The Bard’s Birthday

Guest post by Stephen H. Grant

Shakespeare Bust Holy TrinityThe Bard Will was born on the same day he died—and no one knows for sure on what day he was born. No birth certificate has been found for William Shakespeare. The closest thing is a baptism certificate dated April 26, 1564, in the parish register at Stratford-upon-Avon. Shakespeare’s bust in the Holy Trinity Church states that he died on April 23, 1616, at the age of 53. Traditionally, then, April 23 is celebrated around the world as his birthday.

On April 23, 1932, the English-speaking world celebrated Shakespeare’s 368th birthday in splendid fashion. The Prince of Wales flew from Windsor Castle to Stratford in a red monoplane. On the banks of the Avon River, he and the American ambassador Andrew W. Mellon spoke at the opening of the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre. American donors had raised nearly half the funds to construct the building, rebuilt after a fire; John D. Rockefeller Jr. was the largest American contributor, a fine irony considering that his father’s longtime factotum and executive employee, Henry Folger, had vigorously competed with Britons—Henry E. Huntington and others—to build a nonpareil Shakespeare collection.

Mellon’s Shakespeare speech marked his first public foray beyond London. “We in America,” he intoned, “share with you a feeling of pride that England has given such a man to the world. He was of the heritage which we carried with us in founding a new civilization on the other side of the ocean, and his thoughts and the incomparable language in which he clothed them have become with us a part of our very being, as they are with you and all the English-speaking world.”

On the other side of the Atlantic from Stratford, a newly confident American culture was about to receive an emblematic gift expressing its arrival as Europe’s equal in cultivation and respect for high culture. In Philadelphia, the University of Pennsylvania accepted a fine library assembled by the Henry Folgers’ close friend, Shakespeare scholar Horace Howard Furness. In Washington, Emily Jordan Folger—who had studied for her master’s degree under Furness—sat on the stage of the Elizabethan-inspired theater in the newly completed Folger Shakespeare Library on its dedication day. She wore a shoulder corsage of orchids and lilies of the valley over her Vassar academic robe. Choked with emotion, she spoke: “Shakespeare says for Mr. Folger and me, ‘I would you would accept of grace and love’ this key. It is the key to our hearts.” Her husband had died in 1930 without seeing one stone of the library or all his books assembled together.

Turning our attention from 1564, 1616, and 1932 to 2014, Shakespeare’s 450th Birth Day in England will manifest a different array of celebrations, including:

• Royal Shakespeare Co., Stratford-upon-Avon will perform Henry IV, Part 1.

• Shakespeare’s Globe, London is playing Hamlet.

• At the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust in Stratford-upon-Avon, the resident troupe of actors brings Shakespeare’s complete works to life in just two hours.

• The twenty-foot mechanical figure of Lady Godiva will be sleeping over on Henley Street in Stratford-upon-Avon, sharing stories and exploring the role of women in Shakespeare’s works.

• London’s Victoria and Albert Museum will display the real human skull given to French actress Sarah Bernhardt by novelist Victor Hugo for her performance as Hamlet in 1899.

grant.collectingStephen H. Grant is the author of Collecting Shakespeare: The Story of Henry and Emily Folger. He is a senior fellow at the Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training and the author of Peter Strickland: New London Shipmaster, Boston Merchant, First Consul to Senegal.



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Wild Thing: Shark Tourism

Wild Thing is an occasional series where JHU Press authors write about the flora and fauna of the natural world—from the rarest flower to the most magnificent beast. 

Guest Post by Gene Helfman

One of the true and ongoing pleasures of writing a popular, science-based book about sharks is that it’s a great conversation starter. You continually meet people who say, “How cool! I love sharks.” And then you get to talk shark. Dispel myths. Drop facts. Correct misconceptions. And listen to stories. The fascination with sharks crosses all ages and sexes. Grandparents brag about how much their grandkids know about sharks, but invariably ask questions of their own.

