He’s Still Waiting!

 

“A Brave Man and a Brave Poet.”-Bob Dylan on Lawrence Ferlinghetti

Today is the birthday of one of America’s best poets, in my opinion, Lawrence Ferlinghetti and he is 95 years old!  I used to read and carry around his “A Coney Island of the Mind,” which contained a fave poem of mine, “I Am Waiting,” with the great line, “and I am waiting for a rebirth of wonder.”

He was hip, he was cool and he opened a bookstore that I would have liked to have visited, but never got the chance: City Lights Bookstore in North Beach in San Francisco.

I am so happy to celebrate his birthday with you today!

He was born in Yonkers and when his dad died when he was a few months old, his mom was committed to a state mental institution and Lawrence was sent to France to be raised by an aunt. He returned to the states, served in WW II in the Navy, and opened his bookstore, named after the Charlie Chaplin movie, “City Lights,” because, “Chaplin’s character represents for me … the very definition of a poet. … A poet, by definition, has to be an enemy of the State. If you look at Chaplin films, he’s always being pursued by the police. That’s why he’s still such a potent symbol in the cinema — the little man against the world.” writersalmanac.publicradio.org)

“To Survive You Must Tell Stories.” –Umberto Eco

 

What a wonderful way to begin the first of March with the celebration of 3 writers born today!  Ralph Ellison, novelist and essayist, was born in 1914 in Oklahoma; poet Robert Lowell was born in Boston in 1917 and poet Richard Wilbur was born in 1921 in NYC. Ellison didn’t grow up believing he would be a writer; he was more interested in composing, but after meeting Langston Hughes and Richard Wright, his direction changed. Lucky us!  Robert Lowell had bipolar disorder and struggled with that in and out of mental institutions all of his life. Richard Wilbur started out as a journalist, but while serving in WW II, he read a lot of Edgar Allan Poe and started composing poems about the loneliness he was feeling. Wilbur wrote, “I would feel dead if I didn’t have the ability periodically to put my world in order with a poem. I think to be inarticulate is a great suffering, and is especially so to anyone who has a certain knack for poetry.”The Writer’s Almanac   

The opening line of Ralph Ellison’s most famous novel and even the very first paragraph of that novel continues to be studied throughout the world:

”I am an invisible man. No, I am not a spook like those who haunted Edgar Allan Poe; nor am I one of your Hollywood-movie ectoplasms. I am a man of substance, of flesh and bone, fiber and liquids – and I might even be said to possess a mind. I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me.”  Sadly, we still have too many “invisible” men, women and children throughout the world.

On a lighter note, The Who’s Roger Daltry is 70 years old today!!!!!!   I have great memories of seeing The Who several times at the Fillmore East in NYC.

 

 

 

 

 

“I Have But One Passion…

 

to enlighten those who have been kept in the dark, in the name of humanity…”

-Emile Zola

As a young woman, I devoured the books by French novelist, Emile Zola…they were soap operas; they took on the plight of the poor, the disenfranchised, women, anti-semitism… Today, in 1898, “In France, Emile Zola is imprisoned for writing his “J’accuse” letter accusing government of anti-Semitism & wrongly jailing Alfred Dreyfushistoryorb.com Currently, there is a new movie out starring Jessica Lange based on Zola’s novel, Therese Raquin, titled, In Secret.  Zola fled to England and was not jailed and all charges against Dreyfus were found to be false.

Today, the brilliant educator, professor, activist, philosopher, W.E.B. Du Bois was born in Great Barrington, Massachusetts in 1868. If you haven’t read his full length biography by David Lewis (just to name one), do so. Du Bois lived a very full life filled with many accomplishments.

Our Day Will Come,”  a beautiful song sung by Ruby and the Romantics entered the charts today in 1963 when I was 10 years old. Oh how I loved to sing that song and Ruby’s voice?   Silky smooth!!!!

Our Day Will Come means so many different things to so many different people. To Zola it meant the end of anti-semitism; to W.E.B. Du Bois, it meant equality among all people; to Ruby and the Romantics, it meant maybe one day getting the royalties they deserved from their huge hit.

 

 

 

“I Lit My Purest Candle…”-Tim Buckley

 

You see, I am a poet, and not quite right in the head, darling. It’s only that.”

-Edna St. Vincent Millay

Tim Buckley’s “Morning Glory” song is one of my favorites of all of his compositions. Another poet who used a candle in one of her most famous poems was born today in 1892 in Maine: Edna St. Vincent Millay.  Coming from an impoverished background, Millay couldn’t afford college; one day a woman heard a young Edna recite one of her poems and decided to pay Millay’s tuition for Vassar College. After graduating, Edna St. Vincent Millay made her home in Greenwich Village along with so many other writers and musicians. She was very popular during the Jazz Age.  Millay was the first female to be awarded a Pulitzer Prize in 1923 for her poetry volume, “The Harp Weaver,” which contains a favorite childhood poem of mine, “The Ballad of the Harp Weaver,” which begins with:

“SON,” said my mother,

  When I was knee-high,

“You’ve need of clothes to cover you,

  And not a rag have I.”

