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 Billy Collins
When it’s late at night and branches
are banging against the windows,
you might think that love is just a matter
of leaping out of the frying pan of yourself
into the fire of someone else,
but it’s a little more complicated than that.
It’s more like trading the two birds
who might be hiding in that bush
for the one you are not holding in your hand.
A wise man once said that love
was like forcing a horse to drink
but then everyone stopped thinking of him as wise.
Let us be clear about something.
Love is not as simple as getting up
on the wrong side of the bed wearing the emperor’s clothes.
No, it’s more like the way the pen
feels after it has defeated the sword.
It’s a little like the penny saved or the nine dropped
You look at me through the halo of the last candle
and tell me love is an ill wind
that has no turning, a road that blows no good,
but I am here to remind you,
as our shadows tremble on the walls,
that love is the early bird who is better late than never.
“Adage” by Billy Collins from Ballistics. Random House, © 2010 Billy Collins. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)
It was on this day in 1848 that the American Association for the Advancement of Science, known as AAAS, was created. It was founded by 78 scientists, all members of the Association of American Geologists and Naturalists. They wanted to increase the scope of their group to include all the sciences, and they modeled themselves on the British Association for the Advancement of Science. Despite their British model, American science in the 1840s had a different focus than European science. In Europe, scientists were more interested in theoretical work — there were big breakthroughs in chemistry, physics, evolution, and electromagnetism.
In 1845, Alexander van Humboldt published the first part of his five-volume work Cosmos, an attempt to bring together all the fields of science into one book. Humboldt was an international celebrity, adored in America — scientists sought his endorsement, journalists declared that he was “without rival in all the branches of human knowledge,” and everyone from politicians to inventors tried to link their names to his. The media were constantly comparing American scientists to Humboldt, usually unfavorably.
There were some American scientists working in this mold, many of them founders of AAAS. In 1846, Joseph Henry, a scientist who worked on electromagnetism, was elected the first secretary of the Smithsonian. In 1848, zoologist and geologist Louis Agassiz started work on a museum of natural history at Harvard. Benjamin Peirce was a mathematician and astronomer; in the 1840s, he was hard at work researching and publishing An Elementary Treatise on Plane and Spherical Trigonometry (1840) and two volumes of An Elementary Treatise on Curves, Functions, and Forces (1841 and 1846).
But in general, while Europeans were focusing on more theoretical scientific pursuits, Americans were engaged in a very practical side of science: technology. The word scientist did not even exist until the 1830s, and the line between scientist and inventor was a blurry one. There were plenty of important American inventions in the 1840s. Samuel Morse sent the first successful telegraph. Robert McCormick sold his first McCormick reaper, a machine that cut grain much more efficiently than a farmer with a scythe. Charles Goodyear invented vulcanized rubber, which finally made rubber stable (before that, it would melt in the heat and freeze in the cold). John Rand invented the metal paint tube, which revolutionized the art world — before that, painters used pig bladders; they were hard to use outside because they frequently burst, and painters could only use one color at a time.
Americans were also focused on geology and botany, which went hand in hand with America’s westward expansion — there was plenty of uncharted territory to explore and catalog. One well-known paleontologist and geologist was Edward Hitchcock, the man who came up with the idea for the Association of American Geologists and Naturalists, the parent organization of AAAS. He conducted geological surveys of New England, and studied fossils from the Connecticut Valley. Hitchcock spent the 1840s working on his greatest passion: natural theology, an attempt to explain the Bible through the lens of a contemporary understanding of geology. To the end, Hitchcock — like many of his contemporaries, including Louis Agassiz — strongly opposed Darwin’s theories of evolution.
After the American Association for the Advancement of Science was officially created on this day in 1848, the scientists adjourned. They met again at 4 p.m. the same day to talk science instead of organizational details, and they spent the next few days doing exactly that. One of the most warmly received presentations at the first meeting was a paper by oceanographer and naval officer Matthew Fontaine Maury, “Wind and Current Chart.” He explained that hundreds of ship navigators were sending data to the naval center for recording, and he declared: “Never before was such a corps of observers known.” The attendees were enthusiastic about this early citizen science.