I have just returned from two and half months in the Florida Keys and Belize, and these shark-related conversations happened everywhere. There was the German couple with a five-year-old daughter to whom I taught the German word for shark, haifisch. Now she says her name is Sophie Haifisch. I also met a Canadian couple with two teenage sons; one couldn’t hear enough about sharks, nor could his parents. The other son wants to be a corporate lawyer. Then there was the retired Senate staffer who wasn’t sure if whale sharks were sharks or whales—so many opportunities to educate.

Equally encouraging is the growing common knowledge that sharks are in trouble. People seem to be universally appalled at the Chinese shark fin trade and happy to hear progress is being made to curtail it, largely because of grassroots efforts by ordinary people. Everyone finds the recent upsurge in manta ray fishing to make gill plate soup, also for Chinese markets, horrifying. And we just learned, via the efforts of a Hong Kong-based marine conservation organization called WildLifeRisk, that a factory in China’s southeastern Zhejiang Province is slaughtering over 600 whale sharks a year to produce shark oil for health supplements and fins for the shark fin soup market. The products are exported to the United States, Canada, and Italy, against international law (more info can be found here).

Helfman_Carib Reef SharkMuch of our time in both Florida and Belize was spent in the water, fish watching. At Looe Key sanctuary in the Florida Keys, we were treated to a short visit by a five- or six-foot long Caribbean reef shark that stayed around long enough to have its picture taken. In Belize, we spent a week at Glover’s Reef Atoll, about forty miles off the coast. The funky resort, complete with cabanas over the water, sits in a marine reserve and abounds with sharks and rays. The locals fish daily outside the reserve and then clean the fish at the dock. This brings in a regular parade of nurse sharks, lemon sharks, spotted eagle rays, and southern stingrays. Many of the latter were missing their tails, purportedly from encounters with hammerhead sharks, their chief predator. The nurse sharks were big and oblivious. They almost posed for pictures.

Helfman_Nurse SharksWe fortunately had a long layover on our return and got to visit the many curio shops in the Belize City International Airport. Shark stuff was everywhere. It included the usual collection of tasteless junk manufactured in southeast Asian daycare facilities. But some of the locally produced, carved wood products were among the best, most realistic shark and ray replicas I’ve seen anywhere. I couldn’t resist taking home an anatomically-correct spotted eagle ray. I just hope the wood was sustainably harvested.

Helfman_Eagle Ray

Helfman_SharksGene Helfman, coauthor, with George H. Burgess, of  Sharks: The Animal Answer Guide, is professor emeritus in the Odum School of Ecology’s Program in Conservation Ecology and Sustainable Development, University of Georgia. He lives on Lopez Island in northwest Washington State.



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About “Easter Sundays”

Guest post by Daniel Anderson

“Easter Sundays” is a poem that begins with a meditation about a quiet and evanescent domestic perfection, then attempts to apprehend a couple of questions regarding what it means to feel at home in this world, and just how illusive that feeling often is. The topical conversations that the poem considers—about belief, about politics—tend to make an unfortunate and inordinate amount of noise in our daily lives, at least they can in my daily life, and so I also wanted to say something, in the poem, about how we manage (or fail to manage) the decibel levels of that chatter.

Though “Easter Sundays” is placed squarely in the context of Christianity, I hope the poem’s meditations are not limited by this. For me, the poem is driven more by my own personal associations with the holiday and the time of year and the story of Christ than it is by any serious attempts at addressing theological concerns.

Easter Sundays

These yellow April evenings I,
no longer idealistic or inclined
to wish my life were something that it’s not,
sip gin and tonics and enjoy
a fragrant breath of just-mown grass.
Immaculately laned front lawns
are flower-crowned, our windows bright and clean.
The lime wedge bobbing in my glass
suggests an effervescent, new,
and utterly surprising thought of green.
Who could complain? Yet someone surely will,
about the pollen count or lack of rain.
Not me. No one is happier than I
to watch the sprinkler’s grainy rainbow spill
across broad vacancies of watered light
or study sun-glazed copper weathervanes
stamped against the cloud-flown April sky.

