Dec. 1, 2010

the hookers, the madmen and the doomed

by Charles Bukowski

today at the track
2 or 3 days after
the death of the
came this voice
over the speaker
asking us all to stand
and observe
a few moments
of silence. well,
that's a tired
formula and
I don't like it
but I do like
silence. so we
all stood: the
hookers and the
madmen and the
doomed. I was
set to be dis-
pleased but then
I looked up at the
TV screen
and there
standing silently
in the paddock
waiting to mount
stood the other jocks
along with
the officials and
the trainers:
quiet and thinking
of death and the
one gone,
they stood
in a semi-circle
the brave little
men in boots and
the legions of death
appeared and
vanished, the sun
blinked once
I thought of love
with its head ripped
still trying to
sing and
then the announcer
said, thank you
and we all went on about
our business.

"the hookers, the madmen and the doomed" by Charles Bukowski, from What Matters Most is How Well You Work Through the Fire. © Black Sparrow Press, 1999. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the 40th birthday of comedienne and writer Sarah Silverman, (books by this author) born in Bedford, New Hampshire, on this day in 1970. She's the best-selling author of The Bedwetter: Stories of Courage, Redemption, and Pee (2010), which came out just this past spring.

In the mid 1990s, she wrote for Saturday Night Live, then performed comedy on a number of cable television shows, and then had her own show on Comedy Central. When she announced in late 2008 that she planned to write a book of humorous essays, it started a bidding war among publishers. She sold her idea to HarperCollins for $2.5 million. And then a few different editors vied to be the one chosen to work with her on the manuscript, which she hadn't even started writing yet.

Bedwetter was published in April of this year, and by May it was a New York Times best-seller. It begins:
"Like most children, I learned to swear from a parent. But most children learn to swear by mimicking moments when a parent loses self-control. That is typically followed by the parent stressing that such words are bad and shouldn't be repeated outside the home. When I was three years old, I learned to swear from my father, but he taught me with every intention to do so. It was like he was teaching a 'cursing as a second language' course for one. ... My guess is that when something is so easy, so greatly rewarded, and bears so few negative consequences, it's a recipe for addiction."

And she wrote about bedwetting and stand-up comedy: "My early trauma was a gift, it turned out, in a vocation where your best headspace is feeling that you have nothing to lose."

It's the birthday of Julia A. Moore,(books by this author) born in Plainfield Township, Michigan, on this day in 1847. She grew up on a Michigan farm, dropped out of school at the age of 11, bore 10 children, and is famous for writing really bad poetry — so famous for it, in fact, that Mark Twain modeled a character after her in The Adventures of Huck Finn, and he wrote a parody of Moore's bad poetry for that character, Emmeline Grangerford, to recite.

She's sometimes referred to as a "poetaster," which the Oxford English Dictionary defines as "a petty or paltry poet; a writer of poor or trashy verse; a rimester." This distinction usually entails things like the use of awkward meter, painfully sappy sentimentality, words that rhyme in an unpleasant way, or poor taste in subject matter. Other poetasters famous enough to be anthologized include J. Gordon Coogler, William McGonagall, and James McIntyre.

As for Moore, her favorite topics included abstinence, temperance, sudden death, terrible destruction, obituaries of small children, and big disasters, such as train wrecks or fires. One of her most famous poems is about the Chicago Fire. She wrote:
The great Chicago Fire, friends,
     Will never be forgot;
In the history of Chicago
     It will remain a darken spot.
It was a dreadful horrid sight
     To see that City in flames;
But no human aid could save it,
     For all skill was tried in vain.

Her first collection was published locally as The Sentimental Song Book (1876). But then a big Cleveland publisher picked it up, re-titled it The Sweet Singer of Michigan Salutes the Public, and sent out a bunch of copies to newspapers around the nation, along with a review of mock praise he'd written up. In spite of all this bad publicity, or perhaps because of it, Julia Moore's book of verse became a national best-seller, and she began to give public readings.

The readings did not go well. She was jeered off stage, and her husband, a Michigan farmer, made her promise to never publish any more poetry. She waited until her husband died, and then she published some more.

