Did You Know?


Please click on each artist’s name for access to an initial website with further information about the person. Multiple websites are available for all of the artists.


Maya Angelou was once a streetcar conductor.  As a high school student in San Francisco, she was the first ever African American conductor.  Recognized as one of America’s great contemporary poets, she is also accomplished as an actress, a newspaper editor (once upon a time in Cairo), and a college teacher. http://mayaangelou.com


W. H. Auden was interested in mining as a young boy and wanted to become a mining engineer.  He credited his experience as a choirboy as fostering his sensitivity to language.  Being interested in science, politics, and study of the mind—all reflected in his poetry—he disliked Romantic poetry because of its emotionalism and dismissed John Keats and Percy Bysshe Shelley as “Kelly and Sheets.”  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/W._H._Auden


Elizabeth Bishop lost her parents at a very young age and thereafter felt like a “guest” in the presence of her relatives. Marianne Moore, whom she met when both were students at Vassar College, was a close mentor.  She was often considered a “poet’s poet” and, although a somewhat obscure person in the world of American literature for much of her life, became more fully recognized as one of America’s most important poets in the years preceding her death in 1979. http://www.poets.org/poet.php/prmPID/7


Lewis Carroll was born Charles Lutwidge Dodgson.  He created his pen name by translating Charles Lutwidge into Latin (Carolus Lodivicus) which he then anglicized.  The Library of Congress of the U.S. holds Carroll’s scrapbook containing some 130 items that he collected between 1855-1872. http://www.heureka.clara.net/art/carroll.htm


John Ciardi wrote his own epitaph:  Here, time concurring (and it does); /Lies Ciardi.  If no kingdom come, /A kingdom was.  Such as it was /This one beside it is a slum. http://www.ncte.org/library/NCTEFiles/About/Awards/Ciardi.pdf


Emily Dickinson was known as the “nun of Amherst” because she lived most of her life as a recluse and dressed only in white.  She wrote 1800 poems, but published only seven during her lifetime.  Her great grandfather founded Amherst College. http://www.poets.org/poet.php/prmPID/155


George Eliot’s real name was Mary (Marian) Evans.  She took a male pen name so as to be taken seriously as a writer at a time when women were commonly thought suited only to frivolous things.  Although her first book, Adam Bede, was a huge success, some castigated her when they learned the author was a woman. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Eliot


Irving Feldman, Brooklyn-born, a merchant seaman and farm hand in his younger years, is a retired college professor. Among his many awards is a MacArthur Fellowship (known as “the Genius award), given in 1992. These awards are given to recognize extraordinary past achievement. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Irving_Feldman


Robert Frost was first published in London.  For 10 years in his early years he worked a farm in New England bought for him by his grandfather.  He said of poetry: “A poem begins with a lump in the throat; a home-sickness or a love-sickness.  It is a reaching-out toward expression; an effort to find fulfillment.  A complete poem is one where an emotion has found its thought and the thought has found the words.”  About teaching, he said; “There are two kinds of teachers: the kind that fill you with so much quail shot that you can’t move, and the kind that just give you a little prod behind and you jump to the skies.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Frost


D.H. Lawrence was a prolific writer of novels and poetry despite his short life of 44 years. He once wrote that “if there weren’t so many lies in the world…I wouldn’t write at all.”  He led a tumultuous life, moving from country to country, coping with health issues, and passionately engaged in affairs of the heart.  He lived for a time in his late life as a rancher in Taos, New Mexico.  Lady Chatterly’s Lover, one of his last great works, was banned in the United States until 1959. http://www.dh-lawrence.org .


Henry Wadsworth Longfellow translated poetry from 18 different languages.  At the age of 13, he published his first poem, The Ballet of Lovell’s Pond, on the front page of Maine’s Portland Gazette.  It was signed Henry and told of a battle between colonists and Indians.  The boy was discouraged, but not for long, when he overheard his father tell a friend that it was “terrible.” http://www.hwlongfellow.org/ 


Georgia O’Keeffe called New Mexico “my land.”  She called Sante Fe, where she lived for decades, “The Faraway.”  She lived to age 98.  In her declining years, painting became difficult due to her failing eyesight.  She said about the loss of her sight: “I will not be able to see this beautiful country anymore…unless the Indians are right and my spirit will walk here after I’m gone.” http://www.okeeffemuseum.org/


