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AMERICAN MOSAIC - April 4, 2003: Movie Music from 'Chicago' / Listener's Question About State Names / National Poetry Month - 2003-04-03



Welcome to AMERICAN MOSAIC -- VOA’s radio magazine in Special English.


This is Doug Johnson. On our program today,

We play music from the movie “Chicago” ...

Answer a listener’s question about how American states were named ...

And report about a month-long celebration of poetry.

National Poetry Month


April is National Poetry Month in the United States. The American Academy of Poets started the yearly observance in nineteen-ninety-six. People across the country organize and take part in many kinds of poetry activities. They include poets, booksellers, reading groups, teachers and librarians. Steve Ember has more.


One goal of National Poetry Month is to show the importance of poetry in American culture. Other goals are to influence more Americans to read poetry, to increase the importance of teaching poetry in the schools and to increase support for poets and their work.

Throughout the month, thousands of bookstores, libraries and schools hold readings, workshops and other activities. One of these is the National Poetry Month Reading Series in New York City. On seven nights this month, groups will gather to hear and discuss the work of several poets. One of these poets is Charles Simic (SEE-mitch).

Charles Simic was born in Yugoslavia in nineteen-thirty-eight. He came to the United States as a teenager. He and his family lived in Chicago, Illinois. His first poems were published in nineteen-fifty-nine, when he was twenty-one years old. Now he is a professor of English at the University of New Hampshire in the northeastern United States.

Charles Simic has published more than sixty books of poetry in the United States and around the world. He has also published many translations of French, Serbian, Croatian, Macedonian and Slovenian poetry. He has won many awards for his work, including the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. And he has been honored by the MacArthur Foundation, the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts.

Here is an example of Charles Simic’s work, a short poem called “Watermelons,” read by Barbara Klein.


Green Buddhas

On the fruit stand.

We eat the smile

And spit out the teeth.

(From "Return to a Place Lit By a Glass of Milk," by Charles Simic, copyright 1974. Published by George Braziller. Used with permission.)


National Poetry Month will continue during April. You can learn about a famous American poet, Emily Dickinson, on the Special English program “People in America” on Sunday.

State Names


Our VOA listener question this week comes from Vietnam. Binh Tranh Nguyen asks how the fifty American states got their names.

Each state was named in a different way. For example, the first British colonies were usually named for British rulers. The southeastern states of North Carolina and South Carolina used to be one area called Carolina. Explorers named it Carolina in sixteen-twenty-nine to honor King Charles of England. Carolina is the female form of Charles in the Latin language.

By the early seventeen-hundreds, Carolina was so large that it separated into two parts -- north and south. The two areas became states about fifty years later, when the colonies won their independence from Britain in the American Revolution. North Carolina, South Carolina and many other colonies kept their names when they became states.

The early British colonists named some areas by adding the word “new” to the name of a town or place in Britain. For example, that is how the eastern states of New Hampshire and New Jersey got their names.

Other states were named by Europeans who were not British. For example, Spanish explorers in the sixteenth century gave the name California to an area they discovered. They did this because they thought the area was an island. California was the name of an island of gold in a well-known Spanish book of the time.

Spanish explorer Ponce de Leon discovered what is now the southern state of Florida on the Christian holiday, Easter. He called the new land “La Florida” to honor the Spanish Feast of Flowers at Easter.

Other names of places show the influence of American Indians. For example, French explorers called a river in the Middle West the “Missouri”. They named it for the Indian tribe that lived along the river. They also gave the name Missouri to a territory along the river, which later became a state.

French explorers did the same thing in other places too. An Indian tribe called the Kansa lived in one area. The French added an “s” and gave the name to a river and later to the area where the tribe lived. Today, it is the state of Kansas. Every one of America’s fifty states has its own story. But we have no more time to tell about them now.



Last month, the movie “Chicago” won the Academy Award for best motion picture. It is about two women performers in Chicago, Illinois during the nineteen-twenties. Both women murdered their lovers. But they are found innocent in court. The movie is based on a true story. Shep O’Neal explains.


The real women were Beulah Annan and Belva Gaertner. Newspaper reporter Maurine Watkins wrote about their murder trials in Chicago in the nineteen-twenties.

Later, she wrote a play about the women and changed their names to Roxie Hart and Velma Kelly. In the movie “Chicago,” the two women are arrested for murder. They are jailed with other women who also killed their husbands or boyfriends. They all sing about this in “The Cell Block Tango.”


Roxie and Velma have the same lawyer, Billy Flynn. He uses the media to get public sympathy for the women and to influence the court. This is the main reason the women are found innocent. Richard Gere plays Billy Flynn in the movie. He explains his methods in this song, “Razzle Dazzle”.


The musical “Chicago” is the third movie based on Maurine Watkins’ story. But it is really a version of the musical play first produced on Broadway in New York in the nineteen-seventies. We leave you now with one of the most popular songs from “Chicago.” Catherine Zeta-Jones, as Velma Kelly, sings “All That Jazz.”



This is Doug Johnson. I hope you enjoyed our program today. Join us again next week for AMERICAN MOSAIC -- VOA’s radio magazine in Special English.

This AMERICAN MOSAIC program was written by Nancy Steinbach. And our producer was Paul Thompson.