Wednesday, March 31, 2021

April's Reminder to Enjoy Poetry

Photo credit:  Lyn Fenwick

 I don't know who is authorized to declare such things as "April is Poetry Month,...,"  but it raises a question that sounds like something Billy Collins might use to start a poem.

"It occurred to me

on a flight from London to Barcelona

that Shakespeare could have written

'This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England'

with more authority had he occupied

the window seat next to me

instead of this businessman from Frankfurt."

Excerpt from The Bard in Flight

Robert Frost said, "A poem begins as a lump in the throat, a sense of wrong, a homesickness, a lovesickness."  However, not every poet finds inspiration in the same way.

Photo credit:  Lyn Fenwick, "Day After the 4th of July, Waiting for the Trash Man" 

In 1955, Beat Poet Allen Ginsberg was inspired to write "A Supermarket in California."

"What thoughts I have of you tonight, Walt Whitman, for I walked

down the side streets under the trees with a headache self-conscious

looking at the full moon.

In my hungry fatigue, and shopping for images, I went into the 

neon fruit supermarket, dreaming of your enumerations!"

Ginsberg's inspiration may not have been so different from that of Langston Hughes, who said, "I tried to write poems like the songs they sang on Seventh Street...," the block in Harlem where Hughes lived in NYC.

New Generations

Years ago, my husband and I went to a poetry reading where we heard Maxine Kumin read, and in her book that I bought that day is a poem titled, "For My Great-Grandfather:  A message Long Overdue,"  in which she describes the inspiration for the poem.

"...Great-Grandfather, old blue-eyes fox of foxes,

I have three pages of you.  That is all.

1895.  A three-page letter

from Newport News, Virginia, written

on your bleached-out bills of sale under the stern

heading:  Rosenberg The Tailor, Debtor,

A Full Line of Goods Of All The Latest In

Suiting And Pants.  My mother has just been born.

~   *   ~

You write to thank your daughter for the picture

of that sixth grandchild.  There are six more to come."

When I determined to share the journal of Kansas homesteader Isaac Werner at the center of history of the Populist Movement, it was a poem by Walt Whitman that inspired the structure of my book, "Prairie Bachelor."  Isaac's journal did not inspire me to write a poem, but a poet inspired me to structure the history of the Populist Movement through the eyes of a forgotten Kansas homesteader, and to begin the book with a funeral.

Photo credit:  Lyn Fenwick

Poetry comes in many forms, as the short selections I have chosen for this blog illustrate, and poems touch our lives in many ways.  Not everyone appreciates the same poems, nor must each person experience the same poem in the same way.  In his poem, "Music," Ralph Waldo Emerson finds music
"...not only in the rose."

"It is not only in the bird,

Nor only where the rainbow glows,

Nor in the song of a woman heard,

But in the darkest, meanest things

There alway, alway something sings."

Whatever poetry you enjoy, the annual reminder each April offers the opportunity to pull those neglected poetry books off the bookcase.  A poem might be just what you need during this unnatural season of Covid isolation. 


Wednesday, March 24, 2021

What Songs Can Reveal in Today's World


Reproduction of an old player

After last week's post, I discovered in the NYT's online newspaper an informative article that fits well with last week's blog.  (See credits to authors, producer, and animation at the end of this blog.)  It also analyzes the changes in popular music, but it starts with the 1960s, pointing out the structure of songs:  Verse sets the scene; Pre-chorus builds tension; Chorus reaches climax; and cycle begins again.  As an example, they use "Natural Woman," by Aretha Franklin.

An antique cabinet for record albums

According to their analysis, things began to shift in the 2010s.  Certainly in my blog these changes are apparent, but I did not attempt to analyze or interpret  those changes.  The authors suggest expectable generational change + digitalization + less top-down control of the industry + the new streaming economy.  Think back to last week's more recent songs as containing some of the trends these authors describe:  The traditional musician structure is gone; in its place are word repetition and rhyme, and something they refer to as "the hook" is used to draw listeners back.

Album storage might include a radio show

They also suggest a variety of changes that have impacted music, starting with the electronic ability to make music at home, without expensive studios or agents.  Today musicians are generally paid by how often they are listened to on the current formats, in contrast to musicians of the past being paid on the basis of album sales.  They also mention that songs are generally shorter, with length not tied to what is required for a vinyl recording.

Or, the album might hold Columbia or Decca

They close their article with a reminder that before the 1960s the structure of popular songs followed an AABA pattern, citing "Over the Rainbow" as an example.