But still, it happens nearly every spring—
a blossomed stroll through Holy week,
Good Friday off, a lull, and then
that sadness Easter Sundays always bring.
It’s hard saying exactly why.
It’s not as if I even got to church,
though there are those who wish I would.
Why isn’t it enough just being good?
Extending charity, I mean,
kindness, compassion, concern, and love?
All things I like to think I do.
Who needs an organist and choir,
a brass collection plate, the priest,
and an excruciating pew? Truth is,
it’s something that I’ve often understood:
a deep desire to believe and belong.
Communion in a stony, cool,
and solemn atmosphere. Women
who dress and smell like fresh-cut flowers.
Men starched and ironed, splashed with aftershave.
The comfort someone’s looking after us.
That kind of reassurance has a price—
worship with purpose, prayer on time,
ice-cream socials, driving kids to camp,
reading to shut-ins, selling Christmas wreathes.
It’s not enough, just being nice,
and I suppose I understand this, too.

But what about the ones who get it wrong,
who do all this and still despise
the stupid and the ugly and the poor?
Perhaps they celebrated God in song,
tithed 10 percent and kneeled to pray,
but then two-timed the marriage, harbored hate
against their neighbors, screwed a friend or two—
not even really anything that’s new.
It’s just so dull. You think they’d preach
a little less, not judge so much.
But who am I to say? It’s just so dull,
that righteous indignation of the blessed.

My next-door neighbor hates my guts,
at least when we talk politics he does.
He loves me like a brother, though,
when we talk gardening, cooking, music, dogs.
We plan long weekend trips we’ll never take—
wine country or the coast. Our families eat
together once a week or more.
This isn’t paradise, I know.
This isn’t paradise, it’s only home.
And yet imperfect as it is,
it would be difficult to disagree,
another Easter days away,
that home seems just about as flawless now
as it may ever be.

anderson2014Daniel Anderson teaches in the creative writing program at the University of Oregon and is a winner of the Pushcart Prize. He is the author of The Night Guard at the Wilberforce Hotel (from which this poem is taken) and Drunk in Sunlight, both published by Johns Hopkins, and the editor of The Selected Poems of Howard Nemerov.




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Using advance directives as tools

Guest Post by Dan Morhaim

The tools are here. We just need to use them.

These tools offer something rare and important in our modern medical system: an opportunity to exert influence. I am talking about advance directives, the powerful instruments that allow each of us to manage the final chapter of life in a dignified manner and according to our own wishes and values.

As an emergency medicine physician, I’ve seen scenarios like this one all too often: An ambulance brings to the hospital a frail, elderly patient with shortness of breath, irregular heartbeat, and plunging blood pressure. The wasted limbs indicate years of incapacitation, and the medical record reveals a long history of dementia. As we work to restore stability, probing paper-thin skin for a vein, the patient suddenly goes into cardiac arrest.

The patient does not have an advance directive or a Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) order, so the ER team goes into full CPR mode, cracking brittle ribs with every chest compression. If the team’s efforts are “successful,” the patient will endure suffering that may last for the rest of his or her life.

We know that too much of this “care” is futile, hurtful, and wasteful. While some will opt to “do everything” no matter how painful the treatment or how unlikely the chance for recovery, most people do not want to die in this manner.

There comes a time when most of us would choose to allow a natural death rather than use medical technology to prolong life for what is usually only a few extra hours, days, or weeks. But when that moment comes, we are often not in a position to speak for ourselves. That’s why we need advance directives, which are free, straightforward, easily available forms that are legal in every state.

Americans cherish the right to make their own medical decisions. In light of our ardent individualism, it’s puzzling that so few of us exercise this right when it comes to something most of us will face: medical care at the end of our lives. (A study from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health showed that only about one-third of us have completed advance directives.)

Care at the end of life involves making some deeply personal choices. Who should make them? Doctors? Government? Insurance companies? Hospitals? Ethics committees? Religious institutions? As both a physician and a state legislator, I believe that the operative values should be the patient’s. When patients haven’t expressed their wishes or designated someone who can act for them if they’re incapacitated, controversy and painful family upheaval can ensue.

