Happy Birthday Paul Engle

Poet, teacher, critic and best known for leading and promoting the Iowa Writers Workshop.  Kurt Vonnegut, a member of the workshop, described Engle as follows:

“The former head, Paul Engle, is still around, is a hayseed clown, a foxy grandpa, a terrific promoter, who, if you listen closely, talks like a man with a paper asshole.”

I’m not really sure if this is meant to be complimentary, critical or a bit of both.  In any case I really like this poem.

 

Twenty Below: by Paul Engle

 

Twenty below, I said, and closed the door,
a drop of five degrees and going down.
It makes a tautened drum-hide of the floor,
brittle as leaves each building in the town.
I wonder what would happen to us here
if that hard wind of winter never stopped,
no man again could watch the night grow clear,
the blue thermometer forever dropped.

I hope, you answered, for so cruel a storm
to freeze remoteness from our lives too cold.
Then we could learn, huddled all close, how warm
the hearts of men who live alone too much,
and once, before our death, admit the old
need of a human nearness, need of touch.

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Happy Birthday Harry Hooton

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Born in Doncaster in 1908 on this day.  He emigrated to Australia aged 16 under a migrant scheme run by the Dreadnought Trust.  From his earliest days, working as a farm laborer, he developed a strong empathy for the lot of the working man.  Later in life his politics moved away from unionism and socialism to anarchism.

It is Great to be Alive; by Harry Hooton

This is an obvious imitation of Walt Whitman, is it?
Well, and wouldn’t that be better than another in sickly rime?
Perhaps you would prefer as more exquisite
some other fellow’s footprints in the sands of time,
or the past perhaps present future of Eliot’s pleasant slime….
But this is not an imitation of anyone: listen to me, I am alive!
Whitman and Longfellow are dead; Eliot doesn’t know he is;
I am for the Great-not the great poet, no matter how true he is;
I say that every man alive is great, no matter who he is,
for it is great to be alive!

The lowest man on earth is a hero and a god with me:
Whoever he is, he is greater than any or all of his fellows;
Means more to me than all the crowned or bald heads of europe;
Cleaner than any dust from greece,
warmer than the bones in westminster abbey;
Greater by far than all that has been before him,
and dwarfed only by what is to come after him….
Whoever he is, he is the One on whose shoulders the world rests;
the One at whose command material empires rise in ministration –
Not some artist or philosopher or emperor, but any man.

What is his social value, his justification?
Well, what is life’s justification?
If he can neither work nor plan, fiddle nor rime,
if he can’t provide occupational therapy for sick psychiatrists,
if rulers ever learn from him to abjure war, and need no gunman,
there would still be justification for his existence, in his sheer existence.
For life, in the saint and sinner, sane and insane, wise and otherwise –
Is its own justification.

Every man is inferior to every other man-in some respects;
And every man is superior to every other man-in other respects.
We can’t live without holding someone else up,
and we can’t live without someone holding us up.
One man is just as good as another, in fact better –
And in fact better than a million men; because you can’t make world wars out of one man,
and that’s all you can do with the latter.
But every man is great only in what he makes, in his subject matter
In the only things that really matter.

The plumber can’t bake, the builder can’t plumb, and the architect has them both beat;
The three are awed by the mathematician, who defers to the man with the axe;
They all yield to the artist who accepts them with all that lives and breathes;
And the all go to work and war-and must accept the superiority of a lunatic who is mad in a world which is terrifyingly sane.
There is no man living who can not find on some one thing higher authority –
That is if we accept those terribly important people who string words together
and think themselves so much better than men who merely stick bricks together;
As we expect other people with similar theses,
such as elephantine labourers who would pull social theories and theorists to pieces,
and such as anyone who seeks to rule over the living, and is in that one fact-dead!

Well then, if there must be lords and masters,
let us rule matter with every man alive;
If we must have slaves, let us enslave machines.
Let us be gods, and selfish –
Let the prostrate worshippers of the past be someone else-ish;
Let us be, and be worshipped ourselves.
Let the painter forgive his painting,
the poet redeem his poem,
and the dead bury the dead…

My poems are revolutions, of the builders, the living great,
searching with god-like hunger new matter to animate –
And of cities steeled in silence, now growing articulate;
Of things, machines, our creatures, raching in lever and rod
to touch the hands of their creators, praying to us as god….
True it is I echo-the mighty shouts of these hordes;
Yes, and an imitator-of impetuous powerful words;
Plagiarist of Whitman, of all the Sons of Man –
For they have heard me in the future, as I do those to come –
Yet greater than Christ or Whitman, than ash from any tomb –
Greater than any history, than ink from any pen,
For you my poems scan,
who despair of your social value, who are despised by men:
You are alive, you are human-by life you are made divine!
You are the revelation-one mightier poem than mine!