That reference made me think of those modern day collectors of "Vinyl," who admire the quality and sound of old vinyl records, which sent me in search of the photographs used in this blog.

Every generation has its music.  The images in this blog go back to  my husband and my parents' generation and the reference to modern listeners refers to my nephew's wife, who is collecting vinyl--four generations of music lovers and the music they listened to coming from the 1930s to the 2020s.

Thank you to Nate Sloan and Charlie Harding, co-hosts of the podcast "Switch on the Pop" and co-authors of "Switch on Pop: How Popular Music Works and Why It Matters."  Also, thank you to the New York Times and Nicholas Konrad, producer, and Aaron Byrd, animator, Video by Getty Images (Billie Eilish) who contributed to the March 15, 2021 video that prompted me to supplement last week's blog with comments from the current generation, illustrated with images from my family collections.   

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

What Songs Can Reveal

     Isaac Werner loved music.  Imagine living on a homestead in the late 1800s without a radio or other means of hearing music any way other than live.  What a treat visiting a friend who could play an instrument or going to town to hear a musical performance would be.

    Thinking about that lead me to a reflection on the role of popular songs in our own time and what the hits of each decade can tell about us.  I decided to research the most popular song of the year, beginning in 1950, when "Mona Lisa," sung by Nat King Cole topped the charts, singing " have named you, you're so like the lady with the mystic smile.  Is it only 'cause you're lonely they have blamed you, for that Mona Lisa strangeness in your smile?"

    A decade later, in 1960, the theme from a movie topped the list with the romantic lyrics "There's a Summer Place where it may rain or storm, yet I'm safe and warm, for within that summer place your arms reach out to me, and my heart is free from all care..."

    By 1970 the innocence of the past decade was MIA as Viet Nam impacted the nation.  Simon and Garfunkel recorded "Bridge Over Troubled Waters" as their last song in their last album together.  "When you're weary, feeling small, When tears are in your eyes, I'll dry them all.  I'm on your side."

    The world had changed, and so did music by 1980, the top song was written for a movie about a prostitute, "American Gigolo."  Recorded by Blondie, "Call Me" began with the lyrics "Colour me your colour, baby, Colour me your car.  Colour me your color, darling, I know who you are." 

    By 1990 the most popular song reflected life's difficulties but urged the person being addressed in the lyrics to "Hold On."  Wilson Phillips sang, "I know there's pain.  Why do you lock yourself up in these chains?  No one can change your life except for you.  Don't ever let anyone step all over you." 


Women were speaking up by 2000, but as Destiny's Child reveals in "Say My Name," they are still putting up with bad behavior from their man, declaring, "I am dying to believe you," but admitting "Don't believe a word you said," instead recognizing their man had "Got dishonor in your eyes."

    When Kesha sings "TiK ToK" in 2010, she's got more spunk but not much romance.  "Ain't got a care in the world, but got plenty of beer, Ain't got no money in my pocket, but I'm already here, and now the dudes are linin' up 'cause they hear we got swagger, But we kick 'em to the curb unless they look like Mick Jagger."

    The song topping the charts in 2020 has more romance but reflects the social difficulties of the time in "Blinding Lights."  "I look around and Sin City's cold and empty.  No one's around to judge me.  I can't see clearly when you're gone.  ...I'm drowning in the night, Oh, when I'm like this, you're the one I trust."

    When I began the research for this blog, I didn't expect what I might find after the turn of the century when I started listening more to the classical stations and didn't keep up with popular music.  Of course, this survey does not include country-western, and talk radio has increased in popularity,  displacing music stations.  What I discovered in my research is a reflection of change from decade to decade and from generation to generation.

    I will close with the lyrics from one of my favorite songs from the 1975 movie, "The Way We Were."  It is a love story with a tender but sad ending.  I have always liked the way that the song and the movie describe that life doesn't always give us everything we once thought we wanted, but it does give us beautiful memories.  Sometimes, it gives us even more than we could have dreamed.  So, to those who may never have heard these lyrics from 1973 movie with Barbra Streisand and Robert Redford, here is "The Way We Were."


Light the corners of my mind.

Misty water-colored memories

Of the way we were.

Scattered pictures,

Of the smiles we left behind

Smiles we gave to one another

For the way we were.

Can it be that life was all so simple then?

Or has time re-written every line?

If we had the chance to do it all again

Tell me, would we?  Could we?

Me'ries, may be beautiful and yet

What's too painful to remember

We simply choose to forget.