While cost is not the primary reason to have an advance directive, saving money is one of its consequences. Medicare estimates that 25-30 percent of its spending goes for care during the last six months of life. The costs to Medicaid programs and private insurance are equally staggering.

As the baby boom generation reaches its senior years, new lifesaving medical treatments are devised, and our health care system confronts a crisis of affordability, we, all of us, need to take time to record our end-of-life decisions.

I hope that, one day, completing advance directives will become as routine as renewing your driver’s license. If advance directives were to become the norm—if, say, 80 percent of adult Americans had them—we could offer more personalized and humane care for far less money. Respecting individual rights is the right way to reduce health care costs.

Remember: only you can complete your advance directive. No one can do it for you. Get the forms, fill them out, share with family, friends, and physicians as appropriate and then encourage everyone you know to do the same. This is not a tool just for “old people,” either. It’s a tool for everyone, to specify the kind of care you want as you approach the end of life, whenever that occurs.

The tools are here. We just need to use them.

And what better way to get started than on April 16, National Health Care Decisions Day?

Dan Morhaim and Brent Pawlecki, M.D., Medical Director Goodyear Tire Company  have written a column  for Health Affairs on the role employers can play in promoting advance directives.

morhaimDan Morhaim, M.D., is an adjunct professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Deputy Majority Leader of the Maryland House of Delegates, and the author of The Better End: Surviving (and Dying) on Your Own Terms in Today’s Modern Medical World. He is board certified in emergency medicine and internal medicine.

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Filed under For Everyone, Geriatrics and Gerontology, Health and Medicine, Public Health

Peter Filkins on Writing Poetry

Guest post by Peter Filkins

Randall Jarrell said that writing poetry was like walking across a field at night while hoping to be struck by lightning. While the fickle and unpredictable nature of genuine inspiration can be much like that, there are also poems that you know are sort of there and waiting to be written, but which need the slow stewing of time and experience to bring them to full realization. “A Stand of Maple” was just such a poem for me, for I knew I had its essential subject matter several years before I wrote it. Traveling often on a back road through the hills of western Massachusetts, I can’t even recall when I first admired a long allée of tall sugar maples lining both sides of the road, a heaving surge of stone wall lacing together their sturdy trunks, and sap buckets nailed to them each spring. I would often say to myself, “Now that’s something worth writing about,” and then tuck it away in a mental file of images and subjects I wanted to get to, but without any essential bit of language having offered the right inroad into the experience.

And then one day at home, for whatever reason, the venture of a poem about them seemed worth it. In fact, by then the maples were much the worse for wear, and it was starting to become clear that they would not be around all that much longer. I suppose that glimpse is what even gave rise to the analogy of the sapping tubes as life support, as well as how novel their very existence was after having seen who knows how many New England winters. Still, I did not want it to be a poem about loss or mortality, for I had enjoyed the life of those trees for so very long, and it was that life that indeed came to seem wondrous, “intrepid and insensible,” even “unlikely.” Yet I recall being most satisfied with thinking of their very nature as “irrecusable,” that they were simply there, bearing a kind of silent witness to the possibility of beauty and hardiness and the perception of both, as well the ironic offering culled each spring from their haggard trunks, “amber on the tongue” being, for me, the only real way to convey the sensory integrity of maple syrup and what it means to be alive and lost to its sweetness.


A Stand of Maple

Either side of the pot-holed postal road
they rise, imperious in their haggard bark
against a stone wall spilling boulders like coins
among caramel-colored rays of winter sun
conceding snowdrift shadow its ice-bound blue.
Soon sap will fill them, swelling sagging veins
of plastic tubing stretched like life support
above mercurial rivulets of melting snow,
while nearby and palpable, hints of green
will rouse a meadow to swaying life again.
And yet for now, frozen in this aching cold,
recalcitrant as a riddle, branches whistling
in a razor wind, who could possibly know
their future a season hibernating in starches
released by fire boiling their sugars clean?
How intrepid and insensible, how unlikely
the world can seem, an empty length of road
boring through maples, bitter capillaries of cold
promising sweetness, irrecusable the thrum
of buckets in springtime, amber on the tongue.