Demagogues

On this day in 1895 two controversial world leaders were born.

Zog

Ahmet Muhtar Zogolli was born to a wealthy landowning family in Albania.  He was appointed a district governor ahead of his older half brother, perhaps because of his mothers royal connections.  He signed the Albanian declaration of independence from the Ottoman Empire and was instrumental in creating Albania as a parliamentary democracy.

He was elected first president of Albania in 1925.  In 1928 he turned Albania into a Kingdom and appointed himself King Zog I, King of the Albanians.  He was not recognized by European royalty who looked down upon self appointed kings, but he was well regarded in the Turkish/Arabic world.

Zog relied heavily on loans from Italy to prop up the Albanian Economy.  His military was run by Italian officers.

In classic Albanian style there were 600 blood feuds against him, and he survived 55 assassination attempts.  His Son and Heir, Leka, was born in April 1939.  At the same time the Italians moved on Albania.  Zog cleaned the gold out of the Central Bank, packed up his wife, child and the cash and fled the country.  He spent the rest of his life living in faded grandeur as a King in exile.

juanandevaperon

The other was Juan Perón, thrice elected President of Argentina, husband to Eva Perón nicknamed Evita, star of the Rice & Webber Musical.

Perón was raised from the entrepreneurial classes in Argentina, with roots in Sardinia.  He was sent to Catholic boarding school and joined the military.  He enjoyed a successful career as an officer and was sent to Mussolini’s Italy to study mountain warfare, for which the Italian Alpini were famous.  He was in Italy in 1939 when Mussolini was invading Albania.

In Europe Perón closely observed the governing structures of Fascim, Military dictatorship, Communism and Social democracy and concluded that the latter was the best form of government.  He preferred social democracy to liberal democracy, a view I share myself.

For everyone who expresses positive opinions on Perón you will find three people who hate him.  Throughout his career he focused on three principles.  Government should be democratic, alleviation of poverty and dignity of work.  Again, I happen to be aligned with him on these.

His three presidencies were interspersed with periods of military dictatorship.  His life was frequently at risk and he had to flee the country and live in exile.  The capitalists hated him because he fought against the exploitation of workers.  The conservative Catholics hated him for passing laws permitting divorce and legalising prostitution.  The socialists and the communists hated him because they felt he was too supportive of the entrepreneurial and capitalist system.  The military dictators hated him as a successful military officer who would not back their coups d’état or support the rule of military Juntas.  All sides contending for rule accused him of corruption, living a life of luxury through embezzlement of the public purse.  Meanwhile he was loved by the people, because he fought for them.

Don’t get me wrong here, I know Perón was no angel.  He was anti-education and I have a major problem with that position.  He was in a constant war with third level institutions.  Slogans abounded on the streets such as “Promote democracy- kill a student” or “Shoes not Books”.  His politics made for some very strange bedfellows.  He was on good terms with Che Guevara and Salvador Allende.  But he was a realist about US involvement in the overthrow of Allende and support for General Pinochet.  He warned the Argentinian People that this could happen to him.  He was also accused of having an affair with a 13 year old girl, on which accusation he commented “13?  I am not superstitious”.

He did his best to steer Argentina down a middle path in the cold war, attempting to maintain relations with both USA and Russia and gaining favour with neither regime.  His motivation was to maintain Argentinian independence.

He made Argentina the strongest economy in Latin America, despite overt attempts by the USA to undermine his reform government.  But Perón avoided turning his nation into another Cuba, or Chile.

A complex politician it is interesting to compare his career with that of Zog, who was a perfect example of someone who profited from rule.  Perón worked all his life for his country, despite the hatred and criticism he faced.  I believe he will go down in history as a good politician and a true patriot and that history will remember him well.

He was desecrated in death, his mausoleum raided and his hands cut off with a chainsaw.  His ceremonial personal effects were stolen.

 

I don’t like Mondays.

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Bob Geldof, songwriter and lead singer of the Boomtown Rats is now most famous for his charity work in Africa and motivating the pop industry to do their part for the Ethiopian famine.  Born on this day in 1951.