So it's the laughter

We will remember...

Whenever we remember...

The way we were...

The way we were...


Wednesday, March 10, 2021

The Larabee Story, an Addendum


San Diego Botanic Garden, Photo credit Brittany C.

The tradition of giving back to their community did not end with the death of Joseph B. Larabee (1833-1913).  In fact, his grandson, Charles Larabee, and his wife, Ruth Robertson Baird, have generously given to the people of San Diego a magnificent Botanic Garden.  Their story will serve as a coda to this series about the Larabee family.  The father of Charles was Frederick Delos Larabee (1868-1920), the son of Joseph Delos and Angeline Larabee, and the middle brother of Nora Larabee.  His parents had left Stafford, although the Larabee businesses established by Charles' grandfather continued to be the family business.

Charles and Ruth Robertson Baird grew up within a block of each other in Kansas City, Missouri.  Her parents were also quite successful, and Ruth graduated from Vassar College in 1926, majoring in Latin.  Charles and Ruth married on June 3, 1926, a few days after her graduation.  They both loved adventure and the out-of-doors, and early in their marriage they sailed round trip from Kansas City to Chicago and back, by navigating the Missouri, Mississippi, and Illinois Rivers.  Ruth taught school, and Charles became co-owner of "The Garden Shop," a 40 acre nursery of trees, evergreens, shrubs, and perennials.  He lectured on gardening and trees, and later gained a reputation as a photographer of the Southwest.

In 1942, Ruth bought 10 acres, with a small cottage, in Encinitas, California, and they left their home in the Midwest to move into the modest ranch in California.  Eventually Ruth named the property "El Rancho San Ysidro de las Flores," and they began collecting plants.  Sadly, they divorced, but Ruth remained on the property.

In 1957, Ruth donated the entire 26.5 acres she then owned to the County of San Diego, to be preserved as a park for public enjoyment.  Despite their divorce, Charles continued to take an interest in Ruth's ranch and garden, sometimes adding plants from his travels to the collection.   

Shadow Mountain

Charles managed the Larabee Family Trust until his death in February of 1968.  His name is inscribed on a crypt in the Larabee Family Mausoleum in Stafford, Kansas; however, his two step children removed his ashes and scattered them in the desert from atop Shadow Mountain, which he loved, along with the ashes of their mother, his second wife.

Ruth continued her charitable giving after leaving California and had eventually returned to Shawnee Mission.  On December 26, 1969, Ruth was staying in the Crown Hotel in Saffron Walden, Essex, England, when a fire broke out and she perished.  Her remains were cremated, and she is buried near her mother and father in Forest Hill Cemetery in Kansas City, Missouri.

(Thank you to "Cultivating Their Place in History:  The Story of Ruth and Charles Larabee,)

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

The Larabee Story, Part 4

Nora E. Larabee Library

     Recently, Larry D. Fenwick spent a pleasant afternoon visiting with Jan McKeel, Librarian of the Nora E. Larabee Library in Stafford, Kansas.  Jan shared with him the Memorial published in the Stafford County Republican, June 16, 1904, gifted to the library by the daughter of Drew Hartnett.  The following text is taken from that Memorial, describing not only Nora, but also reflecting the traditions of that era.  Included are the names of many others in the Stafford community and beyond.

Nora E. Larabee

    With the death of Miss Nora Larabee, which occurred at Albuquerque, New Mexico, last Wednesday night, an heroic fight for life against terrible odds has ended, and Death claims the victory.  For over two years the Larabees have carried on a hard fought contest to battle and withstand that most dread disease, consumption, but their efforts were fruitless, anymore than they can feel that they have done all that human hands could possibly do to win.  Money, time and labor have been of no consequence.  Specialists of world-wide repute have been consulted, traveling indulged in, and for the past year or so the parents have lived in the New Mexico health resort with the hope that its dry climate would prove healing and beneficial.

    For some months past they have realized that they were to lose her, and the many friends in and around Stafford have been sympathetic in their sorrow for the great bereavement that was to befall them, and all calmly awaited the coming of the Grim Reaper.

    She is dead, gone to that bourne from whence no traveler returns, yet not forgotten, nor will she ever be, for in her life among us she has builded a character most beautiful.  Her talents were many and her friends legion, and her early death will leave a place vacant in our community that it will take years to fill...may never be filled.  She has grown to womanhood in our midst, got a goodly portion of her education here, after which she was graduated with high honors from the College of the Sisters of Bethany at Topeka.  While never strong and rugged, like many other girls her age, it was not thought until a few months ago that she was to be cut off so young in life, and it seems a great pity that at just the time when she was blooming into the fullness of accomplished womanhood...all the bright world before her, and just when she might enjoy the many blessings and good things at her command, she must give up all...home, parents, brothers, friends!

