Apr. 27, 2002

A Bad Moment

by Gavin Ewart

(RealAudio) | How to listen

: "A Bad Moment," by Gavin Ewart from Selected Poems: 1933-1988 (New Directions).

A Bad Moment

I'm frightened. I'm on a rock face and I can't climb.
I've got a toe-hold, just. My fingers are failing.
Below me is a vast amount of nothing.

In advertising a man of fifty is expendable.
The yawning sack holds economic murder
And wives and children fill it with their clamour.

A 22 bus goes whizzling past. Home to a tea and toast.
The star Betelgeuse would hold so many million suns,
The sun so many million earths. I'm nothing but a nothing.

It's the birthday of playwright August Wilson, born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (1945). He's known for his plays exploring the black experience in the twentieth century, plays like Fences (1987) and The Piano Lesson (1990), both of which won the Pulitzer Prize. He got started in theater in the late Sixties, when he and a friend founded a black theater company in Pittsburgh. From there, he moved on to St. Paul, Minnesota, where he started writing scripts for a small theater company. His first national success came in 1984, with Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, which had a successful run on Broadway. The play, like those that came after, was steeped in the blues and the real language of black Americans-what Wilson calls "the everyday poetry of the people I'd grown up with."

It's the birthday of writer Ludwig Bemelmans, born in Merans, Tyrol, Austria (1898). He came to the United States in 1914, served in World War One, and then worked his way up from waiter to part-owner of the Hapsburg House hotel on New York's East Side. He started writing, he said, because he suffered from insomnia. He wrote essays for the New Yorker, and several adult novels, but he's best known for his books for children about the irrepressible French orphan, Madeleine. He got his start as a writer and illustrator for children when an editor visited his apartment and saw that he had painted scenes of his native Tyrol on the window shades to ease his homesickness. His walls were painted with pictures of all the fancy furniture that he couldn't afford. The editor thought writing and illustrating children's books would be a perfect fit for his talent. His first children's book was Hansi (1934), followed by three others before Madeleine was published in 1939. He wrote and illustrated five Madeleine books in all, including the Caldecott Award-winning Madeleine's Rescue (1953).

It's the birthday of author and editor Jessie Redmon Fauset, born in Snow Hill, New Jersey (1882). After college, she went on to teach French at an all-black high school in Washington, D.C. and to publish articles in The Crisis, the journal of the NAACP. Her work caught the attention of the journal's editor, W.E.B. DuBois, who got her to move to New York and become the journal's literary editor. In that position, which she held from 1919 to 1926, she fostered the careers of Langston Hughes, Countee Cullen, Jean Toomer and Claude McKay-major figures in what became known as the Harlem Renaissance. Her own novels include The Chinaberry Tree (1931) and Comedy: American Style (1933).

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