What's great about the Ken Burns clip (below) from his PBS series, The Civil War, is that it establishes a historical and emotional context for understanding how President Lincoln must have felt when he delivered his now famous speech, known around the world for its eloquence and truth. Actor Sam Waterston gets it right, I think, when he recites the speech near the end of the clip. But its a speech that belongs now to each of us. If you don't already know about learntheaddress.org, today's 150th anniversary provides a perfect opportunity to hear celebrities like Rachel Maddow, Uma Thurman, Bill O'Reilly, President Obama, and dozens of unsung, everyday Americans recite this amazing speech. You can visit the site, watch the others, and record your own recitation by clicking here.
We think of San Francisco as such a free-spirited place, it's hard to believe one of its best known poets was raised as a "hellfire Calvinist" there. Perhaps that's why she is so loved. Because she escaped. Born this day in 1942, she shares a birthday with another important poet, Allen Tate, who was born in Kentucky in 1899 and, with John Crow Ransom, established The Fugitive literary magazine and helped lay the groundwork for the New Criticism, which relies on close reading of the literary work itself without regard for the author's background. The poems of Sharon Olds stand up very well to that kind of scrutiny, but they also draw heavily on the details of her own difficult childhood. I'm especially fond of "The Summer-Camp Bus Pulls Away from the Curb," which ends with these words: "Everything that's been done to him, he will now do. Everything that's been placed in him
will come out, now, the contents of a trunk unpacked and lined up on a bunk in the underpine light." But her poems are also very funny. No wonder the audience in this clip can't keep from giggling as she reads, "Douche Bag Ode."
Once known for a certain "boyish" quality, Dick Cavett turns 77 today. Back when television was still in its twenties, his was the most refreshing talk show on the airwaves. It's easy to find DVD collections from the program, which feature his still-interesting interviews with John Lennon, Katherine Hepburn, Truman Capote, and just about anybody worth listening to then or now. Here's a clip from his interview with Alfred Hitchcock, who tells of being traumatized by his mother. That show's opening, which Cavett alludes to in his introduction, is a clever send-up of the opening to Hitchcock's own TV series. Author John Irving once said, "The best joke is not the one most people laugh at. The best joke is the one the best people laugh at." This was not an attempt to justify snobbery but an acknowledgement that some "jokes" require a little background if their cleverness is to be appreciated fully. In any case, it was this quality that set Cavett's show apart from all the others. And still does to this day.