The end of April meant the end of National Poetry Month, but the poems and the poetry continue. There is simply too much good stuff to fit into one month, and my awareness of National Poetry Month set me off on a long-term journey of poetry reading, painting, and videos (see below). I hope that your interest in poetry got peaked and will continue to grow.
And speaking of growing, the garden now has sprouts of corn, beans, cucumbers, potatoes, and onions. The okra will follow soon. I’ll keep you posted.
The book projects also continue to grow, and one has come to fruition — as you will discover if you read on.
Meanwhile, I hope that you have had a great week and are beginning a wonderful weekend.
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Casey at the Bat
The most famous baseball poem in history is Casey at the Bat by Ernest Lawrence Thayer. Its subtitle is “A Ballad of the Republic Sung in the Year 1888.” The poem was first published in the San Francisco Chronicle and tells the story of one game of the baseball team of Mudville and its mighty hitting star Casey. With Mudville behind by two runs and two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning, the crowd believes that if Casey could bat, he could save the game. Unfortunately, there are two batters ahead of Casey, and as the poem says, one is a “lulu” and the other is a “cake.”
Miraculously, both batters get hits, and Casey comes to the plate, cool and confident — so confident that he allows the pitcher to throw two strikes without trying to hit them. On the third pitch, Casey swings and strikes out — thus prompting the most famous line in the poem: “There is no joy in Mudville, the mighty Casey has struck out.”
One of the obvious inspirations for Casey was Mike “King” Kelly, the best and most famous baseball player of the day. Once he left baseball, Kelly had a vaudeville career in which he occasionally recited the poem. The poem might have faded from public memory except for DeWolf Hopper, another vaudevillian who recited the poem to such acclaim that it became a permanent part of his act. By his own count, Hopper recited the poem more than 10,000 times during his career.
The poem has become a permanent part of the culture, appearing in books, films, television shows, animated cartoons and much more.
The latest iteration is a five-and-a-half minute video where I recite the poem as a voiceover for painting this watercolor. You can see that video on Facebook or here: http://bit.ly/Thayer-CaseyattheBat
Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun, Marie Antionette’s favorite artist and the woman who changed portrait painting (part 2)
When Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun fled Paris with her small daughter in October 1789, she felt that her life might be in danger — and she was probably right. Élisabeth had been the unofficial portraitist for the French royal family. She had painted more than 50 portraits of them and was most especially noted for her paintings of the hated Marie Antionette.
The king, queen, and family had been arrested by the revolutionary powers that held sway in France. The Terror had not yet begun, but many who were there saw it coming. Élisabeth was one of them. So, she set out on an arduous stagecoach journey to Italy, leaving behind her husband, many paintings, and a rich clientele.
What she had with her, in addition to her daughter and some possessions, were her reputation and, most importantly, her talent.
Élisabeth spent the next two years in various cities in Italy: Venice, Parma, Florence, and Rome among them. She taught her school of painting and again had the rich and famous for clients. Among them was Lady Emma Hamilton, the beautiful and bold mistress of Lord Nelson, who sat for several portraits and served as a model for Elisabeth to try various genres of painting
In the mid-1790s, Èlisabeth traveled and lived in Austria and the German provinces, again painting portraits of those well-heeled enough to pay her prices. She continued to develop her style and technique. She produced her own pigments and paints and thus put colors on her canvasses that no other artist could match. She continued to travel north, and in 1795 she found herself in Russia, where she stayed for six years. Catherine the Great commissioned her to paint a portrait of her beloved granddaughters but was highly displeased with the result, complaining that the girls’ nearly sleeveless dresses showed too much skin. Èlisabeth repainted the portrait.
By 1801, Èlisabeth was ready to return home to Paris, and France was ready to have her. After 12 years of exile, she found that France was less enthralled by her work than when she left. She was still able to receive commissions, and she still traveled widely because of her reputation. But the social structures had changed as well, and she found Paris less inviting. She purchased a house outside of Paris and continued to paint and exhibit her work.
