10 December 2012

countdown to new year’s: round 1, day 2

Welcome to day two of the first round of Countdown to New Year’s dates! I had a nice, long weekend to think about who would win the first day of dates... time that the rest of the dates this week won’t be blessed with. Today, tomorrow, and Wednesday of this week will see the last three days of dates for round one, which means a much faster turnaround for winners and eliminations.

Today will begin with the three dates for today, and end with the announcement of the winners from Day 1. I hope you enjoy reading today’s dates and learning who the winners are!

Let’s get started! (Don't forget to follow along on the round one bracket!)

Breakfast Date: Pablo Neruda versus T.S. Eliot

Pablo and Thomas meet me at a local bakery for breakfast. Pablo (July 12, 1904 – September 23, 1973) begins by telling us of his youth in Chile, and confesses his birth name was actually Neftalí Reyes Basoalto. Despite his father’s disapproval of his writing career, Pablo pursued writing in his early teens. He admits his writing career, while priceless personally, didn’t produce much revenue into his twenties; he began doing diplomatic service in his twenties to alleviate some of his financial strains. He says he hopes we won’t judge him for his communist ideology—we don’t—and tells us of his time in exile in Mexico, and recommends we watch the 1994 classic Il Postino which fictitiously chronicles his 1952 stay in Capri. In a pre-date interview, Gabriel García Márquez described Pablo as the “greatest poet of the 20th century in any language.”

As we casually nosh on buttery croissants and tea, Thomas (September 26, 1888 – January 4, 1965) tells us that despite being American-born, he was a naturalized British subject from 1927, having moved there at age 25 thirteen years earlier. His love of literature began in his youth, a time in which he was often isolated due to severe physical limitations. Not fond of university—he says of his time in Oxford that “Oxford is very pretty, but I don’t like to be dead”—he speaks more fondly of meeting Ezra Pound in London in 1914. He says his poetry is often based in an expression of personal difficulties, stream of consciousness thought, and various elements of the human condition. He blushes upon learning that, in a pre-date interview, Ezra Pound described him as someone “worth watching.”

As breakfast ends, Pablo hands me a copy of “Tie Your Heart at Night to Mine, Love”, while Thomas gives his “Portrait of a Lady”.

After reading both poets’ poems, which one wins the right to be the butter on your toast?

Lunch Date: William Wordsworth versus Arna Bontemps

Right around noon I meet William and Arna at an outside café we’ve agreed upon since it is unseasonably warm. After we order, William (April 7, 1770 – April 23, 1850) shares that he was born in the Lake District of England. He says it was his father who taught him poetry. He self-describes his poetry as “experimental,” and credits fellow poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge with helping him develop his theories of poetry. He laughs as he discusses his days with Coleridge and Robert Southey as the “Lake Poets,” but also talks seriously about his belief that poetry is “the spontaneous overflow of powerful emotions recollected in tranquility.” He smiles when he learns that Coleridge described him, in a pre-date interview, as “a very great man – the only man, to whom at all times and in all modes of excellence I feel myself inferior.”

While we wait for some after-lunch tea to arrive, Arna (October 13, 1902 – June 4, 1973) shares some of his personal history. Born in Louisiana, his family would move to Los Angeles when he was three-years-old; he would later move to New York to teach at the Harlem Academy. It was in New York that he met his role model, Langston Hughes. Despite beginning his literary career as a poet, he pursued other genres as well, including fiction; he wrote novels, as well as children’s books meant to “reach young readers not yet hardened or grown insensitive to man’s inhumanity to man.” In a pre-date interview, Kirkland C. Jones simple referred me to the title of his book on Arna, describing him as a “Renaissance Man.”

As we wait for the check, William hands me a copy of “Why art thou silent! Is thy love a plant”, and Arna gives me his “Reconnaissance”.

Considering both poems, which poet would get to be the sugar in your tea?

Dinner Date: James Weldon Johnson versus Countee Cullen

James, Countee, and I meet at a quiet Italian restaurant for dinner. James (June 17, 1871 – June 26, 1938) toys with the silver ring around his napkin as he tells us of his childhood in Jacksonville, Florida. He shares how his mother imparted him with her love for English literature, while it was his father’s professional accomplishments that made him want to pursue a professional career of his own. He worked as a consul, a civil rights activist, songwriter, and in education, among other things. We can see the pride in his face as he tells us he was the first African American admitted to the Florida Bar Exam since Reconstruction. In a pre-date interview, Robert A. Bone described him as a “true artist [who succeeded in] subordinating racial protest to artistic considerations.”

Countee (May 30, 1903 – January 9, 1946) shares some of his story as we tuck into dinner. Not detailing much about his childhood, he begins with his time at New York University, where he won second prize in the Witter Bynner undergraduate poetry contest in 1923. He would go on to study poetry at Harvard. He describes poetry as raceless, though he admits he did see it as an important outlet for speaking to racial prejudice and racism in America. By 1929 he could boast having several books of poetry in print. He shares that his experience as part of both black and white cultures, and his success in both cultures, led him to his belief that art transcends race, and could therefore be used as an outlet to close the gap between the races. It is James, in a pre-date interview, who describes Countee as a poet who “brings forth poetry that contains the quintessence of race consciousness.” In fact, throughout dinner, the pair spends a little more time talking to each other about their poetic aesthetics than they do to me (which I don’t mind).

As dinner ends and we wait for dessert, James presents me with his “A Poet to His Baby Son” and Countee hands me a copy of his “Lines to My Father”.

Once you’ve read both poets’ offerings, which poet would get to be the cherry on your ice cream sundae?

Your Turn: Feel free to share your picks for today’s winners in the comments below! Who wins the day, and why? (Bonus points for foodie puns!)

:Day 1 Winners:

Breakfast: Despite the summery warmth of Lewis Grandison Alexander’s “Effigy,” it was the soft glow of wintery love in Robert Hayden’s “Those Winter Sundays that stole my heart.

Lunch: Jupiter Hammon’s devotion caused my heart some commotion, but Shel Silverstein’s “No Difference conquered my heart’s resistance.
Dinner: A few lines of Etheridge Knight’s haiku took my notice, but Robert Creeley’s “A Wicker Basket made me wish I could ride in the back of that poetic Cadillac with him under the stars.


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Check out the previous days of the Our Lost Jungle Countdown to New Year's:


  1. Ack! I must have missed a post. Oh well, I can cast my vote now.

    I watched Il Postino at the theatres on Ala Moana Blvd that no longer exist. I can still smell the popcorn so Neruda can certainly butter me up.

    Arna Bontemps can put a little sugar in my bowl or is it a donut in my tea (blues song references). Wordsworth peaked too early and never had eyes for anyone but sis. I'll stay clear of that family drama.

    Countee gets the cherry. Mixed racial issues are in my blood, literally and figuratively. And I don't mind hearing interesting talk. It needn't be all about me ...or him. I'll take the world.

    1. Oh, Lara, major bonus points to you for not only bringing in food but also for getting things steamier than a latte machine! Thanks for your input. (And don't worry--you only missed one day!)


Thank you so much for your comments! Please feel free to share your thoughts here; I look forward to engaging in conversation with you!

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