May 21, 2010

Amo, Amas

by John O'Keefe

Amo, Amas, I love a lass
As a cedar tall and slender;
Sweet cowslip's grace is her nominative case,
And she's of the feminine gender.

  Rorum, Corum, sunt divorum,
  Harum, Scarum divo;
  Tag-rag, merry-derry, periwig and hat-band
  Hic hoc horum genitivo.

Can I decline a Nymph divine?
Her voice as a flute is dulcis.
Her oculus bright, her manus white,
And soft, when I tacto, her pulse is.

  Rorum, Corum, sunt divorum,
  Harum, Scarum divo;
  Tag-rag, merry-derry, periwig and hat-band
  Hic hoc horum genitivo.

Oh, how bella my puella,
I'll kiss secula seculorum.
If I've luck, sir, she's my uxor,
O dies benedictorum.

  Rorum, Corum, sunt divorum,
  Harum, Scarum divo;
  Tag-rag, merry-derry, periwig and hat-band
  Hic hoc horum genitivo.

"Amo, Amas" by John O'Keefe. Public domain.

It's the birthday of the ambitious writer Harold Robbins, (books by this author) born Frank Kane in New York City (1916). It was the Great Depression, and the food distribution system was so bad that farmers were letting their crops rot even while people in the city couldn't get their hands on fresh food. So Harold Robbins stepped in, started buying food directly from farmers and selling it to wholesalers or canning companies. And by the time he was 20, he was a millionaire.

But then he lost it all speculating on the sugar crop. So he got a job with Universal Pictures as a shipping clerk, worked his way up to a position as the executive director of budget. One day, the vice president of the company overheard Harold Robbins complaining about a novel they had just bought to film. The vice president challenged Robbins to write a better book himself, and that is exactly what he did. It was 600 pages long, he sent it off to an agent, and three weeks later Alfred A. Knopf signed on to publish it. It was Never Love a Stranger (1948), and even though Robbins went on to write more than 20 novels, it was his favorite. It was about the underworld of New York, about hustlers and gangs, and it talked so directly about sex that the police confiscated copies.

On this day in 1932, Amelia Earhart became the second person and first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic, traveling from Newfoundland to Northern Ireland in 15 hours.

It's the birthday of jazz pianist and bandleader Thomas "Fats" Waller, born in New York City (1904). A minister's son, Waller played the organ and sang in the choir of the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem. He later began playing organ for movie theaters and vaudeville shows. Waller wrote the score for the musical Hot Chocolates (1929), which was produced on Broadway. He went on to make more than 500 recordings and compose 450 songs.

It was on this day in 1951 that the Ninth Street Show opened in New York, the first art exhibition of the Abstract Expressionists. The poster advertising the show was designed by Franz Kline, who usually painted large black brushstrokes on white backgrounds. It listed the names of the 61 artists who were going to be in the show, and most of the poster was taken up by the words "9th St." in his typical style, and below it, "Exhibition of paintings and sculpture."

Ninth Street referred to an old store that the artists were leasing at 60 East Ninth Street in Manhattan. Kline, Conrad Marca-Relli, and John Ferren all had studios on the same street. They teamed up with the art dealer Leo Castelli, and they rented out the store, a vacant barber shop, for $70 a month. Castelli said: "It took about three days to install the show because artists came in and complained about the placement of their works. The show had a big sign on canvas which covered the whole front of the building. The opening was on a warm May day. There was a great crowd."

Each of the 61 artists had one piece in the exhibit. The artists included Willem de Kooning, Lee Krasner, Jackson Pollock, Fairfield Porter, Alfred Leslie, Robert Rauschenberg, and Robert Motherwell. Some of the artists were veterans of World War II, and in general they were responding to the post-war climate of the United States. The abstract expressionists built on the spontaneity of the expressionists, emphasizing the element of chance in art, which they combined with abstract, anti-figurative forms, focusing instead on communicating emotion. Abstract expressionism was the first art movement originating in America that was taken up by artists outside the country and influenced the international art community.

The New York abstract expressionists are often referred to as the New York School, a school that includes some corresponding poets like John Ashbery, Kenneth Koch, and Frank O'Hara. Ashbery said: "I have probably been influenced, more or less unconsciously I suppose, by the modern art that I have looked at [...] the abstract expressionist idea that the work is a sort of record of its own coming-into-existence [...] When I was fresh out of college, abstract expressionism was the most exciting thing in the arts [...] poetry seemed quite conventional in comparison. I guess it still is, in a way. One can accept a Picasso woman with two noses, but an equivalent attempt in poetry baffles the audience."

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