From The Writer's Almanac:
Poetry as "prayer": It's the birthday of the poet Peter Davison, born in New York City (1928). He said, "Poetry was invented as a mnemonic device to enable people to remember their prayers ... so that we could remember what we had thought or what we had compiled ... [to connect] sense to mind to memory to rhythm to emotion."
An amazing thing to do:It was on this day in 1829, the Englishman James Smithson died. Even though he'd never been to America, he left behind a will that provided the money to found the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.
Fame comes late to the party: It was on this day in 1928, Sylvia Beach invited James Joyce and Scott Fitzgerald to dinner at her apartment over her Paris Bookstore Shakespeare & Company. Fitzgerald became drunk. He said he was such a fan of Joyce's that he would throw himself out the window to prove it.
Neither writer was having much success. Fitzgerald had just published The Great Gatsby, and it had not been selling well. Joyce's Ulysses wouldn't be published outside of Paris for another five years. Both men died 13 years later, less than a month apart, with no money and very few readers.
It's the birthday of poet Frank O'Hara, (books by this author) born in Baltimore (1926). He wanted to be a pianist, but went to Harvard, where he met the poets John Ashbery and Kenneth Koch who persuaded him to write poems.
He moved to New York City in 1951 and got a job selling postcards at the Museum of Modern Art. He worked his way up to becoming one of the curators. He fell in love with the abstract art of the '50s. He believed that poems should be improvisational, like action paintings with random references. He said, "You just go on your nerve." At the height of his career, he wrote constantly. He stuffed his poems into his desk drawers, often forgetting about them.