Mar. 29, 2003

To Carelessness

by Kenneth Koch

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Poem: "To Carelessness," by Kenneth Koch from New Addresses (Alfred A. Knopf).

To Carelessness

You led me to sling my rifle
Over my shoulder when its bayonet was fixed
On Leyte, in the jungle. It hit a hornets' nest
And I fell down
Screaming. The hornets attacked me, and Lonnie,
The corporal, said "Soldier get off your ass!"
Later the same day, I stepped on a booby trap
That was badly wired. You
Had been there too.
Thank you. It didn't explode.

Literary Notes:

It's the birthday of Eric Idle, born in South Shields, Durham, England (1943). He's one of the members of Monty Python's Flying Circus; he met the others while they were writing for The Frost Report, a comedy show hosted by David Frost. He's the author of Hello Sailor (1974) and The Road to Mars: A Post Modem Novel (1999); he's also directed movies, music videos and Saturday Night Live episodes.

It's the birthday of novelist Judith Guest, born in Detroit (1936). She sent her first novel, Ordinary People (1976), directly to Viking Publishers, without the help of an agent; a secretary read the manuscript and liked it, and Viking published it. It was the first unsolicited manuscript they had taken in twenty-six years. It was made into a movie that won several Academy awards.

It's the birthday of the poet R.S. Thomas, born in Cardiff, Wales (1913). He was an Anglican clergyman who spent most of his life preaching in the rural districts. He published more than twenty volumes of poetry. A critic wrote: "He was the Solzhenitsyn of Wales because he was such a troubler of the Welsh conscience." Thomas called the Welsh, "an impotent people," "sick with inbreeding/worrying the carcass of an old song."

It's the birthday of Eugene Joseph McCarthy, born in Watkins, Minnesota (1916). He's the Democratic senator from Minnesota who ran for president in 1968. He served as an Army intelligence officer during World War Two, but he also thought about becoming a monk; he served as a Benedictine novice for a year. McCarthy is the author of twenty-one books, including several collections of poetry. Gene McCarthy, who said: "It is dangerous for a national candidate to say things that people might remember."

It's the birthday of Howard Lindsay, born in Waterford, New York (1889). During the thirties and forties, he and his partner Russel Crouse were one of the best-known playwriting teams on Broadway. Their first success was Anything Goes (1934), a musical show which featured a shipwreck, but which Lindsay and Crouse were hired to rewrite after a real shipwreck off the coast of New Jersey made the theme in poor taste. They wrote Life with Father (1939), which had a phenomenally successful run on Broadway. Then Lindsay discovered a strange script called Bodies in the Cellar, and he sent it and a telegram to Crouse: "Shake your head, take a cup of coffee and read further. Have just read play about two charming old ladies who go around murdering old men. Very funny. How would you like to be a producer?" Crouse's two-word reply was, "Buy it." The show was Arsenic and Old Lace, and one of their master strokes as producers was to persuade Boris Karloff to play Jonathan Brewster, the character in the play who, as the result of botched plastic surgery, bears an uncanny resemblance to Boris Karloff.

On this day in 1912, Captain Robert Falcon Scott wrote the last entry in his diary. Scott is remembered for his bravery in losing the race to the South Pole. His first expedition on the Discovery (1901-04) took him within 450 miles of the South Pole before he had to turn back. He later led the Terra Nova expedition, which reached the pole in January, 1912 -- only to discover that Norwegian Roald Amundsen had been there a month earlier. On the return trip Scott and his party of four all died of hunger and extreme cold. Their bodies were found 8 months later just 11 miles from a food and fuel depot. On March 29, in his last diary entry, Scott wrote, "Since the 21st we have had a continuous gale…We had fuel to make two cups of tea apiece and bare food for two days on the 20th. Every day we have been ready to start for our depot 11 miles away, but outside the door of the tent it remains a scene of whirling drift. I do not think we can hope for better things now. We shall stick it out to the end, but we are getting weaker of course, and the end cannot be far. It seems a pity, but I do not think I can write any more."

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