Jun. 11, 2002

June 11

by David Lehman

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Poem: "June 11," by David Lehman from The Daily Mirror (Scribner Poetry).

June 11

It's my birthday I've got an empty
stomach and the desire to be
lazy in the hammock and maybe
go for a cool swim on a hot day
with the trombone in Sinatra's
"I've Got You Under My Skin"
in my head and then to break for
lunch a corned-beef sandwich and Pepsi
with plenty of ice cubes unlike France
where they put one measly ice cube
in your expensive Coke and when
you ask for more they argue with
you they say this way you get more
Coke for the money showing they
completely misunderstand the nature of
American soft drinks which are an
excuse for ice cubes still I wouldn't
mind being there for a couple of
days Philip Larkin's attitude
toward China comes to mind when
asked if he'd like to go there he said
yes if he could return the same day

It's the birthday of English poet and dramatist Ben Jonson, born in London, England (1572). He was an apprentice bricklayer and a soldier before turning to the theater, first as an actor and then as a playwright. According to a popular legend, none other than William Shakespeare recommended Jonson's comedy, Every Man in His Humour (1598), to the Lord Chamberlain's Men. His most popular plays were Volpone; or The Fox (1606), The Alchemist (1610), and Bartholemew Fair (1614).

It's the birthday of American anthropologist Alfred Kroeber, born in Hoboken, New Jersey (1876). He spent his career, from 1901 to 1947, at the University of California at Berkeley, where he studied the language and myths of California Indian tribes. In 1911, the last member of a Northern California tribe, the Yahi, was found on the verge of starvation in a small mining town. He was entrusted to the care of Kroeber, who called him "Ishi," the Yahi word for "man." For three years, Ishi was a kind of living exhibit in the new museum of anthropology at Berkeley, where Kroeber interviewed him extensively about his life and his tribe. Ishi died of tuberculosis after three years in the museum. His story was later told by Kroeber's second wife, Theodora Kroeber, in the popular book Ishi in Two Worlds (1961).

It's the birthday of Greek filmmaker Michael Cacoyannis, born in Limassol, Cyprus (1922). He's especially known for his films of Greek tragedy, including Electra (1961), The Trojan Women (1971), and Iphigenia (1977). In this country, though, his best known film is Zorba the Greek (1964).

It's the birthday of novelist William Styron, born in Newport News, Virginia (1925). He gained a reputation as a major American novelist with the stunning success of his first novel, Lie Down in Darkness (1951). He'd left a job as a manuscript reader for McGraw-Hill in 1947 to start work on the novel. He later recalled: "At the age of twenty-two, I had such pure hopes in my ability to write not just a respectable first novel, but a novel that would be completely out of the ordinary, that when I left the McGraw-Hill Building for the last time, I felt the exultancy of a man just released from slavery and ready to set the universe on fire." He followed up his initial success with the Pulitzer Prize-winning The Confessions of Nat Turner (1967) and the American Book Award-winning Sophie's Choice (1979). In 1985, he found himself stricken with clinical depression. He chronicled his recovery from the disease in the book Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness (1990).

It's the birthday of novelist Allan Gurganus, born in Rocky Mount, North Carolina (1947). It took him seven years to write his first, seven hundred and eighteen page novel, The Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All (1989). His other books include The Practical Heart (1993) and Plays Well with Others (1997). He said: "I want to write the funniest books possible about the worst things that can happen to people."

It's the birthday of poet David Lehman, born in New York City (1948). He published his first book of poetry, Some Nerve, in 1972. In the same year, he co-produced and hosted a program called "The Only Poetry Show" on WKCR-FM radio in New York. Since then he's continued to be active in getting poetry out to the public, both as a poet and as the founding editor, in 1988, of the Best American Poetry series. His other books of poetry include An Alternative to Speech (1986) and The Daily Mirror: A Journal in Poetry (2000).

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