Jun. 27, 2002


by Robert Morgan

(RealAudio) | How to listen

Poem: "Squatting," by Robert Morgan from Topsoil Road (Louisiana State University Press).


The men in rural places when
they stop to talk and visit will
not stand, for that would make it seem
they're in a rush. Nor will they sit
on ground that might be cold or wet.
Instead they squat with dignity
on heels close to the ground and chat
for hours. And while they tell and answer,
or listen, hunkered out of wind,
they draw with sticks in dirt a map
to illustrate a story or
show evidence for argument.
They sketch out patterns, write on dirt
and doodle vague arithmetic,
who never will take up a pen
on page or slate or canvas. They
will absentmindedly make shapes
and figures of their reveries
and rub them out again complete
to give their art no status of
attention in the casual toss
of discourse, open forum of
community, out there on bare
familiar ground where generations
have squatted, called it ownership.

It's the birthday of novelist Alice McDermott, born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1953. Her first novel was The Bigamist's Daughter, published in 1982, the story of Elizabeth Connely, the editor in chief of a small vanity press who becomes romantically involved with a man who has written a story about a bigamist. Her fourth novel, Charming Billy, won the National Book Award in 1998.

It's the birthday of science fiction writer James Patrick Hogan, born in London in 1941. He is the author of a number of novels based on "hard" science, which are popular among scientists as well as with the public. His first novel was Inherit the Stars, published in 1976. His latest novel is The Legend that was Earth. James Patrick Hogan once said: "I believe that in the long term things get better. I don't think we're about to overpopulate the planet, blow ourselves into oblivion, poison ourselves into extinction, degenerate into Nazis, or disappear under our own garbage. For ten thousand years the power of human reason and creativity has continued to build better tomorrows, and nothing says it has to change now."

It's the birthday of novelist Peter Maas, born in New York in 1929, who was an investigative reporter throughout the 50s and 60s, but became famous for a book published in 1969 about a racketeer and Mafia hit-man called The Valachi Papers. Maas later wrote a biography of New York City police detective Frank Serpico, which was also a best seller and became a movie starring Al Pacino.

It's the birthday of poet Frank O'Hara, born in Baltimore, Maryland, in 1925. He went to New York City, where he was finally free to live openly as a homosexual, and got a job at the front desk of the Museum of Modern Art selling tickets and post cards, often writing his poems while he worked at the counter. His collections include A City Winter, Lunch Poems, and Love Poems.

It's the birthday of author and playwright Richard Bissell, born in Dubuque, Iowa (1913). He worked as a seaman on the American Export Business Lines, and began to write about his experiences. His novel Seven and a Half Cents later become the novel that the popular music The Pajama Game is based upon.

It's the birthday of the poet Paul Laurence Dunbar, born in Dayton, Ohio, in 1872. Dunbar was one of the first black writers in this country to attain national fame during his lifetime. His last novel, often considered his best, is called The Sport of Gods and was published in 1902.

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