Feb. 3, 2002

February 28

by David Lehman

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Poem: "February 28," by David Lehman from The Daily Mirror: A Journal in Poetry (Scribner Poetry).

February 28

God is the cloud that
travels with my caravan,
Bessie Smith is in my living room
singing "Do Your Duty," and
I may look like a gas station attendant
but my name is Jackson Pollock
and I'm the Big Bang Professor
of theoretical physics
at Southern Comfort University
and as a good citizen
of this fading century
whose rules of sexual engagement
were laid down by the Marquis de Sade
I know I am responsible for all I see
which I have organized
into cities and chambers
as one might organize the sea

It's the birthday of philosopher and writer Simone Weil, born in Paris, France (1909). Most of her writings were published posthumously, including Waiting for God (1951), Gravity and Grace (1952), Oppression and Liberty (1955), and three volumes of her Notebooks, where she explored such issues as the spiritual shortcomings of the modern industrial society.

It's the birthday of short story writer and novelist James Michener, born in New York City, New York (1907). He was an orphan, adopted and raised as a Quaker in Pennsylvania. In 1944, he served as a naval historian in the South Pacific. While there, he began writing a series of sketches based on his experiences and observations. These were published in 1947 as Tales of the South Pacific, which won a Pulitzer Prize the following year, and was successfully adapted by Rogers and Hammerstein for the Broadway musical, South Pacific (1949). Michener became known for his extensively researched novels full of details of time and place, including Hawaii (1959), Centennial (1974), and Texas (1985). Michener was also famous for his philanthropy, giving away over one hundred million dollars to charity during his lifetime.

It's the birthday of artist and illustrator Norman Rockwell, born in New York City, New York (1894), who left high school at the age of sixteen to study art. While still a teenager, he was hired to be the art director of Boys' Life, the official publication of the Boy Scouts of America. In 1916, Rockwell painted his first cover for The Saturday Evening Post, with which he would be associated for forty-seven years, and for whom he created three hundred and twenty-one covers. His paintings are currently on view in an exhibit called "Pictures for the American People" at the Guggenheim Museum in New York City.

It's the birthday of writer and art collector Gertrude Stein, born in Allegheny, Pennsylvania (1874). She lived most of her life in Paris entertaining and encouraging artistic and literary talent. She was one of the first collectors of Cubist and experimental art of such painters as Henri Matisse, Georges Braque, and Pablo Picasso, who painted her portrait. She also befriended and influenced many young writers who visited her Paris salon, including Sherwood Anderson, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Ernest Hemingway. Her first published book was Three Lives (1909), which consisted of three stories of working class women. Her book The Making of Americans: Being a History of a Family's Progress, was a 900-page novel published in 1925 that had no dialogue or action. Many critics thought she was trying to translate Cubist art into literature, but the writing was too obscure and confusing for most readers. Her one popular success was her 1933 book, The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, which was ostensibly the story of Stein's secretary and companion, but was in reality her own life story.

It's the birthday of journalist Horace Greeley, born in Amherst, New Hampshire (1811), who became famous for the quote, "Go West, young Man!" Greeley founded the New York Tribune in 1841, and was its editor until his death in 1872.

In 1913 on this day, the Sixteenth Amendment to the Constitution, providing for a federal income tax, was ratified.

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