Tuesday, September 16, 2008

1 comment:

Woolf Joyce said...

it's the birthday of the poet William Carlos Williams, born in Rutherford, New Jersey, in 1883. His father was British and grew up in the West Indies, and his mother was French-Spanish and grew up in Puerto Rico. Williams spent his childhood in Rutherford, but then he went to school at some of the best schools in Switzerland, France, Germany, and the United States. He planned to become a doctor, but he started reading and writing poetry and realized how much he loved it. He considered dropping out of school to write, but he said, "I was determined to be a poet; only medicine, a job I enjoyed, would make it possible for me to live and write as I wanted to." So he became a poet and a doctor.

When he first started writing poetry, Williams was good friends with Ezra Pound. But as time went on, he started to break from writers like Pound and T. S. Eliot because he thought they were trying to be too European. He wanted to write in a very American voice, so even though he had all those years of traveling and studying abroad, he lived most of his life in Rutherford, where he opened his medical practice. He thought that poetry shouldn't be full of fancy allusions and abstract ideas, and that there should be "no ideas but in things." His poems were inspired by the townspeople of Rutherford, especially his patients. A lot of his patients didn't even know that their hardworking doctor — who delivered more than 2,000 babies — spent his nights and weekends writing poems. Those poems were published in books that include Spring and All (1923), Pictures from Brueghel and Other Poems (1962), and the epic five-volume poem Paterson (1946, 1948, 1949, 1951, 1958) about Paterson, New Jersey, the nearest city to his hometown of Rutherford.

He said, "When they ask me, as of late they frequently do, how I have for so many years continued an equal interest in medicine and the poem, I reply that they amount for me to nearly the same thing."

One of his most famous poems is called "The Red Wheelbarrow," and it's only 16 words long:

so much depends
a red wheel
glazed with rain
beside the white

Williams wrote it in about five minutes. He was making a house call, taking care of a very sick young girl, and he looked out the window at a wheelbarrow and chickens.

It's the birthday of the novelist Ken Kesey, born in La Junta, California, in 1935. His parents were dairy farmers, and he liked to fish and hunt and swim. In high school and college, he was a star wrestler and football player. He married his high school sweetheart and he got accepted into the creative writing program at Stanford University. At Stanford, a friend told him that he should participate in a government-funded research project at a nearby hospital, and that they would like Kesey because he was an athlete. So he agreed, and he was given hallucinogenic drugs and asked to report their effects. These drugs included LSD, which was legal at the time. He also worked the night shift at the hospital in a mental ward, and sometimes he could still feel the effects of the drugs when he was working, and one night he had a vision of an Indian sweeping the floor. So he took his experiences with drugs and working in the mental ward, and he smoked peyote and sat down to write, and he wrote One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1962), narrated by a paranoid schizophrenic half-Indian who sweeps the floors of a mental hospital.