Mar. 12, 2004

Please Mrs. Butler

by Allan Ahlberg

FRIDAY, 12 MARCH, 2004
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Poem: "Please Mrs Butler," by Allan Ahlberg, from Please Mrs Butler (Penguin).

Please Mrs Butler

Please Mrs Butler
This boy Derek Drew
Keeps copying my work, Miss.
What shall I do?

Go and sit in the hall, dear.
Go and sit in the sink.
Take your books on the roof, my lamb.
Do whatever you think.

Please Mrs Butler
This boy Derek Drew
Keeps taking my rubber, Miss.
What shall I do?

Keep it in your hand, dear.
Hide it up your vest.
Swallow it if you like, my love.
Do what you think best.

Please Mrs Butler
This boy Derek Drew
Keeps calling me rude names, Miss.
What shall I do?

Lock yourself in the cupboard, dear.
Run away to sea.
Do whatever you can, my flower.
But don't ask me!

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the anniversary of the Blizzard of 1888, known as "The Great White Hurricane," one of the worst storms in American history. It came after a warm spell, lasted for thirty-six hours, killed more than four hundred people, and dropped forty inches of snow on New York City. Drifts piled up to second-story windows. The city was isolated; messages to Boston had to be relayed via England. The crisis in transportation led to the creation of the New York subway, approved in 1894 and begun in 1900.

On this day in 1901, industrialist Andrew Carnegie gave New York City 5.2 million dollars to construct sixty-five libraries. He had just sold the Carnegie Steel Company to J. P. Morgan for 250 million dollars, and decided to retire and devote himself to giving it all away. He later donated money to create more than 2,500 libraries all over the United States and Britain. By the time he died, Carnegie had given away over 350 million dollars. He said, "The man who enters a library is in the best society this world affords; the good and the great welcome him, surround him, and humbly ask to be allowed to become his servants."

On this day in 1933, President Franklin D. Roosevelt gave his first "fireside chat" over the radio. He spoke to the nation about the banking crisis, trying to calm people and slow down the rush on banks to withdraw money.

It's the birthday of novelist Jack Kerouac, born Jean-Louis Kerouac, in Lowell Massachusetts (1922). He grew up in a French-Canadian family, and he couldn't speak English fluently until junior high. He skipped class at Lowell High to go to the library and read the classics, as well as writers like William Saroyan, Ernest Hemingway, and Thomas Wolfe. He was strong and athletic; he played football and he was good at it. On the Thanksgiving game of his senior year in high school he scored a game-winning touchdown: the ball was tipped, he stretched out and grabbed when it was just inches from the ground, and smashed his way into the end zone. The Lowell fans went crazy, and there were college scouts there. He accepted an athletic scholarship to Columbia University, where he met William Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg and became a writer.

In 1949 he and his friend Neal Cassady drove a Cadillac limousine from California to Chicago, going over 100 miles an hour on two-lane roads until the speedometer broke. In 1951 he sat at his kitchen table, taped sheets of Chinese art paper together to make a long roll, and wrote the story of Cassady and their trips. It had no paragraphs and very little punctuation. Allen Ginsberg called it ''a magnificent single paragraph several blocks long, rolling, like the road itself.'' It became his novel On the Road (1957). On May 22, 2001, the manuscript was sold at an auction for 2.2 million dollars, a record for a literary manuscript at auction.

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