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+
The Poet’s Occasional Alternative
by Grace Paley
I was going to write a poem
I made a pie instead it took
about the same amount of time
of course the pie was a final
draft a poem would have had some
distance to go days and weeks and
much crumpled paper
the pie already had a talking
tumbling audience among small
trucks and a fire engine on
the kitchen floor
everybody will like this pie
it will have apples and cranberries
dried apricots in it many friends
will say why in the world did you
make only one
this does not happen with poems
because of unreportable
sadnesses I decided to
settle this morning for a re-
sponsive eatership I do not
want to wait a week a year a
generation for the right
consumer to come along
“The Poet’s Occasional Alternative” by Grace Paley from Begin Again. © Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2000. Used by permission of Union Literary, LLC. (buy now)
On this date in 1718, French immigrants founded the city of New Orleans. Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville named the new settlement for Philippe II, the Duke of Orléans. The duke was the regent of France, ruling in place of King Louis XV, who was only a boy. The French had claimed the Louisiana Territory in 1682, and the location of New Orleans — at the mouth of the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers — meant that it was prime real estate for anyone who wanted to control America’s large interior waterway. Though the city never lost its French character, it was blended with elements of Native American, African, and Spanish cultures.
To get things started, France sent a starter population of prisoners, slaves, and bonded servants. They arrived in New Orleans to find a mosquito-ridden swamp that was surrounded by hostile Native Americans, and prone to hurricanes. The new settlers threatened to revolt, so the French government sent 90 female convicts straight from the Paris jails. These ladies chaperoned by a group of Ursuline nuns until they could be married off to the men who awaited them.
Two engineers laid out plans for a the original walled village, which later came to be known as the French Quarter or the Vieux Carré — the Old City. Though it’s called the French Quarter, the architecture of the area is mostly Spanish in influence, since fire destroyed most of the original buildings in the 18th century. By that time, the city was under the control of the Spanish, who rebuilt the quarter. New Orleans became an American city in 1803, when Napoleon sold Louisiana to the United States government.
Tom Robbins wrote, in Jitterbug Perfume (1984): “Louisiana in September was like an obscene phone call from nature. The air — moist, sultry, secretive, and far from fresh — felt as if it were being exhaled into one’s face. Sometimes it even sounded like heavy breathing. Honeysuckle, swamp flowers, magnolia, and the mystery smell of the river scented the atmosphere, amplifying the intrusion of organic sleaze. It was aphrodisiac and repressive, soft and violent at the same time. In New Orleans, in the French Quarter, miles from the barking lungs of alligators, the air maintained this quality of breath, although here it acquired a tinge of metallic halitosis, due to fumes expelled by tourist buses, trucks delivering Dixie beer, and, on Decatur Street, a mass-transit motor coach named Desire.”
It’s the birthday of conductor and composer Leonard Bernstein, born in Lawrence, Massachusetts (1918). When he was 40, he became the youngest musical director ever in charge of the New York Philharmonic. Bernstein wrote scores for many musicals, including On the Town and West Side Story, as well as symphonies and scores for ballets. He also wrote a book called The Joy of Music (1959), a collection of essays and conversations about music.
In it, he wrote: “Music, of all the arts, stands in a special region, unlit by any star but its own, and utterly without meaning … except its own.” The Christmas before Bernstein died, at age 72, he conducted Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony in Berlin to celebrate the crumbling of the wall. He died just five days after retiring. He conducted his final performance at Tanglewood, in the Berkshires in western Massachusetts, on August 19, 1990. It was the Boston Symphony playing Britten’s “Four Sea Interludes” and Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony.
It’s the birthday of American poet Charles Wright (1935) (books by this author), born in Pickwick Dam, Tennessee. Wright’s father was a civil engineer for the Tennessee Valley Authority and they moved often during his childhood, living comfortably in government housing. His father also worked on the Manhattan Project, the research and development project that produced the first nuclear weapons during World War II.