Each year in Michigan, the Flint Public Library holds a Julia A Moore poetry contest, and people have the chance to do their best imitations. In 1997, 150 years after her birth, the governor of Michigan set aside a week in her honor. A new edition of her poems was published a couple years later by Michigan State University Press, edited and introduced by Thomas J. Riedlinger; it's called Mortal Refrains: The Complete Collected Poetry, Prose, and Songs of Julia A. Moore, The Sweet Singer of Michigan (1998). She once said, "Literary is a work very hard to do."

In her poem "Sketch of Lord Byron's Life," she wrote:
"Lord Byron" was an Englishman
      A poet I believe,
His first works in old England
      Was poorly received.
Perhaps it was "Lord Byron's" fault
      And perhaps it was not.
His life was full of misfortunes,
      Ah, strange was his lot.
The character of "Lord Byron"
      Was of a low degree,
Caused by his reckless conduct,
      And bad company.
He sprung from an ancient house,
      Noble, but poor, indeed.
His career on earth, was marred
      By his own misdeeds.

From the archives:

It was on this day in 1955, in Montgomery, Alabama, that Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat in the front of a bus to a white passenger. She was unknown, a seamstress, the secretary of her local chapter of the NAACP. She was arrested and fined, but she appealed her case, and another relatively unknown person, a young pastor, Martin Luther King Jr., took up her cause. He founded the Montgomery Improvement Association and called for a boycott of the city-owned bus company. For 382 days, boycotters walked, biked, carpooled, or even rode horses to get to work. Across the country, black churches started campaigns to donate money or shoes to the boycotters, because they wore out their shoes by walking so much. Finally, the Supreme Court ruled that segregation of buses was unconstitutional, a major victory for the Civil Rights movement.

Rosa Parks died in 2005, at age 92.

It's the birthday of American detective novelist Rex Stout, (books by this author) born in Noblesville, Indiana (1886), who was a hack magazine journalist for a while and then developed a popular savings-account scheme for schools that made him a great deal of money. So he retired to Paris, and at the age of 46, he wrote his first detective novel featuring Nero Wolfe, who solves crimes even though he weighs more than 300 pounds, collects orchids, and never leaves his house. The first Nero Wolfe novel was called Fer-de-Lance, and it waspublished in The Saturday Evening Post in 1934. It was a huge success, and Stout went on to write another Wolfe novel almost every year for the rest of his life.

Rex Stout said, "I love books, food, music, sleep, people who work, heated arguments, the United States of America, and my wife and children. I dislike politicians, preachers, genteel persons, people who do not work or are on vacation, closed minds, movies, loud noises, and oiliness."

It's the birthday of director and screenwriter Woody Allen, (books by this author) born Allen Stewart Konigsberg in Brooklyn (1935). His parents wanted him to become a doctor or a dentist. Woody Allen said, "I loathed every day and regret every day I spent in school." And sure enough, he would come home from school each day, go into his bedroom, and shut the door. He wouldn't even eat dinner with his family. He did magic tricks, he played clarinet, he watched films and read books about New York.

As a teenager, he started reading classics by Faulkner and Nietzsche because he was embarrassed when he took girls on dates and they asked him about writers whom he'd never read. But he told them jokes. When he was 15, he started submitting his best jokes to gossip columnists. He went to NYU, but he got an F in English and a C-plus in film, and he was expelled because he never went to class.

So he decided to teach himself about making movies. He bought the rights to a Japanese spy film, and inserted all new dialogue, and released it as What's Up, Tiger Lily? (1966), about a man trying to find to the recipe for the world's greatest egg salad.

He kept making movies, but when he was 40, he felt like a failure. He thought all his films were too goofy. So he made a more serious film, filled with scenes from his own life. It was called Anhedonia, it was several hours long, and it had almost no plot. Allen played the main character. He cut it down, and ended up cutting out almost everything except scenes with Diane Keaton, who played the love interest. So they named the movie after her character, and it became Annie Hall (1977), and it won the Academy Awards for best picture, best director, and best actress.

Woody Allen said, "I hate reality. But where else can you get a good steak dinner?"

And, "If it turns out that there is a God, I don't think that he's evil. But the worst that you can say about him is that basically he's an underachiever."

And, "I am at two with nature."

And, "It's not that I'm afraid to die, I just don't want to be there when it happens."

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




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