Mar. 30, 2002

March 23

by David Lehman

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: "March 23," by David Lehman from The Evening Sun (Scribner Poetry).

March 23

I'm taking jazz as
a second language
in jazz if you have chops
it means you can do things
with your right hand like Art
Tatum at the piano while people
at the bar keep talking not
realizing you're Art Tatum
and later when we play the song
we like the fact that we can
hear their chatter indistinct
in the background as he jumps
around the keyboard with
such quick elegance like a dance
of fingers and keys
now with a singer you don't
say chops you say pipes
as in the case of Sarah Vaughan
who could do things with her
voice that no one heard
until she did them, and not even then

Today is Holy Saturday. In the early Christian church, Holy Saturday was a day of silence, fasting, and baptisms. It was the occasion of the great Easter Vigil, a nightlong service that ended at sunrise on Easter morning.

On this day in 1943, the musical Oklahoma opened on Broadway. The show marked the debut of the successful team of composer Richard Rodgers and lyricist Oscar Hammerstein the Second.

It's the birthday of novelist Jon Hassler, born in Minneapolis, Minnesota (1933). He was a high school English teacher for fourteen years before he wrote his first novel, Staggerford (1977), whose main character is an English teacher in a small Minnesota town. His other novels include Simon's Night (1979), Grand Opening (1987), North of Hope (1990), and Rookery Blues (1995).

It's the birthday of English poet Frances Cornford, born in Cambridge, England (1886). She was the granddaughter of Charles Darwin, and near the end of her life she was awarded the Queen's Medal for poetry, but she's best remembered for her poem "To a Fat Lady Seen from the Train" (1915):

O why do you walk through the fields in gloves,
Missing so much and so much?
O fat white woman whom nobody loves,
Why do you walk through the fields in gloves
When the grass is as soft as the breast of doves
And shivering-sweet to the touch?

It's the birthday of Irish playwright Sean O'Casey, born John Casey in Dublin, Ireland (1880). When his first successful play, The Shadow of a Gunman, premiered at Dublin's Abbey Theater in 1923, a notice appeared in the program that said: "Any gunshots heard during the performance are part of the script. Members of the audience must at all times remain seated." His two best known plays were also premiered at the Abbey Theater; they are Juno and the Paycock (1924) and The Plough and the Stars (1926).

It's the birthday of the Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh, born in Zundert, The Netherlands (1853). In 1879, he went as a missionary to the coal miners on southwestern Belgium. The result was a spiritual crisis that led him to try to express himself through art. For the next ten years, from 1880 to 1890, he painted fast and furiously. He painted sunflowers, wheat fields, self-portraits-all while his mental health was steadily breaking down. One of his greatest paintings, Starry Night (1889), was painted while he was confined in an asylum. In 1988, his Irises, painted in the asylum courtyard, sold for forty-nine million dollars. At the time it was the highest price ever paid for a painting.

It's the birthday of the French poet Paul Verlaine, born in Metz, France (1844). He published his first poem in 1863, when he was nineteen. He was married, then abandoned his wife to wander around Europe with the poet Arthur Rimbaud. He spent two years in prison for wounding Rimbaud with a revolver during an argument.

It's the birthday of British novelist Anna Sewell, born in Yarmouth, Norfolk, England (1820). When she was fourteen, she injured her ankles in a bad fall and became a partial invalid. Unable to walk, she relied on horse-and-carriage to get around. Her dependence on horses grew into a deep affection, which she expressed in her only novel, Black Beauty (1877). She wrote the novel, she said, "to induce kindness, sympathy, and an understanding treatment of horses."

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