1. Happy birthday to poet Sharon Olds, who spent a day with us at Western Reserve Academy on Wed., April 19, 2006. Got her to sign some books!
from Writer's Almanac: It's the birthday of poet Sharon Olds (books by this author), born in San Francisco (1942). She loved writing, and for a while she wrote fiction. She said: "But then when I moved to New York, I realized that I wasn't comfortable making stuff up. I had had it with angels and demons who (if your faith was strong enough) you believed were in the room with you. I'd had enough of fiction."
She got a Ph.D. at Columbia University, writing a dissertation about Emerson. The day she finished, she stood on the steps of the Columbia library and told herself that she was going to pursue her own poetry, no matter how bad it was. She said, "Poems started pouring out of me and Satan was in a lot of them. Also toilets." She had a tough time getting them published. After she submitted her first poem, about her family, she said: "They told me: 'This is a literary magazine. If you wish to write about this sort of subject, may we suggest The Ladies' Home Journal.'"She finally published her first book, Satan Says(1980), when she was 37 years old. Since then she has published more than 10 books of poetry, including The Sign of Saturn (1991), Blood, Tin, Straw (1999), Strike Sparks (2004) and, most recently, Stag's Leap (2012), about the end of her 30-year marriage. Stag's Leap won the Pulitzer Prize and the T.S. Eliot Prize.
She said: "Whenever we give our pen some free will, we may surprise ourselves. All that wanting to seem normal in regular life, all that fitting in falls away in the face of one's own strange self on the page. [...] Writing or making anything - a poem, a bird feeder, a chocolate cake - has self-respect in it. You're working. You're trying. You're not lying down on the ground, having given up."
2. It's also the birthday of the Gettysburg Address--an address I've been memorizing this week (an odd coincidence).
From Writer's Almanac: On this date in 1863, Abraham Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address at the dedication of the Soldiers' National Cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. It was four and a half months after the devastating battle, and it was a foggy, cold morning. Lincoln arrived about Around , the sun came out as the crowds gathered on a hill overlooking the battlefield. A military band played, a local preacher offered a long prayer, and the headlining orator, Edward Everett, spoke for more than two hours. Everett described the Battle of Gettysburg in great detail, and he brought the audience to tears more than once. When Everett finished, Lincoln spoke.
Now considered one of the greatest speeches in American history, the Gettysburg Address ran for just over two minutes, fewer than 300 words, and only 10 sentences. It was so brief, in fact, that many of the 15,000 people that attended the ceremony didn't even realize that the president had spoken, because a photographer setting up his camera had momentarily distracted them. The next day, Everett told Lincoln, "I wish that I could flatter myself that I had come as near to the central idea of the occasion as you did ."
There are several versions of the speech, and five different manuscript copies; they're all slightly different, so there's some argument about which is the "authentic" version. Lincoln gave copies to both of his private secretaries, and the other three versions were re-written by the president some time after he made the speech. The Bliss Copy, named for Colonel Alexander Bliss, is the only copy that was signed and dated by Lincoln, and it's generally accepted as the official version for that reason.