Jan. 30, 2010


by Philip Booth

Waking, you thumb the remote
to scan news,
                      watch the weather girl
dance both hands, pivot,
smile, and point to
                               the other coast.
So what does morning look like?
What does the world.
                                  From this motel:
an anywhere town, across the bay, shining.
Elsewhere mountains.
                                  Miles beyond hills,
the capital cities, their walls behind walls.
Monuments to our lies,
                                      to our self-blinded lives.
Above us now, two fishhawks, cheeping musical shrieks,
the risen sun easing their wingbeats.
                                                           Over us all,
daylight's invisible satellites, shamelessly
bouncing back from space the emptiness we feed them.

"Views" by Philip Booth, from Lifelines: Selected Poems 1950-1999. © Penguin Group, 1999. Reprinted with permission (buy now)

It's the birthday of the 32nd president of the United States, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, born in Hyde Park, New York (1882). He said, "Human kindness has never weakened the stamina or softened the fiber of a free people. A nation does not have to be cruel to be tough."

It's the birthday of Gelett Burgess, (books by this author) born in Boston (1866), who went to MIT, taught architecture and engineering students at UC Berkeley, wrote more than 35 books, but who remains best known for a single four-line stanza that goes: "I never Saw a Purple Cow; / I never Hope to See One; / But I can Tell you, Anyhow, / I'd rather See than Be One."

The Purple Cow lyric has inspired all sorts of spin-off poems, and a Purple Cow is the mascot for Williams College in Massachusetts, and the name of an alcoholic beverage (vodka and grape juice), a brand of Australian clothing, and a boutique winery in Oregon, and a restaurant chain in the South.

It's the birthday of Richard Brautigan, (books by this author) born in Tacoma, Washington (1935), best known for his 1967 book Trout Fishing in America, which has sold millions of copies around the world. It's only 112 pages long, it's abstract, it doesn't have much of a plot, and characters in the story reappear in seemingly unrelated incidents.

An idyllic book, but Brautigan's own childhood in the Pacific Northwest was from idyllic. His father abandoned his mother while she was pregnant with him, and his mother was an alcoholic and a heavy smoker. Brautigan had a string of stepfathers. He was extremely poor and often went without food.

On a chilly mid-December night when he was 20, a year and a half after he'd moved out of his mother's house and into a Quaker boarding house, he filled his pockets with rocks, walked up to the Eugene Oregon police station inside City Hall, announced, "I am a criminal. I am going to break the law," starting throwing rocks through the police station window, and asked police to put him behind bars. He was literally starving trying to be a writer, and he figured that if he went to jail he would at least get fed three meals a day.

After a stint at the Oregon State Hospital, Brautigan left for San Francisco. He wore his blond hair long and shaggy, sported old-lady eyeglasses, walked hunched over because of scoliosis, worked on underground newspapers, went to acid-plied rock concerts, and hung around with people in the Beat movement — some people called him "the last of the beats" — but he insisted that he was never one of them. His writing is classified as part of the counterculture movement. During the 1960s, he published a number of books: the poetry collections The Octopus Frontier (1960), All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace (1967), which he handed out for free on the streets of Haight-Ashbury, The Pill Versus the Springhill Mine Disaster (1968), and Please Plant This Book (1969), which was made up of seed packets that had his poems printed on the sides of the packets. But it was his novel Trout Fishing in America, published in 1967, that made him famous all over the world and an icon of the 1960s counterculture movement.

Brautigan continued to write through out the 1970s, though he was severely depressed. He shot himself in 1984.

A poem by Richard Brautigan:
"30 Cents, Two Transfers, Love"

Thinking hard about you
I got on the bus
and paid 30 cents car fare
and asked the driver for two transfers
before discovering
that I was

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




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