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filkinsPeter Filkins is a poet who teaches writing and literature at Bard College at Simon’s Rock. He is the author of What She Knew and After Homer as well as the chapbook Augustine’s Vision. He has also translated the poetry and novels of Ingeborg Bachmann and the novels of H. G. Adler. Filkins’s most recently published collection is The View We’re Granted.

Peter Filkins will give a poetry reading at the Newbury Port Literary Festival on Saturday, April 26th, 1:00 pm.  The reading and book signing is at Central Congregational Church Social Hall.

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Poetry as presence

During April, National Poetry Month, we asked several JHU Press poets to reflect on their art. Brian Swann shares his thoughts and some selections from his latest collection, In Late Light.

Guest post by Brian Swann

The kind of poem that means the most to me begins in wonder. Something we might have seen a hundred times catches the attention and holds it: a tree, birds, horses in a field, or something we didn’t know we had remembered bubbles up. Then the poem spins out reverberative images with the appearance and feel of permanence; it embodies a sensation, making a moment valuable in a throw-away world.

A poem reflects light from the back of the eye so you can see in the dark, like a lion. But even when it is complete, a poem can never tell all there is to tell. And it is always hiding something, the way a dream does.

As Paul Ricoeur has noted, a poem becomes “the representation of presence.” The ancient world was filled with presence, as are traditional tribal cultures today. Poetry tries to call things back from the positivistic brink, away from what Rilke called “America,” where “empty, indifferent things pour over us.” Today, everywhere is America. A poem calls to the world’s beautiful strangeness, the uniqueness of everything and the way things are related and linked in a world at once us, and not us. The poetry I respond to is atavistic. Poetry fights a losing battle, but one well worth fighting.

The Horses

As I reach across I’m
taller than the backs
I stroke before they’ll move
away for as good a reason
as they stayed, down
the steep hill that’s
their meadow of thin grass,
more thyme and rock
than grass, brambles and
this stone wall I’m standing on
that for a while keeps us
all together, I and these horses
so large they’ll leave behind
their silhouettes as mountains,
where now as I stroke their
huge heads and necks like pillars,
gentle muzzles and soft mouths,
they stand so still under the great maple
that I can hear them breathe
and I talk to them as if they
could understand more than
I can, as if they don’t know
that what I’m saying to them
has no other purpose than
to keep them with me and
me with them here until
I have to turn carefully
around on these loose stones,
step down and find my way
back through the darkening woods.

A Typology of Birds

Typology relates to the future, and is consequently

related primarily to faith and hope, and vision.

—Northrop Frye, The Great Code


I have been here some time where
single things pull curtains around them
and the loneliest fall into their own breath.
But in spring I watched water
turn gravity on its head, and saw birds
quiver like tuning forks. Now
summer’s going, when a crack appears
in the sky they’ll fly into it. Circling
stars, they’ll spin out to each other
through nights that give way to them,
following lines to the horizon and then
over into a nothing like a prayer
they know the answer to, and out beyond,
whirling away, and I’ll know they’re
up there, among leave-takings and remainders,
their solemn eyes a kind of light even
at noon, and the same bells I heard by day
going on and on, lighter than shapes,
more persistent than appetite, as if one could
break through to that side and reassure

Making It Out

All over these mountains are huge stone walls, piled up by men
With oxen, tackle, crowbars, and brute will. Trees grow right
Through them, and they still stand. When you hike these woods
They come in at all angles, out of nowhere, cross and re-cross,
Holding whole hillsides up, tracing some invisible plan,
Giving you something to go by. But try following and likely
As not you’ll stop and look around and say Where am I?
Or realize you could be back where you started and so
You have to pull yourself together again and set off, faster,
In a different direction but where the walls still look the same,
Hoping to make it out before it gets too dark to see.


Trees, it is your own strangeness . . .