During these early years, every AAAS meeting was a major event for the city in which it was held, the focus of media coverage and speculation. AAAS members became small-time celebrities and were even given discount tickets to ride the railroads. More than 2,000 people joined the American Association for the Advancement of Science during its first 12 years. It was suspended during the Civil War, but resumed in 1866 and is still going strong today. They have been publishing the journal Science since 1880.
It’s the birthday of poet, editor, and literary critic Donald Hall (1928), born in Hamden, Connecticut (books by this author). He met fellow poet Jane Kenyon while teaching at the University of Michigan and in 1972 they married. Hall and Kenyon wrote often about each other and their life together. They lived and worked together on his grandparents’ farm in New Hampshire.
Hall was always a fierce revisionist, often putting a single poem through more than 600 hundred drafts. He said: “When I was 25, a poem took six months or a year. Typically, now, it takes two years to five.”
He said, “You should stare at a poem long enough so that you have one hundred reasons for using every comma, one hundred reasons for every line break, one hundred reasons for every and or or.”
Before his death, in June 2018, Donald Hall had published over 50 books across numerous genres, was awarded numerous literary honors and was named the 14th poet laureate of the United States in 2006. His books include Kicking the Leaves (1978), The One Day (1988), The Back Chamber (2011) and Essays After Eighty (2011).
It’s the birthday of poet and novelist Stevie Smith (books by this author), born Florence Margaret Smith in Hull, Yorkshire, England (1902). She lived in the same house from the time she was three years old until her death in 1971. She approached a publisher with her first book of poems when she was in her 30s. He told her to go away and write a novel instead. So that’s what she did. Her first novel was Novel on Yellow Paper (1936), and she went on to write other novels and short stories, but her greatest love was always poetry. She actually wrote one of her short stories in meter, and later published it as a poem.
She was known for writing light verse about dark subjects. Her most famous collection of poems is Not Waving but Drowning (1957). In the title poem, she wrote: “Nobody heard him, the dead man, / But still he lay moaning; / I was much further out than you thought / And not waving but drowning.”
It’s the birthday of muckraking pioneer Upton Sinclair (books by this author), born in Baltimore, Maryland (1878). A precocious child, Sinclair entered City College of New York at the age of 14, which he paid for himself since his father’s alcoholism had left his family in dire straits. He funded his education by publishing stories in newspapers and magazines. And by the time he was 17, Sinclair was doing well enough to pay for his own apartment, as well as send his destitute parents a regular income. Before long, though, Sinclair married, had a son, and found that he could not support his family.
Sinclair’s extended family was as rich as his immediate one was poor, and a loan from his uncle bankrolled his first, self-published novel when he was 21. But the disparity between this great poverty and wealth within his own family troubled Sinclair. He became a member of the Socialist Party and committed himself to writing fiction about injustice. When the editor of a Socialist journal commissioned him to write about the plight of immigrants working in Chicago meatpacking houses — and the publishing house Macmillan gave him an advance for the book rights — Sinclair moved to the stockyards district for seven weeks. He took copious notes on the miserable working conditions there, and then returned to the East Coast to transform his investigative journalism into fiction.
The Jungle was serialized in the journal, as planned, but Macmillan wanted nothing to do with the book, urging Sinclair to lose the “blood and guts,” which he declined. Four other publishers followed suit, rejecting the book for its graphic imagery. Sinclair decided to self-publish once again, and he began taking advance orders. Encouraged by his brisk sales, Doubleday swooped in at the last minute and agreed to publish the book on the condition that its claims could be verified. The publisher’s lawyer traveled to the Chicago stockyards to witness for himself the miserable state of affairs, and The Jungle caused an almost instant sensation when it was published in 1906.
Although Sinclair had intended to highlight the mistreatment of the workers in the meatpacking industry, readers reacted instead to his descriptions of the mistreatment of the animals — that is to say, the readers’ food. The outcry over the unsanitary preparation of meat helped pass the Pure Food and Drugs Act.
Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®