Mar. 23, 2003

A Message Gone Awry

by Gerald Locklin

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Poem: "A Message Gone Awry," by Gerald Locklin from The Life Force Poems (Water Row Press).

A Message Gone Awry

i overhear a man about my age say
"if not now, when?"
i wonder if he heard that first,
as i did, from peter marin,
with whom i taught at l.a. state
in 1964-65. he was right, of course,
some people postpone living in an endless
preparation for a life that leaks its fuel before it
fires from its launching pad.
prufrock, for instance, and john marcher.
newman's idea of a university:
make it as close to life as possible;
you only learn to live by living.

still, all ideas go too far: the wise youth
does defer a few things while arming
himself for the fray, takes his
lessons gradually, doesn't take foolhardy
risks, doesn't strike out to do battle
with or tame the sharks until he's
learned to swim. we inner-directed children of the
cautious 50's needed to be urged
to act, but all too many of the
very young have perished in the decades since,
impetuously, and from acting far beyond
their age, or any age.

Literary Notes:

It's the birthday of Margaret Farrar, born in New York City (1897). She graduated from Smith College in 1919, spent a year as a secretary in a bank, and then got a position with the New York World. She found herself in charge of the weekly crossword puzzle, a Sunday feature the World had pioneered in 1913. By the time she started work there, crossword puzzles were catching on with a wide public, and within a couple of years they were a genuine national craze. Farrar joined two others in editing the Cross Word Puzzle Book, the first such book ever published. It seemed such a gamble that the publisher, Simon & Schuster, issued it under another imprint. It was instead a huge success, and sold nearly 400,000 copies in its first year. Thereafter, she edited about two per year and later edited a series of similar books for Pocket Books and a Crossword Puzzle Omnibus series. Crossword puzzles became an established department of most major American newspapers, except for the New York Times, which refused, and also shunned the comic strip. In February 1942 the Sunday edition of the Times began printing a crossword puzzle, and in September 1950 it became a daily feature as well, in both instances under Farrar's editorship. She remained at the Times, also editing 18 collections of Times crossword puzzles, until her retirement in December 1968. She died in New York City on June 11, 1984, while working on her 134th book of crossword puzzles.

It's the birthday of the inventor of Liquid Paper, used to correct typing errors, Bette Nesmith Graham, born in Dallas, Texas (1924). She was an artist who got a job as a secretary in Dallas at Texas Bank & Trust. While typing with an electric typewriter, she encountered difficulties in correcting her mistakes. To cover her mistakes neatly, she began using tempera paint mixed with certain chemicals that she knew about from her art experience. Graham made her first batch in her kitchen blender and named her creation "Mistake Out." She changed the name of her company to "Liquid Paper" after a rapid increase in demand.

It's the birthday of American cooking expert Fannie Farmer, born in Boston, Massachusetts (1857). She founded the Miss Farmer's School of Cookery, which was designed to train housewives, rather than cooking instructors or chefs. Farmer's principal legacy is The Fannie Farmer Cookbook, first published in 1896 as the Boston Cooking School Cookbook. It was the first cookbook to use standardized level measurements in recipes.

It's the birthday of Japanese filmmaker Akira Kurosawa, born in Tokyo, Japan (1910). His mysterious film Rashomon (1951), about a possible murder, won the Grand Prix at the Venice Film Festival and an Academy Award for best foreign-language film, making it the first Japanese film to attract international acclaim. Kurosawa is known for his adaptations of Western literary classics into films with Japanese settings. Hakuchi (1951) is based on Dostoyevsky's novel, The Idiot; Kumonosu-jo (1957; The Throne of Blood) was adapted from Shakespeare's Macbeth; and his masterpiece Ran (1985; Chaos) recasts King Lear in 16th-century Japan.

On this day in 1743, Handel's Messiah was introduced to London as part of a Lenten season of concerts at Covent Garden Theatre. The Messiah was a favorite of Handel's. He suggested it was the product of inspiration, saying that when he wrote it, "I did think I did see all Heaven before me and the great God himself." The entire work was written in a twenty-four day spurt from August 22 until September 14, in 1741.

On this day in 1775, Patrick Henry ignited the American Revolution with a speech before the second Virginia Convention. Speaking at St. John's Church in Richmond, Henry implored delegates to vote in favor of the resolution to have Virginia, the largest colony, join the war. Speaking without notes, in a voice that became louder and louder, Henry pleaded, "Gentleman may cry, 'Peace! Peace!' -- but there is no peace. The war is actually begun!" He ended by saying, "…but as for me, give me liberty, or give me death!"

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®




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