This dark porch
like a bowl with water
like a throat with laughter
afternoons of light
years of afternoons
dark and late
lit by candles, hands,
eyes with the leap
that’s the life
we’ve come for,
what we carry
down the spill of years,
what carries us, what
meets us in the end
and on the way
in each other.
“Dark and Late” by Catherine Abbey Hodges from Instead of Sadness. © Gunpowder Press, 2015. Reprinted by permission. (buy now)
It is the birthday of the man who inspired the word "beatnik" in the 1950s: poet Bob Kaufman (books by this author), born Robert Garnell Kaufman, in New Orleans, Louisiana (1925). Kaufman's mother was a Roman Catholic woman from Martinique who loved to play the piano and buy books at auctions. His father was a German Jew; "my Negro suit has Jew stripes," Kaufman often said of his lineage. Details of his life are hazy because he didn't keep a diary or leave behind any letters, and while he completed three volumes of poetry, he preferred to recite his poems in coffee houses rather than write them down.
As a teenager, he joined the Merchant Marine. In his 20 years as a sailor, he circled the globe nine times and survived four shipwrecks. On his first ship, the Henry Gibbons, he became friends with the first mate, who lent him books and encouraged him to read.
It was at sea when he first read about the Beat poets, many of whom also had maritime ambitions. Gary Snyder wanted to experience the culture in port cities around the world, and he worked as a seaman during the summer of 1948 and again in the mid-1950s. When Jack Kerouac, as a freshman at Columbia, failed chemistry and lost his scholarship, he joined the Merchant Marine to make money to re-enroll. Allen Ginsberg was suspended from Columbia for fighting with his dormitory housekeeper, and he followed Kerouac into the Merchant Marine. (Ginsberg tried marijuana for the first time on his maiden voyage.) When he was 22, Lawrence Ferlinghetti fell in love with the sea when he lived on the Maine coast for a summer and worked scraping moss off rocks. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, he enrolled in Midshipmen's School and was deployed at different lighthouses and naval watch posts throughout World War II.
When Kaufman was back on land, he studied briefly at the New School in New York City, where he met William S. Burroughs and Ginsberg. The three eventually moved to San Francisco and joined Gregory Corso, Kerouac, and Ferlinghetti to form the heart of the Beat movement.
Improvisational jazz influenced Kaufman's street performances and earned him the nickname "The Original Bebop Man," but it also earned him the attention of local police. In 1959, he was tossed into jail 39 times for disorderly conduct. San Francisco Chronicle columnist Herb Caen said he had Kaufman's spontaneous oral poetry in mind when he created the word "beatnik."
Later, Kaufman cofounded Beatitude magazine, which helped launch the careers of many other poets, but he continued to live a mostly itinerant life, filled with drugs, a stint at Bellevue Hospital, where he underwent electroshock treatments, and continued police harassment. By the mid '60s, he had published two volumes of poetry — Solitudes Crowded with Loneliness (1965) and Golden Sardine (1967) — and in the early '80s, his friends gathered old recordings and notes and had them published as The Ancient Rain: Poems 1958 - 1978 (1981).
When President Kennedy was shot in 1963, Kaufman took a vow of silence and didn't speak again until he walked into a coffee shop in 1975 and recited his poem, "All Those Ships that Never Sailed." He said:
All those ships that never sailed
The ones with their seacocks open
That were scuttled in their stalls ...
Today I bring them back
Huge and transitory
And let them sail
His wife encouraged Kaufman to write down his many poems, but he wished to stay hidden from history.
He said, "I want to be anonymous. My ambition is to be completely forgotten."
It’s the birthday of lawyer and writer Clarence (Seward) Darrow (books by this author), born in Kinsman, Ohio (1857). His father was a Unitarian minister until he lost his faith, when he became a furniture maker and undertaker. But his passion was for books, not business. Darrow wrote, “In all the country round, no man knew so much of books as he and no man knew less of life.” Darrow became a famous lawyer, and he filled his courtroom speeches with literary allusions.