When she passed the age of 70, she composed a three-volume autobiography of her life, and she died in 1842 at the age of 86. During her life she produced 660 portraits and 200 landscapes, and today they hang in galleries and museums around the world.
An excellent video about her life is on Amazon Video and free to Amazon Prime members.
Poems and Paintings — the videos
I have posted two more videos of poetry and painting this week, and I have a request of you faithful newsletter readers:
I plan to continue doing these for a while — they’re lots of fun — but I need a name for the series. Poetry and Painting just doesn’t do it for me, and I’m looking for something a bit livelier. So, send me your suggestions. I’ll keep this open through the month of May, and the top three suggestions will receive a small gift from me — a hand-turned wooden pen like the ones pictured here.
Here’s the complete list of videos so far:
Casey at the Bat by Ernest Lawrence Thayer: http://bit.ly/Thayer-CaseyattheBat
The Old Clock on the Stairs by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow: http://bit.ly/HWL-TheOldClock
Evening Star and Annabel Lee by Edgar Allan Poe: http://bit.ly
Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard by Thomas Gray: http://bit.ly
My Heart and I by Elizabeth Barrett Browning: http://bit.ly/EBB-myheartandi
The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe: http://bit.ly/poe-theraven
Sonnet 18 by William Shakespeare: http://bit.ly/shakespeare-sonnet18
And more are on the way.
The Prolific Reader. Kill the Quarterback is listed there along with some other great mysteries.https://theprolificreader.com/mystery”
King Richard and the legend of Robin Hood
If you had asked me, as a boy growing up in the 1950s and 60s, to name some of the kings and queens of England, I probably could have come up with two. One was Elizabeth II, the then current queen (she still is) and someone whom my mother admired greatly.
The other would have been Richard I, Richard the Lion-hearted. That’s because I was addicted to the story of Robin Hood. Not only did I read the books, comic books, and the like, but there was also a television series in the mid-1950s that gave life to Robin, Maid Marian, Little John, Friar Tuck, the Sheriff of Nottingham, and, of course, the evil King John.
The continuing premise of the show — and the story of Robin Hood — is that everyone (except King John, the sheriff, and their minions) is awaiting the return of King Richard from the Crusades. When that happens, England will be restored to her green and happy state.
In reality, Richard I, and second son of Henry II, spoke very little English and spent only about six months in England when he was its king. The kingdom ruled by the Plantagenet monarchs consisted of much of France as well as England at the time, and many in the family were more interested in the French provinces than in England. Richard, young and handsome, was a popular figure but also a warrior king and spent much of his short life (1157-1199) conducting crusades to the Middle East.
The story of Robin Hood elevated Richard’s status to one of the great kings of England. It shows the power of narrative over fact. The legend of Robin Hood is an important one for our culture and worth exploring, which will happen in future newsletters.
Foothills Voices, volume 2, set of launch on May 9
From the Blount County Public Library:
The second volume of Foothills Voices: Echoes of Southern Appalachia will be unveiled on Thursday, May 9, at 7 p.m. in the Sharon Lawson room of the Blount County Public Library. Twelve writers from the East Tennessee region tell twelve stories – true stories of love, family, joy, and heartbreak – in the latest volume of Foothills Voices: Echoes of Southern Appalachia, produced by the Blount County Public Library and set for publication in April.
The voices in this volume echo with a pitch, tone, and diversity that reflects the Appalachian region itself. They include
- the sounds of thunderous singing of music sung just as it was two centuries ago;
- the almost imperceptible scratching of a pen used by an octogenarian grandmother as she writes a journal for her grown children;
- the soft sounds of books being shelved in a library where children are laughing in the background;
- the tall but largely true tale of two moonshiners, one who comes off the mountain and another who doesn’t.
