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 Immutable Laws
by Maxine Kumin
Never buy land on a slope, my father declared
the week before his heart gave out.
We bit down hard on a derelict dairy farm
of tilting fields, hills, humps and granite outcrops.
Never bet what you can’t afford to lose,
he lectured. I bet my soul on a tortured horse
who never learned to love, but came to trust me.
Spend your money close to where you earn it,
he dictated. Nothing made him crosser
than wives who drove to New York to go shopping
when Philly stores had everything they needed.
This, the grab bag of immutable laws
circa 1940 when I was the last
child left at home to be admonished:
Only borrow what you know you can repay.
Your mother used to run up dress-shop bills
the size of the fifth Liberty Loan,
his private hyperbole. It took me years
to understand there’d been five loans
launched to finance the First World War,
the one he fought in, the war to end all wars.
What would this man who owed no man, who kept
his dollars folded in a rubber band,
have thought of credit cards, banking online?
Wars later, clear as water, I hear him say
reconcile your checkbook monthly, and oh!
always carry a clean handkerchief.
“The Immutable Laws” by Maxine Kumin, from Where I Live: New and Selected Poems 1990-2010. © W.W. Norton & Company, 2010. Reprinted with permission of the Maxine W. Kumin Literary Trust. (buy now)
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 Hungarian 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 he 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.
It’s the birthday of poet Stanley Kunitz (1905) (books by this author), born in Worcester, Massachusetts. He published his first book of poetry, Intellectual Things, in 1930. His 1971 volume, The Testing-Tree, marked a shift in his work, from his early, formal style to one that was looser, more personal, and written in everyday language. He explained the shift in Publishers Weekly: “I think that as a young poet I looked for what Keats called ‘a fine excess,’ but as an old poet I look for spareness and rigor and a world of compassion.”
He was named U.S. poet laureate in 2000, at the age of 95. He was still publishing and promoting poetry. The Wild Braid: a Poet Reflects on a Century in the Garden (2005) is a collection of essays and conversations about his two loves, poetry and gardening, and was released on his 100th birthday. He died the following spring.
“Poetry is ultimately mythology, the telling of stories of the soul,” he wrote. “The old myths, the old gods, the old heroes have never died. They are only sleeping at the bottom of our minds, waiting for our call. We have need of them, for in their sum they epitomize the wisdom and experience of the race.”
Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®