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+
by Edith Wharton
“O primavera! Gioventit dell’ anno.”
The first warm buds that break their covers,
The first young twigs that burst in green,
The first blade that the sun discovers,
Starting the loosened earth between.
The pale soft sky, so clear and tender,
With little clouds that break and fly;
The crocus, earliest pretender
To the low breezes passing by;
The chirp and twitter of brown builders,
A couple in a tree, at least;
The watchful wisdom of the elders
For callow younglings in the nest;
The flush of branches with fair blossoms,
The deepening of the faint green boughs,
As leaf by leaf the crown grows fuller
That binds the young Spring’s rosy brows;
New promise every day of sweetness,
The next bright dawn is sure to bring;
Slow breaking into green completeness,
Fresh rapture of the early Spring!
“Spring Song” by Edith Wharton . Public domain. (buy now)
On this day in 1906 an earthquake struck San Francisco. The earthquake began at 5:12 a.m. and lasted for a little over a minute. The world-famous tenor Enrico Caruso had performed at San Francisco’s Grand Opera House the night before, and he woke up in his bed as the Palace Hotel was falling down around him. He stumbled out into the street, and because he was terrified that that shock might have ruined his voice, he began singing. Nearly 3,000 people died.
On this day in 1775 Paul Revere made the famous ride that Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote about in the poem that begins, “Listen my children and you shall hear / Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere / On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-five; / Hardly a man is now alive / Who remembers that famous day and year.”
It is the birthday of the man who inspired the word “beatnik” in the 1950s: poet Bob Kaufman (books by this author), born Robert Garnell Kaufman, in New Orleans, Louisiana (1925). Kaufman’s mother was a Roman Catholic woman from Martinique who loved to play the piano and buy books at auctions. His father was a German Jew; “my Negro suit has Jew stripes,” Kaufman often said of his lineage. Details of his life are hazy because he didn’t keep a diary or leave behind any letters, and while he completed three volumes of poetry, he preferred to recite his poems in coffee houses rather than write them down.
As a teenager, he joined the Merchant Marine. In his 20 years as a sailor, he circled the globe nine times and survived four shipwrecks. On his first ship, the Henry Gibbons, he became friends with the first mate, who lent him books and encouraged him to read.
It was at sea when he first read about the Beat poets, many of whom also had maritime ambitions. Gary Snyder wanted to experience the culture in port cities around the world, and he worked as a seaman during the summer of 1948 and again in the mid-1950s. When Jack Kerouac, as a freshman at Columbia, failed chemistry and lost his scholarship, he joined the Merchant Marine to make money to re-enroll. Allen Ginsberg was suspended from Columbia for fighting with his dormitory housekeeper, and he followed Kerouac into the Merchant Marine. (Ginsberg tried marijuana for the first time on his maiden voyage.) When he was 22, Lawrence Ferlinghetti fell in love with the sea when he lived on the Maine coast for a summer and worked scraping moss off rocks. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, he enrolled in Midshipmen’s School and was deployed at different lighthouses and naval watch posts throughout World War II.
When Kaufman was back on land, he studied briefly at the New School in New York City, where he met William S. Burroughs and Ginsberg. The three eventually moved to San Francisco and joined Gregory Corso, Kerouac, and Ferlinghetti to form the heart of the Beat movement.
Improvisational jazz influenced Kaufman’s street performances and earned him the nickname “The Original Bebop Man,” but it also earned him the attention of local police. In 1959 he was tossed into jail 39 times for disorderly conduct. San Francisco Chronicle columnist Herb Caen said he had Kaufman’s spontaneous oral poetry in mind when he created the word “beatnik.”
Later, Kaufman cofounded Beatitude magazine, which helped launch the careers of many other poets, but he continued to live a mostly itinerant life, filled with drugs, a stint at Bellevue Hospital, where he underwent electroshock treatments, and continued police harassment. By the mid ’60s he had published two volumes of poetry — Solitudes Crowded with Loneliness (1965) and Golden Sardine (1967) — and in the early ’80s his friends gathered old recordings and notes and had them published as The Ancient Rain: Poems 1958 – 1978 (1981).
When President Kennedy was shot in 1963, Kaufman took a vow of silence and didn’t speak again until he walked into a coffee shop in 1975 and recited his poem, “All Those Ships that Never Sailed.” He said:
All those ships that never sailed
The ones with their seacocks open
That were scuttled in their stalls …
Today I bring them back
Huge and transitory
And let them sail
His wife encouraged Kaufman to write down his many poems, but he wished to stay hidden from history.
He said, “I want to be anonymous. My ambition is to be completely forgotten.”
On this day in 1929, President Herbert Hoover nominated John Munro Woolsey to the United States District Court in New York. Woolsey made several major decisions on freedom of expression. In United States v. One Obscene Book Entitled “Married Love” (1931) he ruled that a doctor’s book on how to improve sexual relations in a marriage was not obscene. Later that year, in United States v. One Book Entitled “Contraception,” he found that a book with information about birth control was not obscene or immoral.
His most famous ruling involved James Joyce’s novel Ulysses. In the early 1920s Ulysses was serialized in the literary magazine The Little Review. When a young girl read a chapter with “unparlorlike” content, she was aghast and soon a group called the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice filed a lawsuit. The court ruled that Ulysses was “the work of a disordered mind” and banned publication in the United States.
A decade later the case resurfaced in Judge Woolsey’s court. He overturned the earlier ruling, saying that the book was not pornographic and could be published in the United States. He praised the “astonishing success” of Joyce’s use of stream of consciousness and he wrote:
“[i]n respect of the recurrent emergence of the theme of sex in the minds of [the] characters, it must be always remembered that his locale was Celtic and his season Spring.”
For decades afterward every copy of Ulysses printed by Random House in the United States contained Judge Woolsey’s opinion. Most modern editions still do.
It is the birthday of comedy writer and late-night talk show host Conan O’Brien, born in Brookline, Mass (1963). He got his start writing editorials and humor pieces for his high school newspaper, The Sagamore, and by his senior year, he was the managing editor. O’Brien attended Harvard and wrote for the Harvard Lampoon.
He moved to Los Angeles after graduation to write for TV, and he won an Emmy in 1988 for his work on Saturday Night Live. Later he joined The Simpsons as a writer and penned some of their most memorable episodes, including “Marge vs. the Monorail,” in which the residents of Springfield buy a monorail from a slick-talking salesman and later regret it.
O’Brien began hosting Late Night with Conan O’Brien in 1993, and has had a career as a talk show host ever since.
Of his first day writing for The Simpsons, he said: “They showed me into this office and told me to start writing down some ideas. They left me alone in that office, and I remember leaving after five minutes to go get a cup of coffee. And I heard a crash, and I walked back to the office, and there was a hole in the window and a dead bird on the floor — literally in my first 10 minutes at The Simpsons, a bird had flown through the glass of my window, hit the far wall, broken its neck, and fallen dead on the floor. And I remember George Meyer came in and looked at it, and he was like, ‘Man, this is some kind of weird omen.’ It all ended up working out really well, but nowhere in literature has a dead bird ever been a good omen.”
On this day in 1924 the first crossword puzzle book was published. Simon and Schuster commissioned the book to meet growing demand for these engaging puzzles, originally dubbed “word-crosses,” which first appeared in U.S. newspapers a little over a decade earlier. Both the first and second printings of The Cross Word Puzzle Book sold out in weeks, so the publishers commissioned two more collections and rushed them to print. By the end of 1924 the books ranked No. 1, No. 2, and No. 3 on the national nonfiction best-seller list.
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