Center stained glass image

Yet, maybe 'tis best.  Possibly this world is not so beautiful as it seems.  "Tis but the working out of the promise of God, the inevitable hand of fate that rests o'er the destiny of all mankind.  Nora is in a better home, and we're sure out of the pain and misery of human life.

Forbid, oh God, that it should seem sacrilegious to feel a bit hard towards fate for the striking of such a cruel blow.  Permit us the solace that beyond the broad canopy that o'erspreads this sphere there is a heaven...a place where all may find rest; the rest that comforts and heals the broken body, and that will overshadow the pains and heartaches of this mortal life.

Would to God that the writer were able to find words in which to express his innermost feelings as we pencil these lines, and pay a tribute fitting such a worthy individual, but it is impossible.  We can only think of her as good, noble and true to her friendships, of which she had so many; of the days when with the other boys and girls up at the old school house we were wont to play the innocent games of childhood together; of her growing to woman's estate while we grew to man's' of her onward progress, surmounting every obstacle that presented  itself, and that she has now given up this life when fairly started into it beauties.

Her friends will doubtless feel like us in this matter, and the great God in heaven will pardon us all for thoughts of resentment at such an ending.

The parents and brother, Fred D., arrived with the remains on Saturday morning's Santa Fe train, and were met at the depot by a large concourse of friends.  The Bachelor Girls' Club, of which she was one of the original organizers, was there with a most beautiful floral offering, and accompanied the remains to the family home on Union street north, where they were laid in state to be viewed by the friends.

All afternoon Saturday and up until noon Sunday a steady stream of people wended their way to the home of the Larabees to take the last look at all that was mortal, and tender consolation to the bereaved ones.

The room in which she lay was a veritable flower bank.  Among the offerings was a beautiful flower pillow from brothers Frank and Fred; bouquet, H.L. McCurdy and wife, Stafford; bouquet, H.D. McQuade and wife, Kansas City, Mo.; cross and anchor, Bachelor Girls' Club, Stafford; emblem made in shape of the club pin, Cooking Club, Stafford; two large mantels, Mesdames F.S. and F.D. Larabee, Stafford; crescent, C.A. and F.C. McCord, Stafford; heart, E.N. Maxfield and wife, Stafford; box of flowers, Paul E. Webb, Oklahoma City, Ok.; floral box, Mary A. Negley, Stafford; bouquet, Carrie A. Mack, Macksville; bouquet, Mrs. G.W. Maupin, Stafford; bouquet, the LaRue family, Stafford; besides offerings from Mr. and Mrs. Berger, Mr. and Mrs. Allen, and Mrs. Patten of Albuquerque, and others unmarked from Stafford friends.

Portrait of Nora

    The Rev. William Elwood, a former Congregational minister of Stafford, and a brother-in-law of F.D. Larbee, arrived Saturday night from Anthony, Kansas, and conducted the funeral at three o'clock Sunday afternoon.  He was assisted by the Rev. J.G. Smiley of this city.

    A male quartet of Messrs. Frank Mathias, Leroy Van Lehn, J.D. Rippey of Stafford, and Leonard Sanders of Hutchinson, sang two appropriate selections, and Miss Ida Alford sang "Flee, as a Bird."

    The pallbears, Mesdames Kate Crawford, Rose Van Lehn, Edna Oarey, and Misses Hasse Turner, Callie Vioers, and Gertie Sutton, assisted by the honorary pallbearers, Messrs. Hal Wolf, Wright, LaRue, D. Mershon, A. Hartnett and John Bridwell, preceded by Miss M. LaRue, conveyed the beautiful white casket to the hearse.  They were followed by the remaining members of the Bachelor Club, carrying flowers.

The procession was almost a mile in length, and was another evidence of the high esteem in which the deceased was held by our citizens.

Her girl friends of the clubs had most tastily decorated the grave in green and white that morning.

Nora E. Larabee was born in Ashford, N.Y., September 12th, 1878, died in Albuquerque, N.M., June 8th, 1904, and was buried in the Stafford Cemetery Sunday, June 12th.  With her parents and brothers she came to this city in the Spring of 1886.  

Nora E. Larabee Library