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 William Carlos Williams
They call me and I go.
It is a frozen road
past midnight, a dust
of snow caught
in the rigid wheeltracks.
The door opens.
I smile, enter and
shake off the cold.
Here is a great woman
on her side in the bed.
She is sick,
to give birth to
a tenth child. Joy! Joy!
Night is a room
darkened for lovers,
through the jalousies the sun
has sent one gold needle!
I pick the hair from her eyes
and watch her misery
“Complaint” by William Carlos Williams. Public Domain. (buy now)
The birthday of Geoffrey Chaucer (books by this author), the first great English poet and author of The Canterbury Tales, is unknown, and so we instead remember him on the anniversary of his death, this day in the year 1400.
When Chaucer was a boy, his family lived in London. Little of his early life is known, the first glimpse of him coming in 1357 when he was a young page in a noble household. In 1359, Chaucer fought with the English army during the invasion of France, was taken prisoner, ransomed, and returned to England to spend the rest of his life in public service, becoming an esquire and a knight and fulfilling varied duties: comptroller for customs at the port of London, appointment as a commissioner of roads and as a forester, and engaging in secret diplomatic missions to foreign countries. Chaucer lived through several outbreaks of plague, including the Black Death, and witnessed the social and economic aftermath of the decimation of the English population.
Chaucer’s great patron was John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster and third son of the king, and as John of Gaunt’s power waxed and waned, so did Chaucer’s fortunes. In 1366, Chaucer married Phillipa Pan, a “damsel of the queen’s bedchamber,” most probably becoming a father of two. From his writings, of which the only truly acid passage is an invective against nagging and scolding wives, it seems that Chaucer’s married life was not particularly happy, that he was cynical about marriage and apparently in love with another woman.
It is also possible to glean from Chaucer’s writing that he was not a particularly good administrator and far from thrifty with his own money, but that he was a well-loved man with many friends, including numerous contemporary poets, one of whom declared Chaucer “the firste [sic] finder [poet] of our fair language.”
There is no sure dating of Chaucer’s work, although his first major composition was probably his elegy for the first wife of John of Gaunt. Troilus and Cresyde, a tale of tragic lovers set during the siege of Troy is sometimes regarded as his finest. But it is The Canterbury Tales that is generally seen as Chaucer’s masterpiece, as well as one of the finest English poems in existence.
Making a pilgrimage to the shrine of Saint Thomas Becket at Canterbury Cathedral was common in Chaucer’s time; miracle stories connected to Becket’s remains sprang up soon after his death, and many would travel to the shrine in hopes of securing their own. Chaucer’s pilgrims, 29 of them as well as Chaucer himself, include a noble knight and his lusty squire, a superficial prioress, a boisterous and opinionated widow, and an unemployable academic, who set out from the Tabard Inn, which operated along the thoroughfare leading out from the London Bridge to Canterbury from 1300 until its destruction in the 19th century. As the pilgrims begin their journey, they agree to a friendly competition, each of them telling one story, the best storyteller to be rewarded with a free meal upon returning to the inn. The tales are funny, touching, bawdy, and humorously vulgar, and it is unfortunate for modern readers that Chaucer apparently never completed them, so that we will never know which pilgrim was the winner.
The Canterbury Tales is among the first English literary work to mention the use of paper. Books of Chaucer’s day were written by hand on scraped and stretched animal skins and a large Bible could require hundreds of animals to complete, making the distribution of written materials impractical and expensive. For this reason, none of Chaucer’s writing was printed in his day, and it is likely that his manuscripts were only circulated among his friends and remained unknown to most people until well after his death.
The final record of Geoffrey Chaucer came on September 29, 1400, when he signed a delivery receipt for a large cask of wine. Although there is no formal record of his death or of how he died, it is possible he was murdered as part of a political intrigue. But 1400 was yet another plague year, and it is just as possible that Geoffrey Chaucer perished of a more natural agent. Chaucer was buried in Westminster Abbey in honor of his position as Clerk of Works, with only a leaden plate to mark his burial.
It’s the birthday of comedian Minnie Pearl (books by this author), born Sarah Ophelia Colley (1912) in Centerville, Tennessee, the youngest daughter of a well-to-do lumberjack. She majored in theater, taught dance lessons, and joined a theatrical troupe which went all over the south. While on tour she met a woman from the Alabama mountains whose manner of talking amused her. The young comedienne Sarah Colley imitated the mannerisms and mode of speech of the Alabama mountain woman in an act where she called herself “Cousin Minnie Pearl”, which first appeared in 1939. Nashville radio executives saw the act and were impressed and in 1940 offered her the chance to perform at the Grand Ole Opry. It was a huge hit, and she’d continue with the Opry for more than 50 years.
She said, “The doctor must have put my pacemaker in wrong. Every time my husband kisses me, the garage door goes up.”
It’s the 79th birthday of novelist Anne Tyler (books by this author), born in Minneapolis, Minnesota (1941). After she was born, her parents moved the family to various intentional communities; she spent most of her childhood in a community in the mountains of North Carolina. Her family raised milk goats and grew their own food, and she learned folk crafts and traditional music. Eventually, her parents moved the family to Raleigh, where she was sent to public school. She felt like a total outsider — she had never used a telephone, and her feet were so calloused from going without shoes that she could light a match on her bare feet. She said of her childhood: “I learned to be alone and to entertain myself by imagining, and when I left the commune I looked at the regular world from an unusually distant vantage point.”
One summer, she was working on a tobacco farm and she found a book by Eudora Welty at the library. She read the short story “The Wide Net,” and it changed her life; specifically one line of it, which was: “Edna Earle could sit and ponder all day on how the little tail of the C got through the L in a Coca-Cola sign.” Thinking about that sentence, she said: “It was a kind of revelation: I knew dozens of people like Edna Earle — small-town, ordinary. I just didn’t know you could write about them.”
She went to Duke University when she was just 16 years old, fell in love and got married to an Iranian-born medical student, and when his student visa expired, she moved with him to Montreal. It took her awhile to find a job in Montreal, so she started working on a novel. Her first novel, If Morning Ever Comes (1964), came out when she was 22 years old. A year later, she published another novel, The Tin Can Tree (1965).
Tyler moved to Baltimore in 1965, and she has lived there ever since. She has also set most of her novels there. She said: “It’s a city with grit and sort of a feisty spirit to it. I think it’s a very funny city, and I love it. But I always feel that I’m an impostor when people talk about ‘Baltimore writers’ and feel I can pronounce upon Baltimore. Any Baltimorean can tell you I’m not a real Baltimorean.”
Tyler’s novels include Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant (1982), The Accidental Tourist (1985), Breathing Lessons (1988), Back When We Were Grownups (2001), The Beginner’s Goodbye (2012) and most recently, Redhead by the Side of the Road (2020).
Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®