Aug. 20, 2008

Thus Spake the Mockingbird

by Barbara Hamby

The mockingbird says, Hallelujah, coreopsis, I make the day
      bright, I wake the night-booming jasmine. I am
the duodecimo of desperate love, the hocus-pocus passion
      flower of delirious retribution. You never saw such a bird,
such a triage of blood and feathers, tongue and bone. O the world
      is a sad address, bitterness melting the tongues of babies,
breasts full of accidental milk, but I can teach the flowers to grow,
      take their tight buds, unfurl them like flags in the morning heat,
fat banners of scent, flat platters of riot on the emerald scene.
      I am the green god of pine trees, conducting the music
of rustling needle through a harp of wind. I am the heart of men,
      the wild bird that drives their sex, forges their engines,
jimmies their shattered locks in the dark flare where midnight slinks.
      I am the careless minx in the skirts of women, the bright moon
caressing their hair, the sharp words pouring from their beautiful mouths
      in board rooms, on bar stools, in big city laundrettes. I am
Lester Young's sidewinding sax, sending that Pony Express
      message out west in the Marconi tube hidden in every torso
tied tight in the corset of do and don't, high and low, yes and no. I am
      the radio, first god of the twentieth century, broadcasting
the news, the blues, the death counts, the mothers wailing
      when everyone's gone home. I am sweeping
through the Eustachian tube of the great plains, transmitting
      through every ear of corn, shimmying down the spine
of every Bible-thumping banker and bureaucrat, relaying the anointed
      word of the shimmering world. Every dirty foot that walks
the broken streets moves on my wings. I speak from the golden
      screens. Hear the roar of my discord murdering the trees,
screaming its furious rag, the fuselage of my revival-tent brag. Open
      your windows, slip on your castanets. I am the flamenco
in the heel of desire. I am the dancer. I am the choir. Hear my wild
      throat crowd the exploding sky. O I can make a noise.

"Thus Spake the Mockingbird" by Barbara Hamby from Babel. © University of Pittsburgh Press, 2005. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of the poet Edgar Albert Guest, (books by this author) born in Birmingham, England, in 1881. He spent most of his life in Detroit, and he is the first and only poet laureate of Michigan. After his father died, Guest dropped out of high school to work full time at the Detroit Free Press, where he went from copy boy to reporter. He wrote poems that were syndicated in over 300 American newspapers, and these verses were called "Breakfast Table Chat." Even though Guest was the author of more than 11,000 poems, he called himself "a newspaper man who wrote poems."

It was on this day in 1882 that the "1812 Overture" debuted in Moscow. Pyotor Ilyich Tchaikovsky wrote the piece to commemorate Russia's defense in 1812 at the Battle of Borodino against Napoleon's invasion of Russia. The piece debuted at the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in Moscow. The "1812 Overture" includes 16 cannon shots, which are written into the piece along with all the other orchestral instruments. The piece is 15 minutes long, and it begins with a Russian Orthodox hymn and moves through traditional and military themes to convey the distress of the Russian people at the invading French. But even though it is a piece about Russia and France, it's now a popular choice for patriotic American festivals. This tradition began in 1935 when Chicago's Grant Park Orchestra performed it for the Fourth of July. Now the Boston Pops Orchestra plays it every year for their huge July 4th celebrations. It's played every July 4th on the Capitol Lawn in Washington, D.C., and the United States Army Band performs the piece every August.

It's the birthday of the poet Heather McHugh, (books by this author) born in San Diego, California, in 1948. She has said that as a child she was a klutz who wore mismatched shoes to school. Until she was 12 years old, she only read antiquated English poetry because it was the only poetry in her house — John Donne, Shakespeare, Yeats, Dylan Thomas. For Christmas, she got old LPs of famous stage performers reciting these poems, so her head was full of the sounds and patterns of British verse.

At age 16, she entered Harvard University and published her first poem in The New Yorker. Her books of poetry include Hinge & Sign: Poems 1968-1993 (1994), The Father of Predicaments (2001), and Eyeshot (2004).

She said, "My whole work is to catch the word by surprise, sneaking up on language, sneaking up on the world as it lurks in words."

It's the birthday of H. P. Lovecraft, (books by this author) born Howard Phillips Lovecraft in 1890 in Providence, Rhode Island. He wrote science fiction, fantasy, and horror, a genre that during his life was called simply "weird fiction." Lovecraft wrote hundreds of poems and short stories, but they were scattered throughout various pulp magazines and publications. It was only after his death that some of the people he had corresponded with in letters were determined to share his work with the public, so they formed a press called Arkham House specifically as a way to publish Lovecraft's work. They issued The Outsider and Others in 1939, and his books are still widely available— books like The Dreams in the Witch House and Other Weird Stores (1932). Fantasy and horror writers like Stephen King and Neil Gaiman consider Lovecraft one of their major influences, and Jorge Luis Borges wrote a story, "There Are More Things," in memory of Lovecraft.

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