Jul. 30, 2011

Early Morning: Cape Cod

by May Swenson

We wake to double blue:
an ocean without sail,
sky without a clue
of white.
Morning is a veil
sewn of only two
threads, one pale,
one bright

We bathe as if in ink,
but peacock-eyed and clear;
a roof of periwink
goes steep
into a bell of air
vacant to the brink.
Far as we can peer
is deep

royal blue and shy
iris, queen and king
colors of low
and high.
Then dips
a sickle wing,
we hear a hinged cry:
taut as from a sling

a taunting gull.
And now across our gaze
a snowy hull
along its stays
break out to windpulls.

With creaking shears
the bright
gulls cut the veil
in two,
and many a clue
on scalloped sail
dots with white
our double blue.

"Early Morning: Cape Cod" by May Swenson, from Nature: Poems Old and New. © Mariner Books, 2000. © May Swenson. Reprinted with permission of The Literary Estate of May Swenson. All rights reserved. (buy now)

Emily Brontë (books by this author) was born in Thornton, Yorkshire, England, on this day in 1818. She was the daughter of a clergyman, and the sister of Anne and Charlotte Brontë; there was also a brother, Branwell, who was an artist and poet. Emily's mother died of cancer when Emily was only three, and because their father was a quiet, solitary man who spent much of his time in his room, the children soon learned to entertain themselves. They read Shakespeare, Milton, and Virgil, played the piano, and told each other stories. Charlotte and Branwell created an imaginary land, Angria, so Anne and Emily came up with the country's rival, Gondal; the four children wrote histories of their imaginary lands and populated them with a rich cast of characters. Emily never outgrew her fascination with Gondal, and continued to think up stories and poems about it until her death. All three Brontë sisters were writers, and they published under male-sounding pseudonyms: Acton, Currer, and Ellis Bell. Emily only produced one novel — Wuthering Heights (1947) — and many critics didn't like it much, finding it too brutal and dark.

Most of what we know about Emily comes from things other people have written about her. She stayed close to home, mostly just talked to her family and the servants, and didn't leave behind many personal papers: just two short letters, two diary pages from her teenage years, and two "birthday papers," written when she was 23 and 27. Some historians try to infer things about her life or personality from Wuthering Heights, but of the three Brontë sisters, she drew the least from her own experience to write her novel, so it's not a reliable source.

In 1845, Charlotte discovered some of Emily's notebooks filled with poetry, which she had written in secret, and encouraged her to publish her poems. Emily was angry at the invasion of her privacy, and refused, until Charlotte produced the poems that she herself had written, also in secret. As it happened, Anne had been writing poetry too, so the sisters self-published a volume called Poems by Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell in 1846. Reviews of the day were not good, but since then, Emily's work has gained in reputation and she's now considered one of the great English lyric poets. Emily Dickinson thought so highly of her that she requested Brontë's "No Coward Soul is Mine" be read at her funeral.

Emily's health suffered in the months after Wuthering Heights was published, and she wore herself out caring for Branwell, who by this time was an alcoholic and drug addict, and was dying of tuberculosis. She caught a cold at his funeral and refused all medical attention. She died three months later.

From "No Coward Soul is Mine," which Charlotte later said were the last lines Emily ever wrote:

Though Earth and moon were gone
And suns and universes ceased to be
And thou wert left alone
Every Existence would exist in thee

There is not room for Death
Nor atom that his might could render void
Since thou art Being and Breath
And what thou art may never be destroyed.

It's the birthday of American blues guitarist Buddy Guy, born George Guy in Lettsworth, Louisiana (1936). He made his own guitar when he was 13, and learned to play it by listening to the records of John Lee Hooker and other blues artists. He soon began playing clubs in Baton Rouge, and moved to Chicago in 1957, when he was 21. That's where Muddy Waters discovered him, took him under his wing, and got him a gig at the 708 Club. He was popular in the 1960s, both as a solo artist and as a sideman for blues singers like Koko Taylor, Howlin' Wolf, and Little Walter.

As rock music grew more dominant in the 1970s, Guy's career waned, until young white guitarists like Eric Clapton, Keith Richards, Stevie Ray Vaughn, and Jeff Beck said they owed their inspiration to Guy and other blues musicians. Vaughn said, "Without Buddy Guy, there would be no Stevie Ray Vaughn," and Clapton said, "Buddy Guy was to me what Elvis was for others." Even though he enjoyed a resurgence in popularity, it bothered Guy that the blues pioneers didn't get much credit on the radio, even on classic rock stations. He told an interviewer, "If you get Eric Clapton to play a Muddy Waters song, they call it classic, and they will put it on that station, but you'll never hear Muddy Waters."

Today is the birthday of filmmaker Richard Linklater, born in Houston, Texas, in 1960. He's best known for directing a couple of cult classics, Dazed and Confused (1993) and A Scanner Darkly (2006), as well as some more mainstream hits like Before Sunrise (1995), Fast Food Nation (2006), and School of Rock (2003). He's known for making "talky" movies that take place all in one day, and has followed that formula in five of his films. He likes to explore what he calls the "youth rebellion continuum."

He went to college at Sam Houston State University on a baseball scholarship, but found out two years in that he had a heart condition and couldn't play anymore. He dropped out and went to work on an offshore oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico. Out on the rig, he developed a love of literature, but when he was on land, movies were his passion. He bought a Super 8 camera, some editing equipment, and a projector, and moved to Austin, where he founded the Austin Film Society. In The Film That Changed My Life (2011), a collection of interviews with directors about movies that influenced their work, he named Martin Scorsese's Raging Bull as his biggest influence: "At that point, I was an unformed artist. At that moment, something was simmering in me, but Raging Bull brought it to a boil."

American labor union leader Jimmy Hoffa disappeared on this date in 1975. He was last seen in Bloomfield Township, Michigan, near Detroit. He was involved with the International Brotherhood of Teamsters from 1932 to 1975, first as an organizer, then as the president from 1958 to 1971. He'd long had ties to organized crime, and he went to jail in 1967 on a 13-year sentence for jury tampering, attempted bribery, and fraud. He didn't resign his Teamsters presidency, though, until he made a deal with President Nixon in 1971. Nixon commuted his sentence, in exchange for Hoffa's agreement to stay away from union activities until 1980. Not surprisingly, the Teamsters Union supported Nixon in his 1972 re-election campaign. Hoffa wasn't happy with the arrangement, but he had lost the support of the Teamsters and the Mafia, and Nixon's restrictions were probably due to a request by senior union officials.

Hoffa told friends he was going to meet with two Mafia leaders at the Machus Red Fox restaurant in Bloomfield Township. When he didn't return by late that evening, his wife called the police, who found his car in the parking lot, but no sign of Hoffa. He was finally declared dead in 1982. There have been rumors, since disproved, that he was murdered and his body was buried in the end zone at Giants Stadium.

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