Saturday, July 04, 2009

Happy Independence Day, You Bunch Of Bumpkins

[Click to embiggen the picture; it's huge]
July Fourth, 1915, Nome Alaska.

Alaska wasn't a state in 1915. Alaska wasn't even a state when I was born, and I'm not all that old. Alaska's new. But they felt civic-minded enough about being a territory of the US to have a Fourth of July parade.

Of course, everything was new when the picture was taken, too. Want to see a picture of Nome in 1900? of course you do.

[Click to embiggenate]
Fifteen years difference. They were looking for gold. The Alaska Gold Rush was really more of a Canadian Gold Rush, but a few doughty Swedish fellows stumbled upon a vein of gold out in the wilderness that is now Nome and made their claims. That was 1898. Two years later, as you see in the picture, they had plenty of company.

Living in a tent in Nome Alaska. Who would do that? Wyatt Earp would.

I guess Idaho wasn't desolate enough to suit him. Nome was a rough and tumble place, as you can see, but he was no stranger to rough and tumble places, was he? He opened a saloon, made some money, and eventually sailed south to retire, and finally died in Los Angeles in 1929, after teaching John Wayne how to act like a cowboy.

But that jumble of tents couldn't possibly disgorge anyone else famous, could it? Well, Jack London was said to be friends with Earp, but people tend to exaggerate such connections for the frisson of having celebrated people for acquaintances. But it's possible.

Jack London is the third greatest American writer, after Twain and Hemingway. It's telling that all three of those men wouldn't be out of place in those pictures. It's a wan bunch scribbling away in the newspapers now.

But drifting through a place isn't the same as the place producing notable people, is it? Well, Jimmy Doolittle is likely in one of those tents. His father came up to Nome to prospect and little Jimmy lived there until 1908, when his mother thought it would be better if her children were educated in Los Angeles. Jimmy Doolittle never stood taller than 5'4", but after learning to brawl in Nome, he was qualified to kick everyone's ass in California. After making some dough as a professional boxer, and going to college to study mining, he joined the military. He eventually became an aviation pioneer, and was the first person ever to take off, fly and land a plane entirely by using instruments.

There has never been a man with a less apt name that Jimmy Doolittle. His raid on Japan in 1942 was the most audacious military action by an American since Washington went over the Delaware to kick some shivering Hessian ass.

The one signal characteristic of the modern intellectual, after ingratitude, is back-seat-driving 20/20 hindsight. The little intellectual community college hothouse flowers seem to have an opinion on everything that's ever happened, and that's not how they would have done it, I'm telling you -- in the comments section of a third-rate blog at two AM. And it's considered very trenchant just now to jape at anyone from Alaska, as we all know they're all bumpkins up there.

They're right, of course; it isn't how they would have done it. None of it. They would have lain down on the ground, whimpered, and died before lifting a finger to help themselves, never mind helping anybody else. And I have grave doubts the pharmacy, just visible in the 1900 picture, has any Prozac; and although every manjack in town would have been prescribed Ritalin in kindergarten today, they wouldn't have taken it. They would have moved to Nome instead.

Happy Independence Day, you bunch of bumpkins. No caveats. It's all been as magnificent as human beings and nature would allow.


TmjUtah said...


Happy Independence Day, sir.

Glynn said...

Good post, Sipp. And timely.

There's a few of us bumpkins left in Missouri, too.

Happy 4th to you and yours. And it matters.

Gerard said...


SippicanCottage said...

You know, Gerard,it would be hard to argue with that. I could do it, but my heart's not in it. Except for first place; there's no getting around Twain.

I could point out that Jack London was interesting emough to be ripped off by hacks like George Lucas and Robert Redford simultaneously.

Gerard said...

Twain. Yes. Hemingway. Maybe. Melville. Certainly. London? On the list but in top ten. Not 3.

The 5 great writers of America are, in no specific order,

(You choose. London if you must.)

SippicanCottage said...

Well, I see Gerard's mixed himself a few laudanum/absinthe/champagne smashes for the holiday and gotten into the poetry cabinet again.

Your spirited defense of Emily would have carried more water if you spelled her last name correctly, but I know that's the absinthe talking.

But if we're going yard on rhyming verse here, I'm going to have to put Dr. Suess in there over Emily.


A WOUNDED deer leaps highest,
I ’ve heard the hunter tell;
’T is but the ecstasy of death,
And then the brake is still.

The smitten rock that gushes,
The trampled steel that springs:
A cheek is always redder
Just where the hectic stings!

Mirth is the mail of anguish,
In which it caution arm,
Lest anybody spy the blood
And “You ’re hurt” exclaim!

Can't possibly compete with:

Oh, the sea is so full
Of a number of fish
If a fellow is patient
He might get his wish!
And that's why I think
That I'm not such a fool
When I sit here and fish
In McElligot's pool!

Gerard said...

Spelling flames are fail-safe indicators that we are getting to the bottom of the drool cup. Stipulating the de minimis nature of Dick(i)(e)nson we move in medias res to a more prima facie observation:

If you were using the canonical, and definitive edition of Dick(i)(e)nson's work as researched and edited by Thomas Johnson, you'd know that Dick(i)(e)nson structure and elemental poetics is not about rhyme per se but about the rhetorical shape of the line and the rhetorical heft of the poem. This host of innovations is one of many elements that make her not on the greatest American poet but the greatest poet of the female persuasion since Elizabeth Shakespeare.