Darrow fought for unions, racial equality, and the poor, and he became famous for defending some of the most unpopular people of his time. In the 1925 Monkey Trial, he defended high school teacher John Scopes for teaching Darwin’s theory of evolution in a Tennessee school. In “The Crime of the Century,” in 1924, he successfully defended two confessed teenage murderers, Richard Loeb and Nathan Leopold, from receiving the death penalty. In defending them he said, “You may stand them on the trap door of the scaffold, and choke them to death, but that act will be infinitely more cold-blooded, whether justified or not, than any act that these boys have committed or can commit.”
He wrote the novel An Eye for an Eye (1905), and the nonfiction books Crime: Its Cause and Treatment (1922), The Prohibition Mania (1927), and The Story of My Life (1932).
He once said: “I never killed a man, but I have read many obituaries with a lot of pleasure.”
On this day, in 1924, the first crossword puzzle book was published. Simon and Schuster commissioned the book to meet growing demand for these engaging puzzles, originally dubbed “word-crosses,” that first appeared in US newspapers a little over a decade earlier. Both the first and second printings of The Cross Word Puzzle Book sold out in weeks, so the publishers commissioned two more collections and rushed them to print. By the end of 1924, the books ranked No. 1, 2, and 3 on the national nonfiction best-seller list.
Today is the birthday of Pulitzer Prize-winning American journalist Susan Faludi (1959) (books by this author), born in Queens. She won the Pulitzer Prize in explanatory journalism (1991) for a report in The Wall Street Journal (1990) detailing the leveraged buyout of Safeway Stores, but she’s best known for a series of nonfiction books that examine the role of women in today’s society.
Faludi’s mother was a homemaker and a journalist. Her father was a photographer who immigrated to America after surviving the Holocaust. Faludi wrote for The Harvard Crimson at Harvard and after graduating, she wrote regularly for The New York Times, The Miami Herald, and The Wall Street Journal.
In the 1980s, Faludi read a cover story in Newsweek (1986) that alleged that the marital prospects of single, career-educated women were bleak. She found the statistics faulty, so she began investigating other female-centered stories that were being sensationally promoted by the media. She proposed a book based on her research and was met with silence from the publishing industry, except for one publishing house. Even so, on the eve of publication, a marketing executive for Faludi’s publisher told her the book was going to tank because “1992 is going to be the year of the man.”
The publishing executive was wrong. When Backlash: The War Against Women (1992) was published, it spent nine months on the New York Times best-seller list. The book came out during the Anita Hill hearings, and the largest pro-choice rally ever held was happening in Washington. Women were eager for her book. Faludi shared the cover of Time magazine with feminist icon Gloria Steinem and received a windfall of letters. Most of them began, “I thought I was the only one who felt this way.” The book became required reading in college and is considered a seminal feminist text.
Faludi went on to write Stiffed: The Betrayal of the American Man (1999), which is about the culture of masculinity in American society. For research, Faludi hung out in locker rooms, job clubs, Promise Keeper rallies, and Marine recruiting stations. She received criticism from the feminist movement for focusing on men, but she shrugged it off, saying: “I don’t see how you can be a feminist and not think about men. In order for women to live freely, men have to live freely, too. Being a feminist opens your eyes to the ways men, like women, are imprisoned in cultural stereotypes.”
It’s the birthday of publisher Clifton Keith Hillegass, born in Rising City, Nebraska (1918), the man behind CliffsNotes, the black- and yellow-striped pamphlets that students have used for literary study guides or substitutes for the real thing since 1958. He started the company in his basement with a $4,000 loan, and used advertising slogans like “Juliet, Baby, it’s easier with Cliff’s Notes,” and “Shafted by Shaw? Mangled by Melville?” Cliffs Notes has printed more than 50 million guides.
Hillegass didn’t write the summaries himself, but he loved literature, from classics to science fiction to mysteries. He wanted his books to make literature more accessible to students. He did not intend for CliffsNotes to replace reading the book in the first place, and was upset that they had gained a reputation as cheat sheets. He put a signed note in each pamphlet that read: “A thorough appreciation of literature allows no shortcuts.” When the company was bought for $14 million in 1998, the new owners kept the bumblebee-striped design but dropped the note.