Last October Cath Mason and Bob Strozier taught an OLLI course on “New Yorker Poetry,” and this year they’re back with a sequel, “Here We Come! More Poems from the New Yorker,” on Thursday, October 19, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., in the Compton Park Azalea Room. (Call 813-974-5848 to enroll.)
Bob wrote the following introduction to last year’s course, and we offer it here as both a stand-alone love letter to the magazine and as an enticement to enroll in the upcoming course. — Editors
Growing up, I don’t remember reading much poetry in the The New Yorker unless it was by Ogden Nash, high priest of light verse. Remembered, among other things, for: “Candy is dandy/But liquor is quicker.”
And “The Cow.” “The cow is of the bovine ilk/One end is moo, the other, milk.”
Speaking of farm animals, in March of 1976 I happened across a New Yorker poem about a pig that caught me completely off-guard and left me in tears. It was “St. Francis and the Sow,” by Pulitzer Prize winner, Galway Kinnell, which turned out to be one of his greatest poems. I still get teary when I read it.
Are you a U.S. citizen? How do you know you are or are not? “Oh”, you say, “I was born in the U.S.” Well, all right, but it may surprise you to learn that the U.S. is one of only 35 countries that offers birthright citizenship—the vast majority of the nearly 200 countries on the planet do not do so.
So, what is controversial about birthright citizenship? Simply put, one view shared by the Republicans running for president is that birthright citizenship is a vehicle for illegal immigrants seeking entry into the U.S. Leading the pack is former President Donald Trump who has said that if elected in 2024 he will sign an executive order ending automatic citizenship for children born of parents who have illegally entered the U.S. In his view, birthright citizenship results in “anchor babies” who upon reaching the age of 21 can sponsor parents and family members for U.S. entry. Joining former President Trump are Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, and entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy who has said he will add new citizenship requirements. Read more
I was 19, living at home in Tallahassee the summer before I entered college—listening to a radio station that played pop hits. “Whoever calls in first with the answer to this question wins a special prize,” announced the DJ: “What character in French literature has a long nose?” I rushed to the phone—and was right! My prize: three free dance lessons at the local Arthur Murray Studio.
I was welcomed at the studio the next day by a pretty, perky instructor named Ginny, who suggested we take a few spins on the dance floor so she could gauge my skill level. I happily obliged, slinging together an assortment of improvisations on the two-step and trying to cover as much territory as possible.
“Hey, you’re not really mad at me,” I said, gently tugging on his curly chest hair, already graying and smelling so deliciously of him. “Look, look, that’s a smile coming out, I can see it, I can see it!” And, as if my very words cast a magical spell, his facial expression changed. From a puckered brow and a frown, my powers of alchemy brought light into his eyes and a smile broke into blossom on his lips.
He wasn’t mad at me; I could regain my sense of invulnerability, at least in the present moment. Sitting in his lap, I felt at ease, warm, loved, and, above all, safe. Maybe I could even talk him into taking me for a piggyback ride! He would stroll through our small apartment, his strong hands holding on firmly to my ankles, and I would delight in my newfound height, being on top of the world, literally and figuratively! I could gaze intimately at the patterns in the ceiling plaster; I could glory in the texture and feel of the upside-down tulip-shaped light fixture. I was above it all. From this vantage point, I was the monarch of our apartment and thus the whole world -what joy!
That was how it first came to my attention. My beloved hickory walking stick had been unceremoniously dumped in the brown river water, solely to satisfy adolescent curiosity. I don’t know which one of the ten-year-olds said it; nor did I know who actually did the deed. I only knew that my stick was fast disappearing in the swift current of the Trinity River, while I had the forced realization that, while it was a treasured possession – it figuratively represented my authority in the woods – I wasn’t going in after it. Nope. Bad choice. Current too swift, not a good swimmer, it’s just a stick. In that order.
It was the summer of 1973. A year after college graduation, I was making a life for myself on the gritty upper west side of Manhattan in a run-down tenement building occupied by a motley crew of hippies and disillusioned Columbia University graduates. My boyfriend Fred and I shared a fifth-floor walk-up at 105th Street and Columbus Avenue, adjacent to a building controlled by the local drug dealers. Each evening we were serenaded by salsa music emanating from the bodega just across the street, sometimes punctuated by the click, click, click of dominos accompanying excited comments from local Dominican and Puerto Rican players and onlookers.
The PS 52-school yard was completely enclosed with a ten-foot-high chain link fence topped off with barbed wire. Why the barbed wire, I’ll never know. The building and its grounds were a lot worse than some of our present-day work-release facilities. Aside from all that, it was one of the better places to play a good softball game. If we won the game, seven or eight of us would try to go home a little richer. With our game winnings in hand, we would go into the far corner of the schoolyard and shoot penny to nickel craps.
I would imagine I was about fifteen or sixteen at the time. Some old biddy who was being her nosey self, called the police to report the gambling activity. Either this harmless activity during the war years must have been unpatriotic, or perhaps the real New York gangsters were all in the armed services. And sure enough, this old-time paddy wagon backed up to the gate blocking our only exit.
I was born in India and given a name which originated at the time of Alexander the Great, who when reaching the Sindhu River with his armies, could not pronounce the word Sindhu because his language had no sound for the letter “s.” And so, Sindhu became Hindu. The name morphed to India during the British era when a classical education was highly prized. Yet where the classical Greek has the Iliad and the Odyssey, Vedic India has the longer epic poems Mahabharata and Ramayana, texts which explain my first name. The origin of the word Aryan enters modern use after the linguisticlinkage by William Jones in his 1794 translation of the Indian Laws of Manu. Read more
He was her first love. Their romance was mercurial, as many high school romances are.
Lois Wessling, my mom, graduated from Roosevelt High School in Des Moines, Iowa, in the spring of 1939. Ray, her boyfriend, planned to attend local Drake University. Of course, Lois wanted to live near him as a college student, but her parents did not want her to attend Drake and be near Ray. Lois came up with a Plan B: she was accepted at Iowa State University in Ames, 35 miles north of Drake, so she and Ray could visit each other on the weekends. One problem with Lois’ plan was that she chose home economics as her major. Her family was wealthy enough to have live-in maids, so she had not honed any domestic skills. Nevertheless, Lois prepared for her move to Iowa State in September.
One August evening at dinner with her parents, Lois’ future changed forever.
I remember it as though it was yesterday. My 5-year-old life changed during WW II when I saw a Navy Fighter–probably a Corsair–buzz the neighborhood. My aviation career started very early that morning. l was sitting on the front steps and watched the sleek fighter make a low pass over our house. In retrospect it was that lucky early morning moment that set my course for the future; from a Huckleberry Finn in the Bronx to over six thousand hours in the cockpit in all types of aircraft. My favorite: fighters! But I also logged thousands of hours in bombers, tankers, commercial planes, helicopters, gliders, seaplanes and flight trainers.