—Ted Hughes, “Trees”

One of the twin maples that rooted over a century ago in our stone wall,
“line tree,” the locals call them, is down. It was always there for me,
cows and horses, birds too, but in its fall took with it part of the wall
and the top strand of barbed wire. The horses are nowhere to be seen
and the cows don’t seem to notice. There are other shade trees, even
the remaining twin, and, if they wanted they could make like Bailey,
the adventurous heifer who followed the deer over the wall and into
our woods. But no. As dusk falls to the music of metal ear-tags, they follow
their leader at a fair clip back down to the barn. That tree had been leaning
too far out for years, its main branch twice as thick as a man’s waist,
the inside rotted out to duff for my garden, just waiting for a storm
big enough to shake the roots in the shallow soil. And now I’m looking
at it from different angles from either side of the wall, even walking on it,
trying to put things in perspective, take it all in. Parts are still green, and
at the top gooseberry bushes are growing in a crotch. Parts are dust, parts
the planks of a sailing ship with scars like the suckers of a giant squid.
There’s so much going on, it’s bigger than just “tree,” or me, and yet it’s
not quite “here” nor “there,” it’s somehow absent or elsewhere. How to get it
straight? How to ask the right questions so it doesn’t all come out as if it has
no mind to call its own, as if there are no other minds, as if it’s all my fault?

swannBrian Swann is the author of several collections of poems, most recently  In Late Lightpublished by Johns HopkinsHe is the author of Autumn Road, winner of The Ohio State University Press/ The Journal Award, and Snow House, winner of the Lena-Miles Wever Todd Prize.

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Malaysia Airlines Flight 370: Why Can’t They Find Any Floating Debris?

Guest post by George Bibel

Air France Flight 447, which was lost in the Atlantic Ocean on June 1, 2009, gives us some insight into why it has been so difficult to recover debris from Malaysia Airlines Flight 370.

In 2009, investigators were unable to find much debris from Flight 447, and many of the pieces that they did find were small. Only 3% (about 1,000 pieces—mostly chunks of insulation and honeycomb construction) of the plane was discovered floating on the surface of the water. The twenty-five foot long composite vertical stabilizer was the biggest floater. (A Boeing 777 like the Malaysian Airlines plane also has composite tail sections.) The biggest piece of fuselage, found on the ocean floor, was only twenty-three feet long.

Debris was also hard in part to find because it spread so quickly. Seventeen days after the crash, the debris and bodies from Flight 447 had drifted 100 miles. On day twenty-five, the debris scatter spanned 200 miles. In addition, depending on water temperature, a body will float for perhaps two to three weeks. Only fifty bodies were recovered back in 2009. At this point, Flight 370 has been missing for more than a month.

Flight 447 completely fragmented on impact. (A belly flop with a vertical sink rate of just 30 mph will severely fragment the plane.) Pieces that float can be torn out as the plane breaks up entering the water.

On the other extreme, a plane going down in the water under pilot control may still break up, which is not good; but the emergency slides double as rafts with radio beacons. In 1996, Ethiopian Airlines Flight 961 was hijacked, ran out of fuel, and went down in the Indian Ocean. The hijackers actually fought the pilot for control of the airplane during the water landing. One hundred and twenty-five out of one hundred and seventy-five passengers died. Most likely more would have lived if the pilot had had full control. If Flight 370 had crashed in this manner, we most likely would have found survivors weeks ago or picked up a signal from the raft beacons.

Finding the black boxes may not be the end of the mysterious story of Flight 370. According to one experienced Airbus/Boeing pilot (the coauthor of my next book), black boxes can be shut off with circuit breakers in most aircraft. In many situations, pilots are required to remove power from the cockpit voice recorder by using the circuit breaker after an incident or accident to preserve the data. And most cockpit voice recorders only record the last two hours, raising the possibility that evidence of a struggle in the cockpit earlier in the flight may have been overwritten.

bibefpoGeorge Bibel, a former NASA summer faculty fellow, is the author of Beyond the Black Box: The Forensics of Airplane Crashes, published by Johns Hopkins. He is a professor of mechanical engineering at the School of Engineering and Mines, University of North Dakota. He recently completed the Air Line Pilots Association advanced accident investigation course.

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