates. Workers put it back together in New York.
The day of the dedication was cold and rainy, but huge crowds came out for the celebration anyway. The hotels were full throughout New York City, and many of the tourists who arrived for the occasion were French. The sculptor Frédéric-Auguste Bartholdi was alone in the statue's crown, waiting for the signal to drop the veil. A boy down below was supposed to wave a white handkerchief at the end of the big speech. The boy accidentally waved his handkerchief before the speech was over and Bartholdi let the curtain drop, revealing the huge copper lady. A salvo of gunshots rang out from all the ships in the harbor. The speaker, who had been boring everybody, just sat down.
It was on this day in 1919 that Congress overrode President Woodrow Wilson's veto and passed the Volstead Act, which provided for enforcement of the Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution, prohibiting the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors in the United States. Ours isn't the only nation to attempt a ban. Various forms of alcohol prohibition have been attempted since ancient times by the Aztecs, ancient China, feudal Japan, the Polynesian Islands, Iceland, Finland, Norway, Sweden, Russia, Canada, and India.
The movement to ban alcohol in this country began as a religious movement, and it was also a movement dominated by women. At the time, it was still difficult for women to make a living on their own, and many women had seen their lives ruined when their husbands squandered the family income on booze. It was the liquor industry that put up such a long fight against women getting the right to vote, because they were terrified that women voters would usher in restrictions on the sale of alcohol.
It's commonly believed that Prohibition was a huge failure; that no one stopped drinking and the law's only effect was to give a boost to organized crime. That was true in big cities, but in rural America, prohibition was quite effective. Both cirrhosis death rates and admissions to state mental hospitals for alcoholism fell by more than fifty percent. Arrests for public drunkenness and disorderly conduct also went way down. And while organized crime may have gotten a boost, homicide rates were the same during the 1920s as they were in the previous two decades.
It's the birthday of British satirist Evelyn Waugh, born in London (1903). He's the author of Decline and Fall (1928) and A Handful of Dust (1934) and many other novels.
It's the birthday of poet John Hollander, born in New York City (1929). He's known for the quirky themes he chooses for his poetry collections. His collection Types of Shape (1969) is a series of poems that are arranged on the page so that the words form pictures of things, like a key, a cup, or a swan reflected in water. His book Reflections on Espionage: The Question of Cupcake (1976) is a long poem about a master spy who transmits coded messages to other secret agents.
His collection Picture Window came out in 2004.
Poem: "Money Medicine Poem" by Martin Steingesser, from Brothers of Morning. © A Deerbrook Edition, 2002. Reprinted with permission.
Money Medicine Poem
$11.3 million, what does James Mellor of General Dynamics do with it?
In how many beds does he sleep?
I want to know, how many breakfasts does he eat?
$11.3 million-that is every year, year after year.
What does he do with it?
James, how many copy machines do you have?
How many shredders?
Do you keep one in the bathroom?
How many suits do you own?
How many closets for the secrets money keeps?
Secrets? Does money keep secrets?
Year after year, 11.3 million.
Why so much in corporate pockets?
I need a chant to bring dollars back in my life.
Om Bram Brie Hasti Paté Yea Na Ma Om
I need a moon to draw the oceans of money back.
What does AT&T executive Bob Allen do with $9 million in stock options?
It's a great system we have.
Secrets? What secrets?
AT&T lays off 40,000 workers.
Robert Allen, you must feel like a god.
Robert Allen gets $9 million.
What are you building out of our conversations?
What is your phone number, anyway?
Will you answer a call?
Om Bram Brie Hasti Paté Yea Na Ma Om
How do we reach corporate dynamos to buy girl scout cookies?
How do we call when we want to rent a bus for the school picnic?
How do we call when the soup kitchen's out of soup?
How come big bucks stuff so few pockets?
It's a wonderful system we've got, all our money on the top floor,
corporate executives calling the truths we live.
Families of gods, like up on Mount Olympus, great scraperskies of CEOs.
One of them markets 100% water for juice,
another mainlines cigarettes,
another the medicines for smokers,
another pumps cancer into rivers and lakes, into oceans of air,
another lobbies for tax breaks to clean up the mess.
Great system we've got, billions stuffed in so few pockets.
I want a chant to bring the dollars back
Om Bram Brie Hasti Paté Yea Na Ma Om
Give me those pants with money pockets,
closetfuls of pants, big bucks in the pockets.
Lean back, feet up, have a million dollar stogie,
Blow giant smoke rings over Broadway.
I want a chant, put the moon back in my pocket.
Literary and Historical Notes:
It's the birthday of James Boswell, born in Edinburgh, Scotland (1740). He is best known as the author of Life of Johnson (1791), a biography of Dr. Samuel Johnson, which is considered by many people to be the greatest biography ever written in English.
It's the birthday of journalist and current editor of the New Yorker magazine, David Remnick, born in Hackensack, New Jersey (1958). Both of his grandfathers came to the United States from Russia, fleeing the Russian Revolution of 1917. As a young man, he got a job writing for the Washington Post, covering crime, sports, and fashion. Then in 1987, he heard there was an opening for a Moscow correspondent, and he took the job. Before he left for Moscow, he visited one of his grandfathers in Florida and told him that he was moving to Russia. His grandfather, who was 102 years old, couldn't believe that Remnick would choose to go to a place he had risked his life to escape.
