Wednesday July 8, 2015

0:00/ 0:00

What I Mean To Say

How have I never noticed
a gull partake
with such nonchalance
of its sunrise breakfast,
clamping its prey
in its mouth to carry
it from the ocean’s edge
before beak stabs
again and again
into body, plucking
meat from a crab
that does not go gentle into
being eaten, jerking, waving
its claws in what looks
to me like protest
and still I don’t step away
until the gull finishes,
not long after
the crab’s shuddering
stops, leaving
a small litter
of shell and cartilage
I wouldn’t recognize
for what it was
had I not been standing here
as the sun kindles
the morning, here where
I came to drink in
a glorious dawn.

"What I Mean To Say” by Maureen Ryan Griffin from Ten Thousand Cicadas Can’t Be Wrong. © Main Street Rag, 2015. Reprinted with permission.  (buy now)

It’s the birthday of French psychologist Alfred Binet (books by this author), born in Nice, France (1857). Early in his career, he followed other 19th-century psychologists in believing that intelligence could be gauged by taking measurements of the size of the cranium. But his own experiments over many years changed his mind and led him to look for another way to measure intelligence. In 1904, with a commission from France’s minister of public education, he began to develop an intelligence test based on a series of short tasks — such as counting coins or ordering blocks from smallest to largest. Binet’s intelligence test became the basis of what came to be known as the intelligence quotient, or IQ, test. In the United States, Binet’s test was adapted to create the first national standardized test, the Stanford-Binet.

It’s the birthday of novelist and poet Richard Aldington (1892) (books by this author). He was born Edward Godfree Aldington in Portsmouth, England, but he chose the name “Richard” for himself while he was still a boy. He married fellow poet Hilda Doolittle, known as H.D., in 1913. Ezra Pound, who had been involved with Doolittle, had introduced them; they were all interested in producing poetry that used vivid images, concise language, keen observation, and apt metaphor as a reaction against Romanticism. Pound coined the term “Imagism” to describe their style.

Aldington joined the army in 1916 and was wounded on the Western Front. He recovered physically, but never fully recovered mentally, and suffered from “shell shock” — what we now call post-traumatic stress disorder. His marriage also suffered from the war, and he and Hilda separated, though they weren’t divorced until 1938 and remained friends for the rest of their lives. He suffered a breakdown in 1925, and after that he lost interest in writing poetry. He took to writing novels instead, including Death of a Hero (1929). Aldington scholar and biographer Norman Gates called the book “one of the best novels about World War I and a savage satire of the society that [Aldington] felt was responsible for it.”

It’s the birthday of psychiatrist and writer Elisabeth Kübler-Ross (books by this author) born in Zurich, Switzerland (1926). She went to medical school, where she got married to an American physician, and they moved to the United States. She did her internship and residency in psychiatry. She went to the University of Chicago and worked with terminally ill patients. Instead of pretending they were going to get better, she asked them to talk to her about death. She decided that other people needed to hear what they had to say, so she set up a forum where doctors, nurses, and medical students could come listen to terminally ill patients and ask them questions. Many people in the medical profession disapproved of her work — they thought it was indecent — but most patients were eager to talk. She used these conversations to write On Death and Dying (1969), which became a huge best-seller. In it, she outlined the five stages of grief, specifically when someone is diagnosed with a terminal illness: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Her work also paved the way for hospice care.

It’s the birthday of writer Shirley Ann Grau (books by this author), whose novels and short stories, set in the Deep South, explore the intricacies of race and gender. Grau was born in New Orleans (1929), spent her childhood in Montgomery and Selma, Alabama, and was educated at finishing schools. She says, “I was probably the only 17-year-old who knew precisely how to set a table if I happened to be giving a dinner for the pope.” The head of the English department at Tulane University turned down her request for a teaching position, telling her, “There will be no females in the English Department.” She married a philosophy teacher, began having children, and kept writing, making notes on scraps of paper and holding “noisy conversations” with her characters. Grau corrected the galleys for her first book, The Black Prince, in her pediatrician’s office, as her son was being treated for measles, spreading the papers on the long examination table.

Though considered one of the finest portrayers of relationships between blacks and whites in American literature, Grau says, “I’m interested in people, but not as representative of race. I see people first. I do stories first.” She was just 35 when she won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1965 for The Keepers of the House, about a wealthy white man who marries his black housekeeper.

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®