Feb. 1, 2003

Ode-ah to My Love

by Margaret Chilton

To My Fourth-grade Love

by Margaret Chilton

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Poem: "To My Fourth-grade Love," by Margaret Chilton.

To My Fourth-grade Love

I found your valentine today
it fell out of a book I was dusting
(two simpering children on a bench
his arm around her
in his other hand his heart
she's pulling petals off a daisy
and seems about to feed them to her pup)
not looking at each other but at me

are those our little selves?
not hardly though
a certain air of mischief in the pup
could be what brings your merry face to mind
I never fed you daisies but
I hit you once it made us pals for life

which no thanks to the folks
who made your valintine
was not too long not long

It's the birthday of humorist S(idney) J(oseph) Perelman, born in Brooklyn, New York (1904). His family moved to Providence when he was young, and he stayed in town to attend Brown University, where he drew cartoons for the literary magazine. Gradually, he said, "The captions got longer and longer, until they replaced the cartoons." He wrote regularly for the New Yorker, in addition to writing many books, including Acres and Pains (1947), Look Who's Talking (1940), and Chicken Inspector No. 23 (1966). He loved the movies and wrote the screenplays for the Marx Brothers' comedies Monkey Business (1931) and Horse Feathers (1932), and won an Academy Award for his screenplay for Around the World in 80 Days (1956), but he loathed Hollywood. He called it "a dreary industrial town controlled by hoodlums of enormous wealth, the ethical sense of a pack of jackals, and taste so degraded that it befouled everything it touched." His Malice in Wonderland (1959) was a satiric spoof on Hollywood.

It is the birthday of poet and novelist Langston Hughes, born in Joplin, Missouri (1902). He settled in New York in the late 1920s, where he became a major figure in the Harlem Renaissance, with other notable African-American writers such as Jean Toomer, Countee Cullen, and Zora Neale Hurston. He was dubbed the Poet Laureate of Harlem, and asserted that black writers at the time should embrace their heritage -- he wanted to be known not merely a poet, but as a black poet. In his autobiography, The Big Sea (1940), he wrote: "The 1920's were the years of Manhattan's black Renaissance. It began with Shuffle Along, Running Wild, and the Charleston…Shuffle Along was a honey of a show. Swift, bright, funny, rollicking, and gay, with a dozen danceable, singable tunes…Everybody was in the audience -- including me. People came back to see it innumerable times. It was always packed…It gave just the proper push -- a pre-Charleston kick -- to that Negro vogue of the '20's, that spread to books, African sculpture, music, and dancing…White people began to come to Harlem in droves. For several years they packed the expensive Cotton Club on Lenox Avenue…Thousands of whites came to Harlem night after night, thinking the Negroes loved to have them there, and firmly believing that all Harlemites left their houses at sundown to sing and dance in the cabarets, because most of the whites saw nothing but the cabarets…But everything goes, one way or another. The '20's are gone and lots of fine things in Harlem nightlife have disappeared like snow in the sun…I was there. I had a swell time when it lasted." His works include the poetry collections, The Weary Blues (1926), and Montage of a Dream Deferred (1951), which later inspired Lorraine Hansberry to write her play A Raisin in the Sun, and the books, Not Without Laughter (1930), and I Wonder as I Wander (1956), a collection of essays on his travels through the Soviet Union. He said that he wrote poetry for those who had "a hip of gin on Saturday nights, and are not too important to themselves or the community or too well-fed or too learned to watch the lazy world go by."

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