I look forward to reading the daily Writer’s Almanac post in my email. Everyday, I learn something new and practically everyday I am intrigued by much of what I read, which often leads me to read related poems, biographies, or other texts.
Today, I enjoyed it so, that I’m re-posting the whole entry below (to use the links, you’ll have to go to the actual website). I’ll comment on it more, under the entry.
Friday, February 22, 2019
The Writer’s Almanac
with Garrison Keillor
“Be Careful Darkness”
by Erica Jong
the claws & paws
how they capture
light & try
our eyes to hope.
at the edges
of our being.
We ourselves are light
as we move.
lets the darkness
“‘Be Careful Darkness’” by Erica Jong from The World Began with Yes. © Red Hen Press, 2019. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)
It’s the birthday of George Washington, born in Westmoreland County, Virginia (1732), whose favorite foods were mashed sweet potatoes with coconut, string beans with mushrooms, cream of peanut soup, salt cod, and pineapples. He lost all of his teeth except for one by cracking Brazilian nuts between his jaws. He got dentures made out of a hippopotamus tusk, which caused him great pain, which he tried to alleviate with opium.
He was not good at spelling and he had a speech impediment. His inaugural address was the shortest in history: 133 words long, and it took him just 90 seconds to deliver.
After two terms, he retired to Mt. Vernon in 1797. He died two years later after inspecting his plantation on horseback in snow and freezing rain.
On this date in 1632, Galileo published Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems in which he argued against the belief of the church. He argued that the Earth was not the center of the Universe, and that in fact the Sun is the center of the solar system, with the Earth circling around it.
The book was placed on the Catholic Church’s Index of Forbidden Books the following year, and Galileo was tried and convicted for heresy. He spent the rest of his life under house arrest, and none of his later books were permitted to be published in his lifetime.
It’s the birthday of poet Edna St. Vincent Millay (books by this author), born in Rockland, Maine (1892). She went to Vassar and then moved to Greenwich Village where she lived a Bohemian life involving poetry and love affairs. She was beautiful and alluring and many men and women fell in love with her. She was one of the icons of the Jazz Age. When she went on tour, she drew huge crowds, and she recited her poetry from memory, very dramatically.
Millay wrote, “My candle burns at both ends; / It will not last the night; / But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends — / It gives a lovely light!”
On this day in 1980, in one of the most dramatic upsets in Olympics history, the underdog U.S. hockey team, made up of collegians and second-tier professional players, defeated the defending champion Soviet team, 4-3, at the Winter Games in Lake Placid, New York.
It’s the birthday of Seán Ó Faoláin (books by this author), the Irish author, born in County Cork, in 1900. He is best known for his unflattering but sympathetic portraits of modern Irish life, his criticisms of church-inspired censorship, the narrowness of the Irish clergy, and restrictive family traditions. Thus, he was controversial but also a hero to other writers including Patrick Kavanaugh, Flann O’Brien, Frank O’Connor, and Brendan Behan.
It’s the birthday of the author and illustrator Edward Gorey (books by this author), born in Chicago, 1925. He was well known for creating drawings for the animated title sequence to the PBS series Mystery!, and he produced picture books such as The Beastly Baby (1962) and The Ghastlycrumb Tinies (1963), which begins:
A is for Amy who fell down the stairs
B is for Basil assaulted by bears
C is for Clara who wasted away
D is for Desmond thrown out of a sleigh
A new biography just came out about him this past November; it’s called Born to Be Posthumous: The Eccentric Life and Mysterious Genius of Edward Gorey.
Frank Woolworth opened the first of his dime stores on this date in 1878 in Utica, New York; his innovation was to put the merchandise out where the customer could pick it up and look at it. By 1919, there were more than a thousand Woolworth stores worldwide.
Garrison surprises me with little-known facts about people I thought I knew (I assume they are facts…though he is a fiction writer, so…). The father of our country had a speech impediment and loved cream of peanut soup? Edna St. Vincent Millay was an icon of the Jazz Age? Investigating Edward Gorey a bit on my own, I saw that he was part of the Literary Nonsense movement, according to Wikipedia. That Wikipedia page listed many writers who also have written in this genre that “balances elements that make sense with some that do not, with the effect of subverting language conventions or logical reasoning.” I was surprised at how many from the list I considered my favorite authors: Lewis Carroll, Woody Allen, Dave Eggers, Eric Idle, John Lennon, Jack Pretlusky, Dr. Seuss, Shel Silverstein, T.S. Eliot, and even John Flansburgh (from They Might Be Giants); I would add e.e. cummings to the list. And Bob Rentschler. I began to realize that literary nonsense and I had been courting for years without being introduced. The fact that “Jabberwocky” is the only poem I have completely memorized (not counting song lyrics) should have clued me into knowing that I am drawn to literary works of a nonsensical nature. The looks on my students’ faces when I played “Impossible” by They Might Be Giants also might have been evidence worth noting. In addition, I enjoy the Borowitz Report and the Onion more than most things I read. David Byrne is my musical choice of late (Musical Nonsense). And lately I’m writing limericks of all things. I feel like I’m ‘coming out’ as a lover of Literary Nonsense.
A few recent attempts at limericks:
Some say the times are depressin’
And that we can’t learn our lesson
Think before you vote
For God’s sake don’t gloat
Mistakes are always worth confessin.
There once was a lass from Kent
Taken with an artsy gent
Shacked up for fun
When it was all done
Neither one could afford the rent.
The Electoral College is quite bent
The people is does not represent
Elected a crook
A real Donnybrook
Let’s say it together: “impeachment!”
I mentioned my interest in Literary Nonsense to Aaron and he pulled a book out of his library for me to read: A Nonsense Anthology, collected by Carolyn Wells and published in 1902. “Jabberwocky” was on the first page. I found another gem by Rudyard Kipling which seems to fit the day —
There was a small boy of Quebec,
Who was buried in snow to his neck;
When they said, “Are you friz?”
He replied, “Yes, I is —
But we don’t call this cold in Quebec.”