Commentaries - November 2008
Leprosy....I'm not half the man I used to be..." A line from Dr. Helen Conrad Davies' song--a ditty she adapted for the purpose of teaching infectious diseases. Helen has long been famous for this course. Apparently every other class or so she sings a song about the disease at hand. I've known Helen for years -- have great respect for her as a reformist teacher and community-maker within the Med School world here at Penn. For one thing, she was the first woman to be hired in microbiology here and has been a pioneer in efforts to make life easy, or at least equitably hard, for women on the faculty. She has for years lived in one of the college houses here, spending whatever time it takes to help lost, confused, even homesick undergrads.
I'd been hearing about her songs for years, and then our Narrative Medicine group, "Word.Doc," invited her to the Writers House to lead a discussion in disease prevention. Of course she sang her songs. A new Kelly Writers House podcast features her intro to leprosy and then a sing-along, to the tune of the Beatles' "Yesterday."
Factlet: "Yesterday" is the most covered song in the history of music. There are some 3,000 versions recorded.
I've heard that the members of the band Yo La Tengo got the group's name from a wonderful anecdote often told by baseball's best language guy, Roger Angell. The story is about bad defense, about the bumbling '62 Mets (they lost an all-time record 120 games!), about the early days of Spanish-speaking players - and (after all) about language.
There's a web page honoring Elio Chacon, the Mets' Venezuelan shortstop that year, a mediocre player at best. On this page are some loving comments about Elio, including one that quickly retells the famous story, so let me defer to this fellow for the summary:
My favorite Met story of all-time involves Elio Chacon. Stop me if you've heard this one... It seems that in 1962, Chacon and CF Richie Ashburn were having a communications problem. On short fly balls they would inevitably collide even after Ashburn would scream "I got it!" After the third or fourth time this happened Ashburn takes Chacon aside and asks him, "Elio, how do you say 'I got it!' in Spanish?" Chacon replies, "yo la tengo!" So the next day a batter hits a short fly to center field. Chacon runs out and Ashburn runs in and Ashburn yells, "yo la tengo! yo la tengo!" So Chacon backs off. Ashburn gets set to make the catch -- and left fielder Gus Bell smashes into him!
In the great Ken Burns 9-part (9 innings, 9 parts) documentary Baseball, Angell re-tells the story. Here's the Angell excerpt (audio only).
As some readers of this blog already know, I had the huge pleasure of hosting Angell's visit to the Writers House a few years ago. There are video and audio recordings of his talk and my hour-long interview with him the next day. Go here. Earlier I wrote something about Angell's wonderful appreciation of the most intimidating pitcher of all time, Bob Gibson.
The newest PennSound podcast show - 16 minutes long - is an excerpt from a longer interview I conducted with Richard Sieburth not long after he completed the major editing work on the complete sound recordings of Ezra Pound for PennSound.
Here is a direct link to the podcast. You can subscribe to PennSound podcast by going to your ITunes Music Store and searching for "PennSound" in the search box.
Back in October, Stephen McLaughlin, Gregory Laynor, and Vladimir Zykov (with help from Jim Carpenter, I believe) published Issue #1, a 3,785-page document featuring almost as many poets. The poets were real; the poems were generated by a computer program. Many poets google themselves, or receive messages called "Google alerts" whenever their names appear anywhere on the web, and so, in short, they found themselves "published" in this "issue." When they read poems they had not themselves written, some were tickled (gotten by the gotcha) while others were angry. Now:
The ISSUE 2 document is a collection of the blog posts and comments that responded to the project and/or responded to responses about the project and/or responded to issues that were raised within the discussion (419 pages).
The BPL document is a collection of the comments that were made on the Buffalo Poetics Listserv regarding Issue 1 in the month of October 2008 (111 pages).
Here's your link.
See "Andy Kaufman as Muse" for my earlier entry on this matter.
Recently my students and I finished up a "chapter" of English 88 on the New York School. The final class in this part of the course was devoted to some collaborative close readings of several poems by John Ashbery: "The Grapevine", "What Is Poetry", and "Hard Times". (Well, the discussion of "Hard Times," due to lack of time at that point, is really just me reading the poem and making a few comments.) A number of people watched the video live on their computers at home and work, and several of them telephoned in to ask questions or make comments. Here's your link to the video recording of the class.