In the week of the Las Vegas mass killing it is salutary to remember that the second major hit for the Boomtown Rats was also inspired by an American shooter.

Geldof wrote the song after reading a telex report at WRAS Campus Radio in Georgia State University.  Brenda Ann Spencer, a 16 year old, fired a gun at children in Grover Cleveland Elementary School in San Diego, California in January 1979.  She killed two adults and injured a policeman and eight children. When reporters asked her why she did it Spencer said “I don’t like Mondays. This livens up the day”.

Space Race

Sputnik

On this day in 1957 the Soviet Union launched Sputnik.  The USA woke up to the fact that the space race had begun, and they were not even at the starting blocks.

With the launch of Sputnik the Russians engineered what was called by Eisenhower “the Sputnik crisis”.  The Russians proved they had rockets capable of launching nuclear warheads and reaching the USA.  The payload of 83 Kilos was initially dismissed by the US scientists as preposterous.  They were planning on launching a sub 10 kilo package and did not have the raw power available to shift  such a large mass into orbit.

With the launch of Sputnik the world changed overnight.  The USA, which thought of itself as the premier power in the world, found itself in second place.

In response Eisenhower commissioned the creation of Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).  DARPA pioneered computer networking and led directly to the creation of the Internet.

At the same time he created NASA to take responsibility for space exploration from the Military arms, which were focused on development of warhead delivery systems.

In the United Kingdom the launch of Sputnik brought into sharp relief that the nation, once the workshop of the world, was now a technological backwater.  Great Britain did not have the capability to enter the space race.

But Outer Space; by Robert Frost (from ‘In the Clearing’ published 1962)

But outer Space,
At least this far,
For all the fuss
Of the populace
Stays more popular
Than populous

 

 

 

Happy Birthday Lindsey Buckingham

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Something very special happened back on New Year’s Ever 1974.  The remaining members of the British blues band, Fleetwood Mac, comprising of John & Christine Mc Vie and Mick Fleetwood joined up with guitarist/songwriter Lindsey Buckingham and his girlfriend and music partner Stevie Nicks.  It was the perfect coming together of musical talent and an emotional car wreck as the McVie’s marriage and Buckingham/Nicks relationships fell apart.  Not to be outdone Mick Fleetwood was also in the middle of a divorce.

From all this angst was born one of the greatest albums in history; Rumours, released in 1977.  It is in the top ten best selling albums of all time.

All the band members contributed to the songs.  Today I give you the opening number “Go your own way” because it was written and sung by Buckingham, and today is his birthday.  A note of sadness tinges the celebration as the news filtered through of the passing of another music legend, Tom Petty, at the age of 66.  Heartbreakers are heartbroken.

 

Achoo!

Rhinovirus.jpg

This rather pretty looking mandala is my birthday present this year.  A lovely work of art, the Rhinovirus.  AKA the common cold.

 

Common Cold; by Ogden Nash

Go hang yourself, you old M.D.!
You shall not sneer at me.
Pick up your hat and stethoscope,
go wash your mouth with laundry soap;
I contemplate a joy exquisite
I’m not paying you for your visit.
I did not call you to be told
my malady is a common cold.

By pounding brow and swollen lip;
By fever’s hot and scaly grip;
By those two red redundant eyes
that weep like woeful April skies;
By racking snuffle, snort, and sniff;
By handkerchief after handkerchief;
This cold you wave away as naught
is the damnedest cold man ever caught!

Give ear, you scientific fossil!
Here is the genuine Cold Colossal;
The Cold of which researchers dream,
the Perfect Cold, the Cold Supreme.
This honored system humbly holds
the Super-cold to end all colds;
The Cold Crusading for Democracy;
The Führer of the Streptococcracy.

Bacilli swarm within my portals
such as were ne’er conceived by mortals,
but bred by scientists wise and hoary
in some Olympic laboratory;
Bacteria as large as mice,
With feet of fire and heads of ice
who never interrupt for slumber
their stamping elephantine rumba.

A common cold, gadzooks, forsooth!
Ah, yes. And Lincoln was jostled by Booth;
Don Juan was a budding gallant,
and Shakespeare’s plays show signs of talent;
the Arctic winter is fairly coolish,
and your diagnosis is fairly foolish.
Oh what a derision history holds
for the man who belittled the Cold of Colds!