Mar. 13, 2006

1943 Steel Penny

by Tom Chandler

MONDAY, 13 MARCH, 2006
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Poem: "1943 Steel Penny" by Tom Chandler from Wingbones. © Signal Books Signature Poets series. Reprinted with permission.

1943 Steel Penny

Spent more than a month
in a torn khaki pocket
slumped in a ditch in Anzio,
four years in a jar
in a workingman's bar
near a highway
somewhere in Michigan,
more than two decades
in a Phillies Cigar Box
lost in your great uncle's
underwear drawer
after he'd found it
in a local garage
on the floor near the wall
where a calendar hung
with some dates crossed off
and other dates circled
where he'd gone for repair
on a meaningless Thursday
wearing a tie in the fresh morning light,
smelling of brylcream & smoker's breath
and worried about his Desoto.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of writer Janet Flanner, born in Indianapolis, Indiana (1892). She wrote the "Letter from Paris" for the New Yorker, starting in 1925 when it was a fledgling magazine. She thought of herself as a high-class gossip columnist and she reported on everything from trends in literature to the favorite restaurants of celebrities.

In Paris she was part of the expatriate literary colony. In her small hotel room on the Left Bank she hosted literary figures such as Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald, who liked to drop in well after midnight to gossip and talk about her writing. Her obituary in the New Yorker said, "She caught history as it raced by and before others knew that it was history."

Her writings from Paris were collected in Men and Monuments (1957), two volumes of Paris Journal (1965 and 1971), and Paris Was Yesterday, 1925-1939 (1972). She also wrote profiles for the New Yorker of figures such as Adolf Hitler, Pablo Picasso, and Igor Stravinsky, and collected them in An American in Paris: Profile of an Interlude Between Two Wars (1940).

In the beginning she saw her journalism for the New Yorker as a means to an income, not as art, but she took pride in her work. Of her "Letter from Paris" she said, "I keep going over a sentence. I nag it, gnaw it, pat and flatter it," and "I act as a sponge. I soak it up and squeeze it out in ink every two weeks."

It's the birthday of science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard, born Lafayette Ronald Hubbard, in Tilden, Nebraska, (1911). He's best known as the author of Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health (1950), which became the bible of the Church of Scientology, founded in 1954.

It was on this day in 1881 that Henrik Ibsen's play Ghosts opened on the London stage. Ghosts was considered a controversial play with references to incest and sexually transmitted diseases, and Ibsen refused to give his audiences the happy endings they were used to. The play had already been banned in St. Petersburg on religious grounds when it premiered in London.

The first performance alone of Ghosts caused over five hundred printed articles to be written in response to it, and Ibsen became a household name even to people who had never seen the play or read a book. Henrik Ibsen died in 1906 when he was 79. He was given a state funeral, and King Haakon of Norway attended.

Henrik Ibsen wrote in Act 2, "I almost think we're all of us Ghosts. ... It's not only what we have invited from our father and mother that walks in us. It's all sorts of dead ideas, and lifeless old beliefs, and so forth. They have no vitality, but they cling to us all the same, and we can't get rid of them. Whenever I take up a newspaper, I seem to see Ghosts gliding between the lines. There must be Ghosts all the country over, as thick as the sand of the sea. And then we are, one and all, so pitifully afraid of the light."

On this day in 1943, disillusioned German officers planned to assassinate Hitler. Hitler was to stop at Smolensk on his way to his headquarters and an officer who was not involved in the plot had been commissioned to deliver a package to Hitler's plane, which he was told contained two bottles of liquor for a friend in Rastenburg. A bomb in the package was timed to go off over Minsk, but the plane reached Rastenburg without detonating. The package was later recovered it was found that the detonator was defective.

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®




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