Dorothy Parker left her estate to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and named Lillian Hellman her executor.  In 1988, her remains were placed in a memorial garden outside the Baltimore headquarters of the NAACP. The plaque reads:  Here lie the ashes of Dorothy Parker (1893–1967) humorist, writer, critic.  Defender of human and civil rights.  For her epitaph she suggested, 'Excuse my dust'.  This memorial garden is dedicated to her noble spirit which celebrated the oneness of humankind and to the bonds of everlasting friendship between black and Jewish people. http://www.dorothyparker.com


Edna St. Vincent Millay's middle name was given as a tribute to New York City’s renowned St. Vincent’s Hospital, which was credited with saving an uncle in 1892 after he had been locked in a ship’s hold for several days without food or water. That hospital, after more than 160 years of illustrious service from its base in Greenwich Village, was closed in 2010 due to economic downturns in the health care industry. Its doctors and services were absorbed by the New York University Medical Center. The Millay House, located at 75 ½ Bedford Street in Greenwich Village, is one of New York City’s tourist attractions. The 4-story townhouse is the narrowest building in the City at only 15 feet wide. It was put on the market for sale in 2011 at $4.3 million (see floor plan and interior). In late 2013, it sold for $3.25 million to George Gund. Millay—or Vincent as her friends called her—lived there when she wrote her Pulitizer-Prize-winning Ballad of the Harp-Weaver. http://www.poets.org/poet.php/prmPID/160 and http://www.millay.org


Dylan Thomas was an aircraft gunner during World War II.   In the early 1950’s, he gave more than 100 poetry readings in universities and other settings across the U.S.  While residing in New York City’s Greenwich Village, a favorite hangout was The White Horse Tavern, which still exists on Hudson Street.  He died in St. Vincent’s Hospital in NYC. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dylan_Thomas


Chase Twichell, American poet, teacher, and publisher, and resident of New York City. She was once a student at the Zen Mountain Monastery and many of her poems reflect that influence. She wrote: "Zazen and poetry are both studies of the mind. I find the internal pressure exerted by emotion and by a koan to be similar in surprising and unpredictable ways. Zen is a wonderful sieve through which to pour a poem. It strains out whatever's unessential." Ed. Note: Zen seems at times a positive influence in Twichell's life and at times an excessively constraining one. Her poem How Zen Ruins Poets seems to suggest that in "straining out the unessential," the heart of the poem and a person are stripped of their full life force and poetic impulse. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chase_Twichell


Walt Whitman was a scrivener.  His handwriting and signature initials were found recently on thousands of documents copied by hand when he was a government clerk in Washington, according to Whitman scholar Kenneth Price.  The papers he copied dealt with a wide range of issues – such as the Ku Klux Klan, the trial of Jefferson Davis, and westward railway expansion.  He worked in the Army paymaster’s office, the attorney general’s office, and Bureau of Indian Affairs.  He was fired from the Bureau because his boss considered “Leaves of Grass” immoral.  [New York Times Sunday Opinion, April 17, 2011]  http://waltwhitman.org (for contests, select Poets and Poetry from the menu)


William Wordsworth (1770-1850) is credited with establishing English romanticism, through such works as Lyrical Ballads (created with his friend and colleague Samuel Coleridge), Tintern Abbey, and The Prelude. In the preface to the second edition of Lyrical Ballads, he championed the need for “common speech” in poems, and many of his poems dealt lyrically with the feelings and language of ordinary everyday people. The Prelude, his most famous work, was published after his death. It deals with the spiritual growth of a poet. www.notablebiographies.com/We-Z/Wordsworth-William.html#b, www.poets.org/poet.php/prmPID/296.


Kevin Young, professor of poetry at Emory University, has published his own award-winning work extensively, and has given many public readings of his work.  Emily Dickinson and Langston Hughes have both greatly influenced him.  He takes some of his inspiration from African-American history and music, and especially the blues.  Time Out New York wrote that: “Like any great blues, Young’s is universal.”  http://www.blueflowerarts.com


Charlotte Zolotow’s  (1915-2013) backyard garden in Westchester, NY, contained flowering thistles planted from seeds from Emily Dickinson’s garden. Charlotte’s first essay was written in first grade from the point of view of her beloved terrier Pudgie, whose mysterious and insensitively explained disappearance apparently had a lifelong impact on her.  Of her dozens of children’s book, she wrote that William’s Doll is her favorite.  She said “As I work with so many different children and realize all their unique gifts, abilities, and needs, I hope for someone to be in each of their lives who celebrates them as an individual.  We all need someone to support us and love us, unconditionally,” which William’s grandmother did for him.  http://www.charlottezolotow.com

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