An Incomparable Artist

 

with James Baldwin

Nina Simone was born today in 1933 in North Carolina. My husband and I continue to listen to her and hear her influences in many of today’s artists, whether they’re aware of it or not. She was a huge personality…strong…powerful…direct and her original compositions, such as “4 Women” were evident of that. Nina Simone was an outstanding interpreter of lyrics, mood, nuance and just the best of the best. I urge you to read about Nina Simone and her very interesting & sometimes, turbulent, life. In the meantime, enjoy the selections:

My Lazy Days of Winter

      

      

“Inspiration is a guest that does not willingly visit the lazy.”-Tchaikovsky

It has been 4 days since my last posting. Just didn’t know what to write about. Life has been OK, no emergencies…Mom’s doing all right, though she’s been in the house for weeks due to the weather and the mountains of snow; yet she doesn’t complain. As long as I always have library books for her and she does her daily crossword puzzle, she’s not bored. How lucky I am that she has never been a demanding person who needs to be entertained. Speaking of Mom, I’ve written before on the time she took me uptown to see a panel discussion on Civil Rights in the early 60s at the NY Society for Ethical Culture. The society is over 100 years old. I definitely remember Sydney Poitier and Harry Belafonte being on the panel and I think James Baldwin also was there among others. Well, today is Mr. Poitier’s 87th birthday!!!  I remember mom and I going to the movies to see “Lilies of the Field” and singing “Amen” along with Sydney Poitier and the nuns. I’ve seen every one of his movies. Today also marks the death of the great Frederick Douglass in 1895. It was a sudden death after having a very nice and productive day at a Women’s Rights conference. Folksinger, Buffy Sainte-Marie was born today in 1941. Always loved her music.

So, I found a little inspiration today to do my blog posting! Yay!

Hope all are well out there in WordPress Land!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It Doesn’t Make Sense

           

Richard Ford, American novelist (“Canada”), was born today in Mississippi in 1944. He could’ve been talking about yesterday’s verdict in another southern state known for inequality in their treatment of African American male victims, when he once wrote, “I have a theory… that someplace at the heart of most compelling stories is something that doesn’t make sense.” My husband was born today, in 1950, in Tallahassee, Florida, but was raised in the Harlem neighborhood of NYC. When he was 12, his mom shipped him down to Florida to live with relatives for minor offenses in NY, such as skipping school. A little Caucasian girl with her mom pointed at him and said, “Mommy there’s a N____,” which offended, angered and hurt him…the next day his dog was found dead outside the front door…murdered. He was shipped back up to NYC…went to school every single day…got his BFA and MFA. My husband will never return to Florida. He’s retiring and we will continue to live in the Northeast since he loves the changing of the seasons and we also never want to be far from our children. I am the mother of an African American male and I worried about him as a teenager and young man from the moment he left the house until he returned. As many of you know, he’s living and teaching in southern India for 2 years. He mentioned that he may go visit New Delhi and I warned him that there have been incidents in New Delhi of Africans being attacked and I told him not to go. Will he listen to me?  Who knows? It’s a scary world. We raise our children and prepare them the best we know how in navigating their world and hope for the best. Jordan Davis in Florida was America’s son, America’s child and he was murdered, “…for something that doesn’t make sense.” How the jury couldn’t convict the defendant for first degree murder is incomprehensible.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Birthdays Ain’t What They Used to Be

        

“Expect nothing. Live frugally on surprise.”-Alice Walker

61 years ago today, I was born in Brooklyn to a stay-at-home mom and a working dad. We lived in a 2-family attached brick house downstairs from my grandparents and shared an alley. How glorious to leave our kitchen through a door and race up 2 flights to my Bubbie and Zadie and just hang out with them. Mom returned to college when I was about 7 and dad, hurt both physically and emotionally during WW II was sick on and off with heart attacks at a young age and a bad back; he retired early. Dad would do the shopping and the chauffeuring. Mom also learned how to drive so that when dad couldn’t, she could get him to doctor appts.  I had a brother who was 4 and a half years older; a beautiful child; looked like a model! He had a rough relationship with my dad and probably a whole host of other problems that weren’t surfaced enough for us to see. We shared a love of reading and music. He got caught up in drugs for many years, Heroin… and even though he was recovering, he died nearly 21 years ago from AIDS. Dad died 23 years ago. Mom retired after dad died, took care of my brother in her home and after he died,  sold the house in Brooklyn and came out to the suburbs to be close to me and my family. I continue to miss my dad and my brother and I’m glad they knew my children and my children remember them. We used to have birthday celebrations with the whole family, but, at 61, both my husband and I like quiet celebrations and don’t stand on ceremony. Today I’ll see mom in the morning as usual; I’ll talk to my daughter on the phone; perhaps I’ll talk with my son in India and my husband and I will enjoy the chicken currently brining in the fridge overnight. Today is also the birthday of Carole King (72) and Alice Walker (70). I remember buying “Tapestry” in 1971. We still listen to it.  I’m in great, great company!!!!!

