Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Poems to Learn by Heart

On the first day of each month Barnes and Noble takes out an ad in the NYT announcing who will be speaking about a book, or performing a musical selection in any of their stores. I always scan this just in case there's someone I might want to go hear and see (rare) or to get an idea of a book that might be worth reading. (Happens occasionally.)

The schedule for March revealed that Caroline Kennedy was going to be discussing and signing her book, 'Poems to Learn by Heart,' a bit of a sequel to other collections she has assembled. The book was being released the day of her appearance, March 26th, at the Union Square store.

Online blurb about the book showed it to be attractively priced, hard-covered and watercolor illustrated by Jon J. Muth. Add to this my own interest in seeing and listening to the remainder of a First Family. It's been 50 years this November when she and her mother and brother were who was left after that fateful day in Dallas. More interesting still was that I was in high school at the time and lived and went to school in the Union Square area in 1963. I wanted to think back 50 years.

There were approximately 200 or so people who were seated for the event. The crowd was mostly women, with not many people as old as I was. There were noticeably four young boys and girls wearing matching T-shirts, seated in the front row. The back of the shirts said "American Ballet Theater." If they had bigger frames the shirts could have said Santini Brothers, but these kids were hardly movers.

There were two sixtyish sisters seated near me who were a bit of a scary sight. Both were rail thin, but they might have once been female wrestlers; one with extensive arm and hand tattoos, the other with Cyndi Lauper colorful streaked hair. Not sure if I'd want either of them to be my neighbor. I don't think I could be sure if the garbage was being taken from the house, or into the house. They easily could be living with rooms full of cats.

Ms. Kennedy and Mr. Murth entered on time and were introduced. All interest was on Caroline, however. The introduction mentioned she was an attorney, president of the JFK library, and other social and philanthropic connections, one of which was trustee to the American Ballet Theater. Front row explained.

Involvement with NYC public schools and the over the over $300 million she was acutely responsible for raising for the school system (All without raising taxes, or causing a financial scandal.) was mentioned. Certainly an achievement.

I had forgotten the attorney part. Whether she followed the Kennedy rite-of-passage and was a prosecutor for the Manhattan DA Robert Morgenthau is forgotten. He brother John certainly did, and with a few attempts did pass the bar exam. He prosecuted a few purse snatching and muggings, and he was out of there. Public service achieved.

Caroline's high-wattage smile and well-bred bearing would probably leave her with being a prosecutor who couldn't make you mad at the defendant, no matter what they were accused of. The road not taken was the right one.

As Ms. Kennedy made her way to the elevated stage it was apparent she was not particularly tall, was fashionably thin, and walked it seemed tilted foward, as if from a bad back. Something I'm familiar with. Not being much for one who can describe what women are wearing, she appeared to be wearing a caftan, bright red and gold over trousers. It was a distinctive look.

When it came time for her remarks she spoke from a prepared text, not wearing any reading glasses, despite now being 56. Her voice was clear and newscaster neutral that revealed no trace of a New England or New York accent. A broad 'a' or 'fuhgetaboutit' was not going to escape her lips. All her years of living in New York did not turn her into Al Pacino. Or Christine Quinn.

Some family anecdotes were shared, particularly how poetry was always part of her life and was actually a family assignment growing up to pick and recite poems at family gatherings. "Uncle Teddy would recite the 'Midnight Ride of Paul Revere.'"

Some Q&A, with it being revealed that any monsters under her bed growing up were "cute ones." No political questions whatsoever. Forgotten it seemed was the short-lived interest expressed to New York's Governor David Patterson that she'd like to be considered for the U.S. Senate vacancy created when Hillary Clinton took the Secretary of State job in Obama's first administration.

To those who might remember this fairly recent event you might also remember that she came out, however briefly for the job, at her Uncle Teddy's urging after his phone call. Paul Revere indeed. Another road not taken, and probably for the better.

So, what do Caroline Kennedy and myself have in common? We're both left-handed, and wouldn't think of creating a collection of poems without something by Ogden Nash.

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