Feb. 1, 2002

April 15

by David Lehman

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Poem: "April 15," by David Lehman from The Daily Mirror: A Journal in Poetry (Scribner Poetry).

April 15

What a sweet guy I am
when one of my enemies dies
I don't Xerox the obit and mail it
to the others saying "Let
this be a lesson to you," no
I'm more likely to recall
the person's virtues to which I
was blind until the news of mortality
opened my mind as you would
open a vial of Tylenol noticing
it spells lonely backwards with
only the initial T added, signifying
taxes no doubt, and now my headache
has gone the way of leaves in fall
am I happy I certainly am
as you would be, my friend, if
the Queen of Sheba returned your calls
as she does mine

It's the birthday of novelist, short story writer, poet, and teacher Reynolds Price, born in Macon, North Carolina (1933), who is best known for his portrayals of quirky characters in the rural South. Many of his novels, including A Long and Happy Life (1962), Kate Vaiden (1986), and Roxanna Slade (1998), feature strong characterizations of women, and are often written around the theme of the tension that exists between the individual and the family. Included among his more than thirty books are two memoirs, Clear Pictures: First Loves, First Guides (1989), which deals with his early southern upbringing, and A Whole New Life (1994), which reveals Price's bout with spinal cancer and subsequent adjustment to life in a wheelchair. His Collected Poems appeared in 1997, and in 2000, he published A Perfect Friend, his first novel for children.

It's the birthday of novelist, biographer, and poet Muriel Spark, born in Edinburgh, Scotland (1918). Her greatest success came in 1961, when she published a book based on her own experiences attending a school for young girls. The book was The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, about a middle-aged teacher and "her girls" in the 1930s.

It's the birthday of humorist S(idney) J(oseph) Perelman, born in Brooklyn, New York (1904). His ambition was to be a cartoonist. He created cartoons for the Brown University humor magazine, and, after graduation, for a weekly publication called Judge. "The captions," he once said, "got longer and longer, until they replaced the cartoons." A master of parody and satire, he won praise both for his columns in The New Yorker magazine and for his books of humor, including Strictly from Hunger (1937), The Ill-Tempered Clavichord (1953), and Baby It's Cold Inside (1970).

It's the birthday of poet and novelist (James) Langston Hughes, born in Joplin, Missouri (1902). Hughes left school in 1922, and began traveling. He settled in Harlem in 1924, during the period known as the Harlem Renaissance. His residence at 20 East One Hundred Twenty-Seventh Street in Harlem has been given landmark status by the New York City Preservation Commission and the street was renamed "Langston Hughes Place." Hughes once said that poetry is about "…workers, roustabouts, and singers, and job hunters on Lenox Avenue in New York or Seventh Street in Washington or South State in Chicago - people up today and down tomorrow, working this week and fired the next, beaten, buying furniture on the installment plan…"

It's the birthday of humorist and critic Stephen Potter, born in London, England (1900), who started off as a biographer, with works on D.H. Lawrence and Samuel Taylor Coleridge. But he is best known for his books on the theory of gamesmanship. He believed that by being clever you could successfully defeat an opponent in any game or situation in life. His first book on the subject was The Theory and Practice of Gamesmanship (1947), which was followed by several more books along the same vein, including The Complete Upmanship, Including Gamesmanship, Lifemanship, One-upmanship, and Supermanship (1968).

It's the birthday of composer Victor Herbert, born in Dublin, Ireland (1859). He wrote many successful operettas, including Babes in Toyland, (1903), which presented characters from well-known fairy tales and children's stories in elaborately staged scenes. His second most famous operetta was Naughty Marietta (1910), which included the song, "Ah, Sweet Mystery of Life." In 1913, Herbert went to a restaurant, where an orchestra was playing one of his songs. He thought that it was unfair of them to play his music without giving him some compensation. A legal battle ensued all the way to the Supreme Court, and in 1917, the court ruled in his favor. Herbert then went on to form an organization to protect musicians' rights, called the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers, now commonly known as ASCAP.

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