Apr. 7, 2006

We Bring Democracy To The Fish

by Donald Hall

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Poem: "We Bring Democracy To The Fish" by Donald Hall from White Apples and the Taste of Stone. © Houghton Mifflin Company. Reprinted with permission.

We Bring Democracy To The Fish

It is unacceptable that fish prey on each other.
For their comfort and safety, we will liberate them
into fishfarms with secure, durable boundaries
that exclude predators. Our care will provide
for their liberty, health, happiness, and nutrition.
Of course all creatures need to feel useful.
At maturity the fish will discover their purposes.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of jazz singer Billie Holiday, born Eleanora Fagan in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (1915). She was discovered by the jazz producer John Hammond. By the early '30s she was touring with jazz legends like Count Basie and Lester Young, and by the 1940s she was already being called the best jazz singer of all time.

It's the birthday of journalist and radio broadcaster Walter Winchell, born in New York City (1897). He said, "The way to become famous fast is to throw a brick at someone who is famous."

It's the birthday of filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola, born in Detroit, Michigan (1939). By the time he was thirty he was $300,000 in debt and possibly finished as a filmmaker. Then he was offered the job of directing a mobster movie based on a Mario Puzo novel. And that was The Godfather, which came out in 1972 and became the most profitable movie ever made up to that time.

It was on this day in 1927 that an audience in New York City saw an image of Commerce Secretary Herbert Hoover in the first successful long-distance demonstration of television. At the time, there were several competing versions of television, and this version was a mechanical process that used a metal disc, punched with holes in a spiral pattern, which transformed light into electrical impulses. It had been invented in Europe, and it was called "Radio Vision."

Herbert Hoover was speaking in Washington, D.C., to the audience in New York City. The broadcast began with a close-up of Hoover's forehead, because he was sitting too close to the camera. Hoover backed up and delivered his speech, saying, "It is a matter of just pride to have a part in this historic occasion ... the transmission of sight, for the first time in the world's history." Hoover's speech was followed by a comedian performing jokes in blackface.

"Radio Vision" never really caught on. Instead, the TV as we know today was an entirely different technology, invented by a high school student in rural Utah named Philo Farnsworth.

It's the birthday of the English Romantic poet William Wordsworth, born in Cocker-mouth, England (1770). He planned to go into the clergy as a young man, but he got mediocre grades at university and refused to prepare for a career. Instead, all he wanted to do was to walk around the countryside, surrounded by nature.

While on vacation from college at Cambridge, he and a friend sailed to France for a twelve-week walking tour of the Alps, during which they covered about 3,000 miles.

It was between 1797 and 1807 that he wrote most of his greatest poetry, including "The Prelude," "Tintern Abbey," "She Dwelt Among the Untrodden Ways," "A Slumber Did My Spirit Seal," "Ode: Intimations of Immortality," and "I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud."

But by the time he had reached middle age, he became a cult sensation and his collections of poetry became best-sellers. Tourists from London would take day trips up to the lake district where Wordsworth lived and gawk at him through the window of his house. His wife once wrote in a letter, "At this moment, a group of young Tourists are standing before the window ... William is reading a newspaper—and on lifting up his head a profound bow greeted him from each."

It's the birthday of Donald Barthelme, born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (1931). He's the author of four novels, including Snow White (1967), but he's best known for his strange, fragmented short stories, the first collection of which was Come Back, Dr. Caligari (1964).

Donald Barthelme said, "Write about what you're afraid of."

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