The Foothills Voices project, begun in 2016 by the Blount County Public Library, is supported by the Blount County Friends of the Library and is part of the library’s Southern Appalachian Studies Center. The first volume of Foothills Voices was published in 2017.
The chapters in this latest volume of Foothills Voices deal with aspects of Appalachian life from intimate family stories to global issues as they played out in these hills and valleys. There’s life and death here. Sometimes the death is planned or much anticipated; sometimes it’s a surprise.
There is also work in these pages: the nurse who cares for the mentally ill, the member of the road-building crew, the grave-digger, and the dairy farmer. There’s the artist turned teacher who gained prominence as a librarian. There’s the farm boy turned soldier whose faith saw him through weeks of combat. There’s the woman who tended her garden with such care, intelligence, and strength of will that it became a tourist attraction.
“These stories reflect a region whose vibrancy and depth has sometimes been stereotyped inaccurately and unfairly,” Jim Stovall, the editor of this volume, said. Stovall is the library’s writer-in-residence. “The people of southern Appalachia know who and what is here. We hope that this volume of Foothills Voices will help articulate the stories and lives of this region and will help others to share in the joy that life in this region offers.” The volume is scheduled for publication by April 15. Copies will be available for purchase at the library and on Amazon in print, ebook, and audiobook formats.
Open to the public, this program is hosted by the Blount County Public Library, located at 508 N. Cusick Street, Maryville, where services are an example of your tax dollars at work for you.
For further information about library programs or services, call the library at (865) 982-0981 or visit the Web site at www.blountlibrary.org . To sign up to receive a monthly calendar by email, go to the library’s Home Page and go to What’s Happening? on the Menu Bar. Then under News and Events click on Join Calendar Email List. Also check out Facebook at “Blount County Public Library,” Twitter at “Blount_Library,” and Instagram at “bcplibrary.”
Finally . . .
Best quote of the week:
A musician must make music, an artist must paint, a poet must write, if he is to be ultimately at peace with himself. What one can be, one must be. Abraham Maslow, psychologist (1908-1970)
Helping those in need
Fires in California, hurricanes on the Atlantic Coast — disasters occur everywhere. They have spread untold misery and disruption. The people affected by them need our help.
It’s not complicated. Things happen to people, and we should be ready to do all the good we can in all of the ways we can. (Some will recognize that I am paraphrasing John Wesley here).
When is the last time you gave to your favorite charity? The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR.org) is my favorite charity. Please make a contribution to this one or to yours.
Keep reading, keep writing (especially to me), and have a great weekend.
His Amazon author page is where you can find more information about his books.
Last week’s newsletter: Marie Antionette’s female portraitist, videos, Mendelssohn, and the battle of Antietam: newsletter, April 26, 2019
Ridge Running: A Memoir of Appalachia (repeated from last week)
My good friend Chris Wohlwend, an award-winning big-city journalist, has just published a memoir of his life growing up in Knoxville titled Ridge Running: A Memoir of Appalachia.
I had the privilege of helping Chris get this thing into print and ebook form, so I can tell you that it is an interesting, humorous, and engaging book to read. I have known Chris since our undergraduate days in the late 1960s at the University of Tennessee. I worked on the student daily, the UT Daily Beacon, and later at the Knoxville News-Sentinel, the city’s afternoon newspaper, while Chris was on the copydesk of the Knoxville Journal, the morning newspaper at the time.
This volume of Ridge Running tells many tales of those years in the newspaper business when the menagerie of characters included boxers, bettors, moonshiners, preachers, Playboy playmates, and even a president (of the United States). Chris tells it all with verve, wit, and wisdom.
Chris left Knoxville in 1972 for the greener journalistic pastures of places like Louisville, Charlotte, Kansas City, Dallas, Atlanta, and Miami. He has returned to Knoxville but still travels hither and yon to write an occasional article for the New York Times.
Take a look at Ridge Running. You’ll like what you see.
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