Wednesday Aug. 17, 2016

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It’s what she does and what her mother did.
It’s what I’d do if I were anything
like her mother’s mother—or if the times
demanded that I work in my garden,
planting rows of beans and carrots, weeding
the pickles and potatoes, picking worms
off the cabbages.
                                                 Today she’s canning
tomatoes, which means there are baskets
of red Jubilees waiting on the porch
and she’s been in the cellar looking for jars.
There’s a box of lids and a heap of gold
rings on the counter. She gets the spices
out; she revs the engine of the old stove.

Now I declare her Master of Preserves!
I say that if there were degrees in canning
she would be summa cum laude—God knows
she’s spent as many hours at the sink peeling
the skins off hot tomatoes as I have
bent over a difficult text. I see
her at the window, filling up the jar,
packing a glass suitcase for the winter.

“Canning” by Joyce Sutphen from First Words. © Red Dragonfly Press, 2010. Reprinted with permission.  (buy now)

On this date in 1982, the first compact discs for commercial release were manufactured in Germany. CDs were originally designed to store and play back sound recordings, but later were modified to store data. The first test disc, which was pressed near Hannover, Germany, contained a recording of Richard Strauss's An Alpine Symphony, played by the Berlin Philharmonic. The first CD commercially produced at the new factory and sold on this date was ABBA's 1981 album The Visitors; the first new album to be released on CD was Billy Joel's 52nd Street, which hit the stores in Japan — alongside the new Sony CD player — on October 1. The event is known as the "Big Bang of digital audio."

Today is the birthday of Irish writer and wit Oliver St. John Gogarty (books by this author), born in Dublin in 1878. Gogarty was a practicing surgeon and throat specialist, which is how he paid the bills, but he much preferred writing poetry, plays, and semi-autobiographical novels, like As I Was Going Down Sackville Street (1937), Tumbling in the Hay (1939), and It Isn't This Time of Year at All (1954). He was a contemporary and sometime friend of James Joyce and was the inspiration for the character Buck Mulligan in Ulysses, much to his annoyance. Their friendship had waned by that time, and he didn't take Joyce seriously as a writer, so he found his lifetime association with the character and the novel irksome. His friendship with W.B. Yeats was more productive and beneficial to him; Yeats produced three of Gogarty's plays at the Abbey Theatre, and the two maintained a close professional relationship and friendship for many years.

It’s the birthday of poet Ted Hughes (books by this author), born in West Riding, Yorkshire (1930). He became noteworthy as a poet in 1957 with the publication of his first collection, The Hawk in the Rain. During a time when most poets were confining themselves to quiet, domestic verses, Hughes wrote about dramatic mythological themes, and often tried to write from the point of view of animals, especially Crow, who features in several of his books. He married poet Sylvia Plath in 1956; she committed suicide in 1963. He administered her literary estate, but didn't talk about her publicly until Birthday Letters (1998), his collection of poems about Plath and their relationship.

Hughes said: "The inmost spirit of poetry, in other words, is at bottom, in every recorded case, the voice of pain — and the physical body, so to speak, of poetry, is the treatment by which the poet tries to reconcile that pain with the world."

It's the birthday of actress and playwright Mae West (books by this author), born in Brooklyn, New York (1893). She became famous for her quippy innuendoes and double entendres. Some of her more notable quotes include: "A dame that knows the ropes isn't likely to get tied up." And, "Between two evils, I like to pick the one I haven't tried before." And, "I used to be Snow White, but I drifted."

Today is the birthday of American soldier, politician, and folk hero David — better known as "Davy" — Crockett, born in Greene County, Tennessee (1786). He was first elected to the state legislature of Tennessee in 1821, and the U.S. House of Representatives in 1827, where he served three nonconsecutive terms in all. He was defeated in 1835 by a peg-legged lawyer named Andrew Huntsman, and gave up politics, saying, "Since you have chosen to elect a man with a timber toe to succeed me, you may all go to hell and I will go to Texas." He left the next day, and he was killed at the Battle of the Alamo the following year.

Although he was a skilled hunter and marksman, and had a reputation for telling tall tales, much of his rustic frontier image was a product of political spin. On his way to Congress, he reportedly bragged to a crowd, "I'm that same David Crockett, fresh from the backwoods, half-horse, half-alligator, a little touched with the snapping turtle; can wade the Mississippi, leap the Ohio, ride upon a streak of lightning, and slip without a scratch down a honey locust [tree]." His legend was cemented by the Davy Crockett Almanack, a series of humorous books published from 1835 to 1856.

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