Las Vegas, NV
May 20, 2020
Garrison Keillor hits Las Vegas with a new solo show!
April 18, 2020
Garrison Keillor comes to the Rochester Civic Theatre for a night of stories, songs, poetry, and humor. Tickets $50 and up
February 19, 2020
Garrison Keillor with Heather Masse at the Dakota. Night 2 of 2. Tickets $30+
February 18, 2020
Garrison Keillor with Heather Masse at the Dakota. Night 1 of 2. Tickets $30+
“Gauguin’s Grandson” by Paul Hostovsky from The Bad Guys. © Future Cycle Press, 2015. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)
was named Paul Gauguin,
too. He was an artist,
too. He lived in Denmark
in his grandfather’s shadow
all his life. And he chafed
against that shadow.
Like living under a rock—
a rock as big as the biggest
island in French Polynesia.
He painted only insects.
Insects that live under rocks—
beetles, ants, centipedes,
pill bugs. In a later period,
he painted only his wife Marta
in only her long black hair
and horn-rimmed glasses.
Toward the end of his life
he made hundreds of collages
of orthopterous insects—
katydids, mantids, cicadas,
crickets and grasshoppers
with long hind legs for jumping
or, you could say, flying;
and for making a rasping, chafing
sound or, you could say, song.
It’s the birthday of writer Alexis de Tocqueville (books by this author), born in Paris (1805). He was 25 years old when the French government sent him to America to study the prison system. He spent nine months touring towns and cities and taking notes. A few years later, he published his famous book, Democracy in America (1835).
During his tour, the aristocratic Tocqueville was impressed by the fact that American Democracy actually worked. He wrote: “There is one thing which America demonstrates invincibly, and of which I had been in doubt up till now: it is that the middle classes can govern a state. I do not know if they would come out with credit from thoroughly difficult political situations. But they are adequate for the ordinary run of society. In spite of their petty passions, their incomplete education and their vulgar manners, they clearly can provide practical intelligence, and that is found to be enough.”
It’s the birthday of poet Stanley Kunitz (books by this author), born in Worcester, Massachusetts (1905). His parents were Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe. His father committed suicide in a public park before Kunitz was born, and his mother, Yetta, erased all traces of Stanley’s father from the house, and refused to speak about him. She opened up a dry-goods store and sewed clothes in the back room, working overtime to pay off the debts that her husband had left behind, even though legally she was not obligated to pay them.
One thing his mother did not destroy were the books his father had left behind, books by Tolstoy and Dickens. One of Kunitz’s favorite books was the dictionary. He said: “I used to sit in that green Morris chair and open the heavy dictionary on my lap, and find a new word every day. It was a big word, a word like eleemosynary or phantasmagoria — some word that, on the tongue, sounded great to me, and I would go out into the fields and I would shout those words, because it was so important that they sounded so great to me. And then eventually I began incorporating them into verses, into poems. But certainly my thought in the beginning was that there was so much joy playing with language that I couldn’t consider living without it.”
His first job as a boy was riding his horse down the streets of Worcester and lighting the gas lamps at night. He became a reporter for the Worcester Telegram, went to Harvard, and stayed for his master’s degree. He wanted to pursue his Ph.D., but the head of the English department at Harvard told him that Anglo-Saxon students would resent being taught by a Jew.
So he moved to a big farm in Connecticut, and worked as a reporter and farmer. He sold fresh herbs to markets in Hartford. Kunitz was drafted into World War II, and when he came back, he was offered a teaching position at Bennington College. In 1949, the college tried to expel one of his students — Groucho Marx’s daughter Miriam — right before her graduation because she had violated a curfew. Kunitz helped organize a protest of the decision, and the president of Bennington showed up at his house and told him to stop immediately. Kunitz took the plant that he was potting and threw it in the president’s face, then quit.
He published a second book, but it was barely noticed. He was so unknown that his third book, Selected Poems (1958), was rejected by eight publishers — three of them refused to even read it. When it was finally published, it won the Pulitzer Prize. When someone asked W.H. Auden why nobody knew about Stanley Kunitz, Auden said: “It’s strange, but give him time. A hundred years or so. He’s a patient man.”
