Mar. 27, 2003


by John Ciardi

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Poem: "Song," by John Ciardi from The War Poets (John Day).


The bells of Sunday rang us down
And flowers were blowing across the town
Through faucets of the sun turned on.

For Mary's giggle and Martha's glance
The bankrolls flashed from pants to pants,
The Captain did a Highland dance.

Oh, there were troops in every door,
And liquor spilled on every floor,
And when the sun became a bore

We turned it off and hung a star,
For we were beautiful and far
And all the papers spoke of war.

And all night long from window sills
The Angels beckoned and the bills
Of visors turned and made their kills.

We burned like kisses on the night,
And talented and drunk and bright
We shed ourselves in colored light.

Because the train was at the gate,
And clocks were closing down the date,
And all seas were running late.

Literary Notes:

It's the birthday of Louis Simpson, born in Jamaica, the British West Indies (1923). He's written seventeen volumes of poetry, including At the End of the Open Road (1963), which won a Pulitzer that year. His mother died when he was a teenager, and his stepmother kicked him out of the house. He arrived in New York City when he was seventeen and didn't go back to Jamaica for fifty years.

It's the birthday of the clarinetist Pee Wee Russell, born in St. Louis, Missouri (1916). He played with Bix Beiderbecke, Eddie Condon, and Louis Prima. He was called Pee Wee because he was so long and tall and thin; he had a huge nose and a perpetually mournful expression; "even his feet looked sad," a critic said. Early on he developed a kind of dirty playing style; he convinced his instrument to give up a wild medley of barks, shrieks, wails, and blats; someone called him "The Gertrude Stein of the clarinet."

It's the birthday of Sarah Vaughan, known as "The Divine One," born in Newark, New Jersey (1924). She sang "Misty," "Tenderly," "All of Me," and made dozens of other classic jazz recordings with Count Basie, Cannonball Adderly, Lester Young, and Oscar Peterson. When she died in 1990, Mel Torme said, "She had the single best vocal instrument of any singer working in the popular field": she had a range of four octaves, as wide as an opera singer's. One young vocalist remembered spending days learning a song of Vaughan's to perfection, note for note, exactly as it was on the recording; then someone who knew Vaughan told her, "That's just the way she sang it that day; I can tell you she never sang anything the same way twice."

It's the birthday of Quentin Tarantino, born in Knoxville, Tennessee (1963). His mother was sixteen when he was born, and she took him to the movies regularly from the time he was a toddler. He saw a lot of films that were inappropriate for small children, but he didn't mind. When he got older, he got a job in a video store, and he spent most of his time sitting around watching movies with his co-workers and talking about what was wrong with them. He wrote a couple of screenplays, and then, in the time-honored Hollywood tradition, he met an actor who knew another actor who knew Harvey Keitel, and Keitel agreed to look at one of his scripts. He was impressed enough to volunteer to help Tarantino cast the film, and to act in it himself. Reservoir Dogs was a hit in both in the U.S. and in Europe, and his next film, Pulp Fiction, won the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival in 1994.

It's the birthday of T. R. Pearson, born in Winston-Salem, North Carolina (1956). He's the author of eight novels, including Cry Me a River (1993), and Polar (2002); he published his first novel, A Short History of Small Place (1985), when he was painting houses for a living.

On this day in 1931, Arnold Bennett died of typhoid, which he is thought to have contracted after drinking the water in a Paris hotel to show his companions that it was safe. Virginia Woolf and Bennett had had several well-publicized literary disagreements, but when she heard of his death, she wrote in her diary, "Queer how one regrets the dispersal of anybody...who had direct contact with life -- for he abused me; and yet I rather wished him to go on abusing me; and me abusing him."


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