Once we become aware of the Thomas Johnson volumes and the method used in bringing us close to the fair and true text intended by Dick(i)(e)nson had her work been published during her lifetime, we can arrive at an accurate vision of her vision.

Should you wish to read a reasonable article on what Johnson did (with particular attention to the section "Lineation, Punctuation, and Capitalization" ) one can be found at

... although I am not in agreement with several of the reviewers conclusions.

Nevertheless, the signal achievement of Johnson is a correct text from the manuscript and a chronology (although some of this is dubious).

The proper form of the poem cited is:

A Wounded Deer -- leaps highest --
I've heard the Hunter tell --
'Tis but the Ecstasy of death --
And then the Brake is still!

The Smitten Rock that gushes!
The trampled Steel that springs!
A Cheek is always redder
Just where the Hectic stings!

Mirth is the Mail of Anguish
In which it Cautious Arm,
Lest anybody spy the blood
And "you're hurt" exclaim!

A close reading, aloud, of the text with the proper breath grouping and stresses and pauses as indicated through the punctuation and capitalization (It is not arbitrary, but intended.) will show you the inferior nature of the "greeting card" version of the poem and the immense interstellar distance from the planet Dick(i)(e)nson to the asteroid of Suess.

And remember that when you need really drop-dead snooty responses, I'm your huckleberry.

Gerard said...

Should you wish to go further afield into a stranger perspective on American lit of the era I'd point you to some chapters from DH Lawrence's Studies in Classic American Literature.

Overview:CHAPTER 1 The Spirit of Place

Melville: Moby Dick Chapter 11

Whitman Chapter 12

Then if you get really interested there's always American renaissance; art and expression in the age of Emerson and Whitman by the tragic F O Matthiessen.

Gerard said...

Get cracking. There will be a test at 6:30 AM July 5th. Your time.

SippicanCottage said...

Whitman? That's the dude with the boxes of chocolates, right?

Gerard said...

Exactly so and he's saving the one with the goozy cherry in the center for you.

Gerard said...

But if he offers you a ride... don't get in the van.

SippicanCottage said...

My wife says Russell Stover kicks all sorts of Whitman ass.

Apis Melliflora said...

Well, I sure hope both you, Sippican, and Gerard were English majors together at some liberal arts college.

I'm throwing Edith Wharton out there into the ring, though she's clearly not your style. Still, you would admire Undine Spragg.

Gerard said...

And it's Edith Wharton in the HOUSE... and now in the RING!

Headfake! She's bobbing. She's weaving. She's WHIPPING OUT HER Undine Spragg! She's backing away from Dickinson whose little wren costume has slipped down to reveal some killer TATS and previously UNKNOWN PIERCINGS. Their jangle distracts Wharton for a precious moment and, BOING BLAM, Whitman body slams her by diving off the ropes landing SMACK DAB on her commodious buttocks with his trademark Yawp "I slam the BOOTY ELECTRIC!".

Whitman tags Melville who steps into the ring and high fives Dickinson... they grab Whatron by her short and curlies and whirling her about let GO!

It's a long one..... a LONG ONE... It's... It's OUTTA HERE!

Gerard said...

I SING the Booty Electric;
The booties of those I love engirth me, and my booty engirtheth them;
They will not let me off their booty till I boogaloo with them, frug to them,
And hucklebuck them, and bring them a hot, damp towel full with the charge of the Soul.

Was it doubted that those who boff their own booties closet themselves;
And if those who booty call the living are as bad as they who booty call the dead?
And if the Booty does not do as much as the Soulman James Brown! James Brown!
And if the Booty were not the Soulman James Brown! James Brown!,
What is the Soulman James Brown! James Brown! except a man of busted booty?

-- Whitman, I Sing the Booty Electric (from the lost Hampstead Privy manuscript)

SippicanCottage said...

Wharton Hears A Who
By Dr. Suessican

I think you're a cutie!
said young Ethan Frome
To the maid name of Mattie
as she dusted his home.

You've got bigger hooters
than Zenobia, too!
So let's go out sledding
while the weather stays cool.

What terrible crashing!
Young Ethan Frome frowned.
As he bounced off the elm tree
and sprawled on the ground!

Like George of the Jungle
he planted his face
And Mattie was busted
all over the place.

Throughout Starkfield village
the news quickly spread:
Ethan and Mattie
have staved in their heads!

Now Ethan can walk
only one mile an hour!
And Mattie is planted
like plasticene flowers.

I shouldn't go sledding
Ethan thought with alarm.
Each time that I try it
the maid comes to great harm.

As his wife's rearranging
Their wheelchairs and shawls
Ethan Frome figgers next time.
He'll sled towards a wall!.

Country Squire said...

Bravo gentlemen, bravo.

A note to the audience:

This surreal interlude was brought to you by Sullivan & Vanderleun. No hallucinogenics were used during the writing of these posts though sense memory may have been employed.

Apis Melliflora said...

Nice job guys.
A for Sippan's ruthless rhyming,
but A+ for Gerard's free verse and ingenious use of the words "engirtheth" and "hucklebuck."
What liberal arts college was it again?

The Queen Vee said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
The Queen Vee said...

The comments to this posting have been as entertaining and edge of the seat sitting as the Wimbledon final today.

I agree with TmjUtah, "Amen" to the original post.

Carolyn said...

Jimmy Doolittle is still a big name out here in California's cotton country. Didn't know about his Alaskan experience, but it makes sense. Frontier days similar to Nome's were a little earlier, though.