Nov. 21, 2003

Call and Answer

by Robert Bly

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Poem: "Call and Answer," by Robert Bly.

Call and Answer

Tell me why it is we don't lift our voices these days
And cry over what is happening. Have you noticed
The plans are made for Iraq and the ice cap is melting?

I say to myself: "Go on, cry. What's the sense
Of being an adult and having no voice? Cry out!
See who will answer! This is Call and Answer!"

We will have to call especially loud to reach
Our angels, who are hard of hearing; they are hiding
In the jugs of silence filled during our wars.

Have we agreed to so many wars that we can't
Escape from silence? If we don't lift our voices, we allow
Others (who are ourselves) to rob the house.

How come we've listened to the great criers-Neruda,
Akhmatova, Thoreau, Frederick Douglas-and now
We're silent as sparrows in the little bushes?

Some masters say our life lasts only seven days.
Where are we in the week? Is it Thursday yet?
Hurry, cry now! Soon Sunday night will come.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of playwright Tina Howe, born in New York City (1937). She is the author of many works, including Coastal Disturbances (1997).

It's the birthday of novelist Beryl Bainbridge, born in Liverpool, England (1934). Her works include An Awfully Big Adventure (1989) and According to Queeney (2001).

It's the birthday of novelist Olav Duun, born in Fosnes, Norway (1876). His masterpiece is a series of novels entitled The People of Juvik (1918-1923).

It's the birthday of jazz musician Coleman Hawkins, born in Saint Joseph, Missouri (1904). He did a great deal to bring the tenor saxophone into prominence in jazz. The saxophone had previously been viewed as a sort of novelty. His mother was a pianist and organist and Hawkins studied cello and piano as a child. When he discovered the saxophone, he knew he had found his instrument. He played with blues singer Mamie Smith and then with the Fletcher Henderson Band. In 1940, Hawkins had just finished recording several songs when a producer convinced him to do one more song, "Body and Soul." Hawkins had no arrangement, but he agreed to try just one take, with no rehearsal. It became his most famous record. Gary Giddins, in The Antioch Review, said, "If Hawkins's 'Body and Soul' isn't the single most acclaimed improvisation in jazz's first hundred years, it is unquestionably a leading contender." The pianist Teddy Wilson told Down Beat that it was "the best solo record I ever heard in jazz."

It's the birthday of the man who said, "If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him," and "He is a hard man who is only just and a sad man who is only wise"--François-Marie Arouet, better known as Voltaire, born in Paris (1694). As a young man, he wrote a scathing satire of the French government and was imprisoned in the Bastille, where he wrote his first play. His best known work is Candide (c. 1758), the story of the travels and misadventures of the young and innocent man Candide and the optimistic Doctor Pangloss.

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