It was more than 10 years before he published his next book, The Testing Tree (1971), and slowly but surely, people began to take notice. He was appointed the poet laureate when he was 95 years old. He died at the age of 100.
He said: “It is out of the dailiness of life that one is driven into the deepest recesses of the self.”
It’s the birthday of novelist and dramatist Newton Booth Tarkington (1869) (books by this author). He was born in Indianapolis, Indiana, and he usually took as his subject the American Midwest and its people. He was sometimes satirical, sometimes melodramatic, and he was one of the most popular novelists of the early 20th century. Literary Digest named him “America’s Greatest Living Writer” in 1922. He’s best known for his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Magnificent Ambersons (1918), which Orson Welles turned into a film in 1942; Tarkington also won the Pulitzer for Alice Adams(1921), and he is one of only three novelists to win the prize more than once.
He wrote, “There are two things that will be believed of any man whatsoever, and one of them is that he has taken to drink.”
And, “Gossip’s a nasty thing, but it’s sickly, and if people of good intentions will let it entirely alone, it will die, ninety-nine times out of a hundred.”
And, “There is a fertile stretch of flat lands in Indiana where unagarian Eastern travelers, glancing from car windows, shudder and return their eyes to interior upholstery, preferring even the swaying caparisons of a Pullman to the monotony without.”
Vincent van Gogh died on this date in 1890. He had shot himself in the chest in a wheat field two days before, and managed to make it home to his own bed. When he was found, he allegedly said, “I shot myself … I only hope I haven’t botched it,” and all he would tell police was, “What I have done is nobody else’s business. I am free to do what I like with my own body.” The doctor decided not to remove the bullet, and his brother Theo was sent for. He rushed from Paris to his brother’s bedside and reported van Gogh’s last words were “The sadness will go on forever.” Van Gogh’s friend and fellow painter Emile Bernard wrote about the funeral:
“The sun was terribly hot outside. We climbed the hill outside Auvers talking about him, about the daring impulse he had given to art, of the great projects he was always thinking about, and about the good he had done to all of us. We reached the cemetery, a small new cemetery strewn with new tombstones. It is on the little hill above the fields that were ripe for harvest under the wide blue sky that he would still have loved … perhaps.
Then he was lowered into the grave. … Anyone would have started crying at that moment … the day was too much made for him for one not to imagine that he was still alive and enjoying it …”
Experts have argued over the exact nature of his mental illness for nearly a century, variously blaming schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, epilepsy, paint poisoning, and syphilis. His condition, whatever it was, was probably made worse by insomnia, overwork, malnutrition, and drink. He was virtually unknown at the time of his death, and is now one of the most recognized artists of any period. His art is so bound up with the public perception of him as a struggling, tormented, even tragic artist that it’s nearly impossible to separate his work from his myth.
On this day in 1907, Sir Robert Baden-Powell set up the first “scout camp” in England and launched the scouting movement. Baden-Powell was a British cavalry officer who had been stationed in India and fought in the Boer War in South Africa; while there, he became friends with the American-born Chief of Scouts, Frederick Russell Burnham. Burnham taught Baden-Powell woodcraft and frontiersman skills, which were relatively unknown in Britain but well-known techniques of the American West. The skill-set formed the basis of scoutcraft.
Baden-Powell and Burnham had been dismayed to learn how few soldiers knew basic first aid and survival skills, so Baden-Powell wrote a small handbook called Aids to Scouting. On his return to England, he discovered that the handbook had become very popular among English schoolboys. He thought he might be able to kill two birds with one stone: provide stimulating activities for young people, and teach them the basic skills that they were lacking, all at one go. He decided to test his theory, and gathered a group of about 20 boys, taking them to Brownsea Island off England’s southern coast. For 12 days, the boys learned tracking, orienteering, and outdoor cooking without utensils. They played games and went on exploratory hikes and patrols. In short, they had a marvelous time.
Baden-Powell published Scouting for Boys (1908) the next year, and 10,000 boys showed up at a rally at London’s Crystal Palace. Though Baden-Powell had intended it only for British boys, it spread to other countries, and to girls, and now the scouting movement boasts 41 million members in 216 countries.