May 23, 2002

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Poem: "Naked," by Jennifer Michael Hecht from The Next Ancient World (Tupelo Press).


The reason you so often in literature have a naked woman
walk out of her house that way, usually older, in her front garden
or on the sidewalk, oblivious, is because of exactly how I feel right now.

You tend to hear about how it felt to come upon such a mythical beast,
the naked woman on the street, the naked man in a tree, and that makes
sense because it is wonderful to take the naked woman by the hand

And know that you will remember that moment for the rest of your life
because of what it means, the desperation, the cataclysm of what it takes
to leave your house naked or to take off your clothes in the tree.

It feels good to get the naked man to come down from there by a series
of gentle commands and take him by the elbow or her by the hand and
lead him to his home like you would care for a bird or a human heart.

Still if you want instead, for once, to hear about how the person came to be
standing there, naked, outside, you should talk to me right now, quickly,
before I forget the details of this way that I feel. I feel like walking out.

It's the birthday of poet Jane Kenyon, born in Ann Arbor, Michigan (1947). She attended the University of Michigan where she both got her Master's degree and met her future husband, the poet Donald Hall. After their marriage, the couple moved to Eagle Pond Farm in New Hampshire, and much of her later poetry reflected on domestic and rural life in northern New England. Kenyan, who suffered from depression and died young from leukemia, published only four volumes of poetry during her lifetime: From Room to Room (1978), The Little Boat (1986), Let Evening Come (1990), and Constance (1993).

It's the birthday of clarinetist, bandleader, arranger, and composer Artie Shaw, born Arthur Jacob Arshawsky in New York City, New York (1910). He was brought up in New Haven, Connecticut, where he learned to play the saxophone and clarinet. In 1930, he came to New York and became one of the top studio musicians in the city. He then took a year off to refine his technical abilities on his musical instruments. He also made a plan - he would be a musician long enough to make twenty-five thousand dollars (a lot of money in those times), then retire to write books. Shaw returned to New York in 1934 and formed a sophisticated jazz band of his own. In 1936 he created a sensation with a song he composed for a jazz octet called Interlude in B-flat, which his band played as part of New York's first swing concert at the Imperial Theater. When the audience cheered for a curtain call, the band had to play the Interlude again, because it was the only piece they had prepared. Two years later, he formed a swing band that won enormous success with their hit recording of Cole Porter's "Begin the Beguine." Around the same time, Shaw became the first white bandleader to hire a black singer - Billie Holiday - as a permanent member of his band. In 1951, Shaw quit the music business once again in order to write a semi-autobiographical novel, The Trouble with Cinderella: An Outline of Identity. He made his last musical appearance in 1954 with his group the Gramercy Five. He then left the United States to live in Spain for a few years, and published his second book, I Love You, I Hate You, Drop Dead! (1965).

It's the birthday of writer and journalist Margaret Fuller, born in Cambridgeport, Massachusetts (1810). After her father's death in 1835, she took teaching posts in Boston and in Providence to help provide for her family. During her stay in Providence she translated Johann P. Eckermann's Conversations with Goethe. She returned to Boston in 1839, and joined the Transcendentalist movement. Led by Ralph Waldo Emerson, whom she had met several years earlier, the movement believed that God can be seen in man and nature, and that intuition is the highest source of knowledge. In 1845, she wrote Women in the Nineteenth Century, the first feminist statement by an American woman.

It's the birthday of poet, humorist, and editor Thomas Hood, born in London, England (1799). Although he aspired to be a great poet, and became a good one by the end of his life, his serious poems were overshadowed by his humorous verse. He became famous for his black humor. His most famous poem is The Song of the Shirt, (1843), a sympathetic ode to the underprivileged classes of society. He said: "There are three things the public will always clamor for, sooner or later: novelty, novelty, novelty."

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