Remnick went anyway, and covered the events that led to the collapse of the Soviet Union. He interviewed politicians, generals, intellectuals, and workers to get a complete picture of the effect on Russian society. In 1993, he came out with Lenin's Tomb: The Last Days of the Soviet Empire, and it won the Pulitzer Prize for General Non-fiction.
Remnick went on to write for the New Yorker, and he was named editor in 1998, even though he'd never edited a magazine before. He is only the fifth person to serve as editor since the magazine was founded in 1925.
Today is the anniversary of Black Tuesday, the stock market crash in 1929 that signaled the beginning of the worst economic collapse in the history of the modern industrial world. Three million shares were sold in the first half-hour. Stock prices fell so fast that by the end of the day there were shares in many companies that no one would buy at any price. The stocks had lost their entire value.
The front page story in the New York Times on this day read, "Wall Street was a street of vanished hopes, of curiously silent apprehension and of a sort of paralyzed hypnosis... Men and women crowded the brokerage offices, even those who have been long since wiped out, and followed the figures on the tape. Little groups gathered here and there to discuss the fall in prices in hushed and awed tones."
It was the most disastrous trading day in the stock market's history. The stock market lost $30 billion, more than a third of its value, in the next two weeks.
Poem: "A Scientist's Acrostic" by Jennifer Gresham, from Diary of a Cell. © Steel Toe Books, Bowling Green. Reprinted with permission.
A Scientist's Acrostic
Scientists are like beetles
Crawling over the earth, antennae twitching,
In tune with the mysteries
Einstein whispered under a star-polished
Night sky. He chose the celestial playground by
Convention-even logic, as beetles know, can be
Enhanced by beauty.
Illumination dawns after years of
Scratching through dark leaves, dirt.
Lying on one's back, legs flailing,
Is temporary, and not, as some imagine
Fundamental failure or
Even such a bad thing.
Literary and Historical Notes:
It's the birthday of Richard Brinsley Sheridan, born near Dublin, Ireland (1751). He's best known for his play The Rivals (1775), about a couple, Lydia Languish and Captain Jack Absolute, who want to get married against the wishes of their elders, Mrs. Malaprop and Sir Anthony Absolute. The first performance was an hour too long and much too bawdy for the audience. Sheridan rewrote it, and the play was re-produced 11 days later to an enthusiastic reception. The play became so successful that Sheridan was able to buy the theater it played in.
Richard Sheridan said, "The question actors most often get asked is how they can bear saying the same things over and over again, night after night, but God knows the answer to that is: Don't we all anyway? Might as well get paid for it."
It's the birthday of a man who was a kind of boxing promoter for modernist literature, Ezra (Loomis Weston) Pound, born in Hailey, Idaho (1885).
He supported and helped shape the work of writers such as William Butler Yeats, James Joyce, Ernest Hemingway, Robert Frost, D.H. Lawrence, and T.S. Eliot. He said, "[I have] to keep alive a certain group of advancing poets, to set the arts in their rightful place as the acknowledged guide and lamp of civilization."
It's the birthday of journalist and biographer Robert Caro, born in Manhattan (1936). He started out as an investigative journalist for New York Newsday, but he found that the newspaper format was too confining. He wanted to explore everything in more depth and detail than his editors would let him. He said, "[With the newspaper format] I couldn't tell people the complete truth."
What Caro wanted to write about more than anything was the legendary public works commissioner Robert Moses, who had built most of the modern highways, bridges, parks, and public buildings in and around New York City, and who had been called the most powerful non-elected public official in American history.
So Caro got a grant to write the book and quit his job. He thought the book would take him a year to write, but it dragged on for seven. Part of what took him so long was that he found a city storage room that contained a carbon copy of every document that Robert Moses ever produced as a city official, and he read every single document. Caro said he'd once been told by a newspaper editor to turn every page, never assume a thing. So that's what he did.
His wife was working as his research assistant, so the family had no income other than the meager advance from a publishing house. They eventually had so little money that Caro was ready to give up and go back to working as a reporter, but his wife wanted him to finish the book, so without asking him, she sold their family house on Long Island.
Caro was miserable when he found out what his wife had done, but the money from the house allowed him to keep working, and the result was his book The Power Broker (1974). It had to be trimmed down from almost 2,000 pages to about 1,100, but it won the Pulitzer Prize and was named by the Modern Library as one of the 100 best non-fiction books of the 20th century.
Since 1974, Caro has been working on a four-volume biography of Lyndon Johnson. He says he picked Johnson to write about because he wanted to write about political power, and he believes Lyndon Johnson was the most masterful getter and user of political power in the 20th century. For his research on Johnson, Caro has gone through 34 million documents at the LBJ Library in Austin, Texas, and he has conducted more than 1,000 interviews. He lived in Johnson's hometown for three years so that he could get to know the people there well enough that they would open up to him. He also tracked down every living member of Johnson's grammar school class.
Caro eventually uncovered the fact that Johnson had committed an unprecedented series of lies, manipulations, and vote tampering on his way to becoming a United States Senator. But what fascinated Caro was the fact that a politician who would commit such crimes in order to get power could still use that power for good. He points out that, when Johnson got into office, he became the greatest advocate for civil rights of any politician since Abraham Lincoln. Caro's most recent volume about Johnson, Master of the Senate, came out in 2002 and won the Pulitzer Prize.