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Kieran and Rudkin


"I am a part of all I have read."
--John Kieran (1892-1981) American Journalist, Radio and Television Personality

To start of the school year my son's AP English teacher gave his students the assignment of compiling a list of all of the books, plays, and poems they have ever read. I am curious to see what the purpose of the assignment is. Perhaps he is trying to find out whether they read at all, considering today's media distractions, or whether, by the age of 17 or 18 they are reading any material that worthy of consideration for the AP reading list.

I was also reminded of a news blurb I read last year that announced several midwestern libraries, needing more floor space for DVD's and Computers, had gone through their circulation records and were beginning to discard any books which had not been checked out in at least two years. This included, sadly, many works by the like of Hemingway and Steinbeck. There was some outrage at the time, and a campaign to check out Great Books to save them from oblivion, but the indignation seems to have died down. You can not force people to read what you think is good for them (unless they are your students), any more than you can get them to trade reality TV shows for CSPAN. We should probably all thank J.K. Rowling and The Discovery Channel for their efforts to help our children maintain a reasonably long attention span.

All of which leads me in a round-about way to today's subject, and John Kieran's quote. Kieran led a long, varied, and busy life, much of it in the public eye (or ear, at least), yet the line he is perhaps most remembered for is this one on reading. There was probably a time when most of America new who he was - between his sportswriting, appearances on quiz shows (Information Please), radio and TV documentaries, and other interests. Now he is a footnote in Wikipedia.

This in turn leads to the desire for people, events, lessions, etc. to be remembered and not forgotten. Whether it is a poet whose works are no longer on the AP reading lists, or an author whose books are no longer in the library because they have been forgotten beneath layer after layer of the latest pointless media obsessions.

Fortunately, while the busy world has a short attention span, people, individual people, have long memories. It is suprising what can be remembered if only you can find the right person to listen to, and take the time to listen. Such memories might form the basis for Kenneth Ashley's Brief first-person recall of a man named Rudkin. A short poem with a simple rhyme scheme but a lurching, almost stumbling meter (perhaps a little like Rudkin himself). The conceit of the poem is that evidence of Rudkin is still everywhere, surrounding the people of "Threckington", and the narrator's own household - but only the narrator remembers. A good poem for reading aloud, once you get accustomed to the uneven rhythm.

Rudkin

RUDKIN was one who cattle sold,
Laughed loud, talked bold;
Children got, drank at inns,
Nor thought much of his sins.
Stout his legs, broad his back;
To live and thrive he had the knack.
All who went out, all who came in,
By Threckington, knew stout Rudkin.
Long he's been dead; his name has gone
Clean out of mind at Threckington;
If one should ask for Rudkin there
The village folk would stare and stare.
Rudkin is dead; dead as Queen Anne:
Hangs on my wall his warming-pan;
In hall hard by, solemn and clear,
Ticks the tall clock he used to hear;
Little Miss Wright, all unaware,
Reads her paper in his chair.
Down by the bridge the parapet
Is still chipped where his wain upset;
By the old barn there's an old pear
When he was wed he planted there.
His drover's dog was very like
Our butcher's cur: a mongrel tyke;
He had a bull with a crooked horn,
A heifer like it I saw this morn.
Down at "The George" in market-place
There's a bold wench wears his bold face.

Kenneth H. Ashley

I guess what Ashley was trying to say is that Rudkin left his mark - literally - on the people, places, and things around him - whether they knew it or not. Perhaps Kieran did as well - as evidenced by present-day game shows such as Wait Wait Don't Tell Me  or in Discovery Channel / Animal planet features that patiently try to get us to understand the world around us and the creatures in it. Perhaps Kieran also left his mark on friends who became part of the Algonquin Round Table. More about them at a later date.

 P.S. - If I had to compile a list of all I have read, I wonder if I'd ever finish. --Steve


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