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John Holbo - Editor
Scott Eric Kaufman - Editor
Aaron Bady
Adam Roberts
Amardeep Singh
Andrew Seal
Bill Benzon
Daniel Green
Jonathan Goodwin
Joseph Kugelmass
Lawrence LaRiviere White
Marc Bousquet
Matt Greenfield
Miriam Burstein
Ray Davis
Rohan Maitzen
Sean McCann
Guest Authors

Laura Carroll
Mark Bauerlein
Miriam Jones

Past Valve Book Events

cover of the book Theory's Empire

Event Archive

cover of the book The Literary Wittgenstein

Event Archive

cover of the book Graphs, Maps, Trees

Event Archive

cover of the book How Novels Think

Event Archive

cover of the book The Trouble With Diversity

Event Archive

cover of the book What's Liberal About the Liberal Arts?

Event Archive

cover of the book The Novel of Purpose

Event Archive

The Valve - Closed For Renovation

Happy Trails to You

What’s an Encyclopedia These Days?

Encyclopedia Britannica to Shut Down Print Operations

Intimate Enemies: What’s Opera, Doc?

Alphonso Lingis talks of various things, cameras and photos among them

Feynmann, John von Neumann, and Mental Models

Support Michael Sporn’s Film about Edgar Allen Poe

Philosophy, Ontics or Toothpaste for the Mind

Nazi Rules for Regulating Funk ‘n Freedom

The Early History of Modern Computing: A Brief Chronology

Computing Encounters Being, an Addendum

On the Origin of Objects (towards a philosophy of computation)

Symposium on Graeber’s Debt

The Nightmare of Digital Film Preservation

Richard Petti on Occupy Wall Street: America HAS a Ruling Class

Bill Benzon on Whatwhatwhatwhatwhatwhatwhat?

Nick J. on The Valve - Closed For Renovation

Bill Benzon on Encyclopedia Britannica to Shut Down Print Operations

Norma on Encyclopedia Britannica to Shut Down Print Operations

Bill Benzon on What’s an Object, Metaphysically Speaking?

john balwit on What’s an Object, Metaphysically Speaking?

William Ray on That Shakespeare Thing

Bill Benzon on That Shakespeare Thing

William Ray on That Shakespeare Thing

JoseAngel on That Shakespeare Thing

Bill Benzon on Objects and Graeber's Debt

Bill Benzon on A Dirty Dozen Sneaking up on the Apocalypse

JoseAngel on A Dirty Dozen Sneaking up on the Apocalypse

JoseAngel on Objects and Graeber's Debt

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Monday, March 06, 2006

Norman Corwin, Poet Journalist

Posted by Amardeep Singh on 03/06/06 at 12:24 PM

I was intrigued by the Oscar for short documentary, A Note of Triumph: The Golden Age of Norman Corwin (IMDB). So I looked up Corwin, and was impressed by the beauty of the fragments of his writing that are floating around on the internet.

The documentary that won the Oscar looks back at the legendary piece Corwin did celebrating V-E Day, called “On a Note of Triumph.” Here is a bit from the end of Corwin’s original piece, a “prayer”:

Lord God of test-tube and blueprint
Who jointed molecules of dust and shook them till their name was Adam,
Who taught worms and stars how they could live together,
Appear now among the parliaments of conquerors and give instruction to their schemes:
Measure out new liberties so none shall suffer for his father’s color or the credo of his choice:
Post proofs that brotherhood is not so wild a dream as those who profit by postponing it pretend:
Sit at the treaty table and convoy the hopes of the little peoples through expected straits,
And press into the final seal a sign that peace will come for longer than posterities can see ahead,
That man unto his fellow man shall be a friend forever. (longer excerpt here)

What does the style remind you of? I get equal parts Abraham Lincoln and Walt Whitman. I’m not saying I absolutely love the writing, but rather that I’m surprised and impressed that this type of lyricism was once acceptable in mainstream journalism. Perhaps it works best when reserved for extraordinary circumstances: it would have been thrilling to hear it on the radio at the end of World War II. 

