Jun. 3, 2003


by Allen Ginsberg

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Poem: "Homework: Homage Kenneth Koch," by Allen Ginsberg from Collected Poems, 1947-1980 (Harper and Row).

Homage Kenneth Koch

If I were doing my Laundry I'd wash my dirty Iran
I'd throw in my United States, and pour on the Ivory Soap, scrub up Africa,
            put all the birds and elephants back in the jungle,
I'd wash the Amazon river and clean the oily Carib & Gulf of Mexico,
Rub that smog off the North Pole, wipe up all the pipelines in Alaska,
Rub a dub dub for Rocky Flats and Los Alamos, Flush that sparkly Cesium
            out of Love Canal
Rinse down the Acid Rain over the Parthenon & Sphinx, Drain the Sludge
            out of the Mediterranean basin & make it azure again,
Put some blueing back into the sky over the Rhine, bleach the little Clouds
            so snow return white as snow,
Cleanse the Hudson Thames & Neckar, Drain the Suds out of Lake Erie
Then I'd throw big Asia in one giant Load & wash out the blood & Agent
Dump the whole mess of Russia and China in the wringer, squeeze out the
            tattletail Gray of U.S. Central American police state,
& put the planet in the drier & let it sit 20 minutes or an Aeon till it came
            out clean.

Literary Notes:

It's the birthday of poet Allen Ginsberg, born in Newark, New Jersey (1926). His early poems made a huge impact, and are considered his best: "Howl" (1956), which became a manifesto for the Beat Generation, and "Kaddish" (1961), written as an elegy for his mother. He said, "Poetry is not an expression of the party line. It's that time of night, lying in bed, thinking what you really think, making the private world public, that's what the poet does." In 1952 in a letter to Jack Kerouac and Neal Cassady, his friends and fellow pioneers of the Beat movement, he wrote: "I have a new method of poetry. All you got to do is look over your notebooks ... or lay down on a couch, and think of anything that comes into your head, especially the miseries... ." He died in 1997. He said, "It would be nice to be remembered for generous energy-patience and generosity in energetic thought."

It's the birthday of Josephine Baker, born Frieda Josephine Carson in St. Louis, Missouri (1906), a dancer and singer who became one of the most popular music-hall entertainers in France. Time magazine wrote: "Mlle. Baker wore feathers on her rump, bananas dangling from her belt, nothing else. Parisians were raving overnight…." Baker said: "I wasn't really naked.... I simply didn't have any clothes on." She became a French citizen in 1937. During the German occupation of France, Baker worked with the Red Cross and the French Résistance, and she entertained troops in Africa and the Middle East. She was awarded the Legion of Honour. After the war she married a Frenchman and devoted herself to adopting babies of all nationalities in what she called "an experiment in brotherhood" and her "rainbow tribe." She said, "Surely the day will come when color means nothing more than skin tone, when religion is seen uniquely as a way to speak one's soul; when birth places have the weight of a throw of the dice and all men are born free, when understanding breeds love and brotherhood."

It's the birthday of Larry McMurtry, born in Wichita Falls, Texas (1936). His early novels were set in the Southwest, on the frontier and in small towns. They included Horseman, Pass By (1961) and The Last Picture Show (1966), which were both made into movies. Then 1981 he wrote an essay in The Texas Observer in which he said that "the cowboy myth" had become "an inhibiting, rather than a creative, factor in our literary life," and that "there was really no more that needed to be said about it." But a few years later he published one of his best books, Lonesome Dove (1985), a historical novel about a cattle drive, and it won a Pulitzer Prize.

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