Wright was an active and diligent student in high school, helping to coach the football team, serving as vice president of his class, and being named to the honors program. He read all of William Faulkner by the time he graduated (1953), but he didn’t start writing poetry until he served four years in the U.S. Army. He was stationed in Italy when he came across Ezra Pound’s Cantos, which he used first as a kind of guidebook to Italy and then as a way to begin writing his own poems.
On writing poetry, he says: “Language is the element of definition, the defining and descriptive incantation. It puts the coin between our teeth. It whistles the boat up. It shows us the city of light across the water. Without language there is no poetry, without poetry there’s just talk. Talk is cheap and proves nothing. Poetry is dear and difficult to come by. But it poles us across the river and puts music in our ears.”
It was on this day in 1916 that President Woodrow Wilson signed into law the act that established the National Park Service. Yellowstone was designated as the first national park in 1872, and by the 1890s, there were three others: Yosemite, Sequoia, and General Grant (now known as Kings Canyon). When Congress created the first national parks, it didn’t assign a part of the government to run them, and the task ended up falling to the Army. The Army patrolled for poachers or vandals — traveling on skis in the cold Yellowstone winters —but they didn’t have any legal recourse to deal with criminals, so they just gave them warnings. In 1894, the last remaining wild buffalo herd in the country was in Yellowstone, and it was small. That year, a poacher named Edgar Howell bragged to reporters that there wasn’t much anyone could do about his buffalo hunting, since the most serious penalty he faced would be to get kicked out of Yellowstone and lose $26 worth of equipment. The editor of Field and Stream ran that story in his magazine, and there was a huge uproar. President Grover Cleveland signed the “Act to Protect the Birds and Animals in Yellowstone National Park,” but that was just one park. Without a national system regulating the parks, the government remained limited in its control.
The Department of Agriculture, the Department of the Interior, and the Department of War all claimed to protect the National Parks, but no one was really doing the job. In 1914, the conservationist John Muir died, after losing a long fight to preserve Yosemite’s beautiful Hetch Hetchy Valley against developers who wanted to turn it into a dam and reservoir for the city of San Francisco. Although Hetch Hetchy was dammed, Muir had stirred up public opposition, and many citizens worried that the national parks weren’t adequately protected. The issue was brought up in Congress that year, but they wouldn’t sign a bill to change it.
Secretary of the Interior Franklin Lane knew that they needed a good lobbyist to convince Congress to protect the parks better. Then he got a letter from an old college classmate named Stephen Mather. Mather was a self-made millionaire who struck it rich as the sales manager for Pacific Coast Borax Company, thanks to his genius for advertising and promotion. In his letter, Mather complained that he had just been on a visit to Yosemite and Sequoia and was upset by what he saw: cattle grazing, development, and trails in terrible condition. Lane told Mather that if he was unhappy he should come to Washington and fix the problem himself. Mather agreed.
Mather was talented and he was rich: a perfect lobbyist. He went to Washington and threw himself into a publicity campaign to designate a government agency specifically for the national parks. He hired Horace Albright, a legal assistant, and Robert Sterling Yard, the editor of the New York Herald. He paid much of their salaries himself. He sponsored the “Mather Mountain Party,” a two-week trip for 15 extremely influential business leaders and politicians in the Sierra Nevadas — he paid for it himself — and the men enjoyed a luxurious vacation, hiking and fishing, and enjoying fine dining (complete with linens) in the midst of the parks. By the end of the two weeks, they all supported Mather’s request for a national agency to oversee the national parks. He partnered with the railroads in their huge “See America First” publicity campaign. He got national newspapers to run headlines about the cause, started a campaign for school kids to enter essay contests, and after convincing National Geographic to devote an entire issue to the national parks, Mather gave every member of Congress a copy. His assistant Albright drafted a bill to create a parks bureau, which would be part of the Department of the Interior. On this day in 1916, Wilson signed it into law, and the National Park Service was created.
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