Another breakthrough piece by Corwin is “They Fly Through The Air With The Greatest of Ease” (1939), about the Italian bombardment of Spain during the Civil War. Here’s a snip from an audio excerpt on Corwin’s own homepage (see a partial transcription here):

Here, where last year stood the windrows of the hay
Is now an aviary of such birds
As God had never dreamed of when he made the sky.
Look close, and you will see one now.
They are wheeling it out of the hangar.
Carefully.
Oh, do be careful, gentlemen.
It is so dumbly delicate:
Its fabrics and its metals, its gears, its cylinders, its details,
The million dervishes ready to whirl in its motors,
The guns fore and aft,
The sights, the fins, the fuselage,
The bomb racks and the bombs.
Do not jar them; do not jar them, please.
Be gentle, gentlemen.
This bomber is an instrument of much precision,
a mathematical miracle
As cold and clean and noble as a theorem.
See here: Have you no eye for beauty?
Mark how its nose, be-chromed and tilting toward the heavens
Reflects the morning sun and sniffs the lucent air.

And here’s a second snippet I found from the same story, which follows up on the idea of the “theorem,” only after the planes have crashed:

That’s all.
That’s all the fighting they will care to do.
They have a treaty with the earth
That never will be broken.
They are unbeautiful in death
Their bodies scattered and bestrewn
Amid the shattered theorem.
There is a little oil and blood
Slow draining in the ground.
The metal is still hot, but it will cool.
You need not bother picking up the parts.
The sun has reached meridian.
The day is warm.
There’s not a ripple in the air. (link)

To my ear, these snippets sound less like Whitman and more like Carl Sandburg.

* * * * *
More Corwin links:

--A satisfying 12 minute audio interview with Corwin on NPR’s “Lost and Found Sound.”

--An in-depth text interview at Crazy Dog Audio Theatre.

--Norman Corwin’s web site. Corwin sells tapes and transcripts (including e-books!) of his stuff. You can hear excerpts from some of his pieces; I would particularly recommend “They Fly Through The Air...”

--A piece in the L.A. Times that ties Corwin to Edward R. Murrow, who was also ‘revived’ this year in George Clooney’s gripping Good Night, and Good Luck.

--A timeline of the “Golden Age of Radio, 1936-1950.” TV killed the radio stars… including Murrow himself.

--“Good Can Be As Communicable As Evil, a piece by Corwin, for NPR. 


Comments

I have run across in passing poems in newspapers from the turn of the century, retelling current events in doggerel. I remember Eugene O’Neil’s first paying job writing was as a writer of such.

I don’t think we need such stuff now, but it does mark an important difference in the relation between poetry & the wider culture. As did being forced to memorize Longfellow, some of which my father can still recite.

By Lawrence LaRiviere White on 03/06/06 at 03:00 PM | Permanent link to this comment

So you’d rate it doggerel? I was ranking it a bit higher, especially the lines from “They fly through the air...”

Be gentle, gentlemen.
This bomber is an instrument of much precision,
a mathematical miracle
As cold and clean and noble as a theorem.

By Amardeep Singh on 03/06/06 at 03:26 PM | Permanent link to this comment

No, I’m sorry, I meant the stuff I’d read from earlier in the century. I think there is nice stuff in the Corwin, & the quatrain in the above comment seems a strong example of rhetorical versifying, comparable to later Auden.

By Lawrence LaRiviere White on 03/06/06 at 04:46 PM | Permanent link to this comment

I just wunna thank you, Amardeep, for posting this.  Corwin was a great favorite of my father’s who used to observe that “Accept the smoke of the milltown among the accredited clouds of the sky” (a line he remembered fifty years after its broadcast) was perfect for its purpose even though an environmentally-conscious listener would justifiably look askance at it.  Corwin’s been tireless in his attempts to see documentaries given their due in film history.

By on 03/07/06 at 02:52 AM | Permanent link to this comment

My book, WORDS AT WAR (Scarecrow Press, 2002) features extensive discussion of Norman Corwin’s writing during the World War II era. It also discusses how various other poets (i.e. Archibald MacLeish, Stephen Vincent Benet, Edna St. Vincent Millay) also worked for radio during the war.

HowardBlue
http://www.HowardBlue.com

By Howard Blue on 03/13/06 at 07:31 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Visit PoetLaureateofRadio.com and sign the petition to award The Congressional Gold Medal to Norman Corwin.

By C. deLiz on 07/07/09 at 12:06 PM | Permanent link to this comment

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