Before I Leave The Stage by Alice Walker

 

Before I leave the stage

I will sing the only song

I was meant truly to sing.

It is the song

of I AM.

Yes: I am Me

&

You.

WE ARE.

I love Us with every drop

of our blood

every atom of our cells

our waving particles

-undaunted flags of our Being-

neither here nor there.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Speaking Clearly and Mr. Tolson

    

“Speak clearly, if you speak at all; carve every word before you let it fall.”Oliver Wendell Holmes

As an educator, I’ve always found it very important to enunciate each and every sound for my students as I spoke and also to be a model for how they should speak. My students came from all over the world and I would put them in situations where, even though they didn’t know English, they were supplied the words in order to make them feel comfortable, have the new words roll around their tongues, feel good about themselves and shine. The classroom was our stage and we also used the auditorium stage as well as marching into other classrooms and performing. They loved performing, even if they just entered my classroom that day!  It was always an accepting learning environment. A few years ago, the movie, “The Great Debaters” came out starring Denzel Washington as the debate team’s coach, Melvin B. Tolson. Well, today is Mr. Tolson’s birthday and he was born in 1898 in Missouri.

In 1924, Melvin Tolson accepted a position as instructor of English and speech at Wiley College. While at Wiley, he taught, wrote poetry and novels, coached football and directed plays. In 1929, Tolson coached the Wiley debate teams, which established a ten-year winning streak. The Debate Team beat the larger black schools of its day like Tuskegee, Fisk and Howard.

 After a visit to Texas, Langston Hughes  wrote that “Melvin Tolson is the most famous Negro professor in the Southwest. Students all over that part of the world speak of him, revere him, remember him and love him.”

 According to James Farmer, Tolson’s drive to win, to eliminate risk, meant that his debaters were actors more than spontaneous thinkers. Tolson wrote all the speeches and the debate team memorized them. He drilled them on every gesture and every pause. Tolson was so skilled at the art of debating that he also figured out the arguments that opponents would make and wrote rebuttals for them-before the actual debate.

 In 1930, he pursued a master’s degree in the Department of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University; met V.F. Calverton, editor of Modern Quarterly; wrote “Cabbages and Caviar” column for The Washington Tribune and organized sharecroppers in South Texas.

 In 1935, he led the Wiley Debate Team to the national championship to defeat the University of Southern California before an audience of eleven hundred people. In 1947 he was appointed poet laureate of Liberia by President V. S. Tubman. He left Wiley to become professor of English and Drama at Langston University in Oklahoma.”Wiley College

Melvin B. Tolson was also a writer and a poet. I love his ode to Louis Armstrong:

                                      Old Satchmo’s

                   gravelly voice and tapping foot and crazy notes

                                      set my soul on fire.

                                            If I climbed

                         the seventy-seven steps of the Seventh

                 Heaven, Satchmo’s high C would carry me higher!

                      Are you hip to this, Harlem?  Are you hip?

                           On Judgment Day, Gabriel will say

                                  after he blows his horn:

                    “I’d be the greatest trumpeter in the Universe,

                         if old Satchmo had never been born!”

 

 

 

“How Are Things In Glocca Morra?”-Burton Lane and E.Y. Harburg

       

“When I got finished, Gershwin paid me the ultimate compliment. He said, ‘Boy, even I couldn’t do that.”-Burton Lane

Composer and lyricist, Burton Lane was born today in NYC in 1912 and he is responsible for so many beautiful songs and lyrics that may have faded, so I’m here to remind all of us! How are Things in Glocca Morra is from his play, Finian’s Rainbow, which was also a movie in 1968.  Lane also wrote one other play, On a Clear Day You Can See Forever, (also made into a film in 1970) which singer Robert Goulet sang so beautifully. My dad was a big fan of Robert Goulet and he would sing that song in particular and whistle it so well. A personal favorite song of mine is from “Finian’s Rainbow,” titled: Look to the Rainbow. Burton Lane’s songs have been performed by hundreds of artists and are just as beautiful today in 2014.