Apr. 1, 1998


by Keith Douglas


Today's Reading: "Vergissmeinnicht" by Keith Douglas from THE COMPLETE POEMS OF KEITH DOUGLAS, published by Oxford University Press.

It's APRIL FOOL'S DAY. No one is entirely sure of how it all got started but it's been around for centuries. Poor Robin's Almanack of 1760 said: The first of April, some do say, Is set apart for All Fools' Day, But why the people call it so, Nor I nor they themselves do know. Mark Twain added that this is "the day upon which we are reminded of what we are on the other 364."

Today is also the beginning of National Poetry Month.

It's the birthday in Memphis, 1895, of blues singer ALBERTA HUNTER. Her mother was a cleaning woman in a Memphis brothel and her father was a Pullman porter who died before she knew him. By the time she was in her 20s she'd worked with nearly all the greats, from Louis Armstrong and Eubie Blake, to Fats Waller and Sidney Bechet and had started writing her own songs. One of them was "Down-Hearted Blues" Bessie Smith's first recording in 1923 it sold a million copies within months. She played opposite Paul Robeson in "Show Boat," entertained the troops in WWII and the Korean War then gave it all up in 1954, in order, she said, "to do something to help humanity." She took a course in practical nursing and went to work at a New York hospital for 20 years and revealed nothing about herself to her patients or co-workers. In 1977 the hospital asked her to retire; she was 82 years old. She hated retirement, said it bored her to tears, and one evening that summer she sang at a friend's party. That led to a six-week stint in a Greenwich Village club and pretty soon crowds were lined up around the block to get in. She started writing songs again and performing full-time which she kept up till right before she died at 89.

It's the anniversary of THE DEFEAT AT FIVE FORKS, in 1865, the battle that virtually ended the Civil War. Several thousand Confederate troops under George Pickett were on the run from Union troops when they were cut off and defeated at Five Forks, Virginia. This bottled up Robert E. Lee's armies in the railroad town of Petersburg, Virginia and in the Confederate capitol, Richmond. The next day Lee got word to Confederate President, Jefferson Davis, that he would have to evacuate Richmond. Davis and his cabinet fled Richmond by train for Danville, Virginia, and the war was all but over.

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®




  • “Writers end up writing stories—or rather, stories' shadows—and they're grateful if they can, but it is not enough. Nothing the writer can do is ever enough” —Joy Williams
  • “I want to live other lives. I've never quite believed that one chance is all I get. Writing is my way of making other chances.” —Anne Tyler
  • “Writing is a performance, like singing an aria or dancing a jig” —Stephen Greenblatt
  • “All good writing is swimming under water and holding your breath.” —F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • “Good writing is always about things that are important to you, things that are scary to you, things that eat you up.” —John Edgar Wideman
  • “In certain ways writing is a form of prayer.” —Denise Levertov
  • “Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia.” —E.L. Doctorow
  • “Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” —E.L. Doctorow
  • “Let's face it, writing is hell.” —William Styron
  • “A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.” —Thomas Mann
  • “Writing is 90 percent procrastination: reading magazines, eating cereal out of the box, watching infomercials.” —Paul Rudnick
  • “Writing is a failure. Writing is not only useless, it's spoiled paper.” —Padget Powell
  • “Writing is very hard work and knowing what you're doing the whole time.” —Shelby Foote
  • “I think all writing is a disease. You can't stop it.” —William Carlos Williams
  • “Writing is like getting married. One should never commit oneself until one is amazed at one's luck.” —Iris Murdoch
  • “The less conscious one is of being ‘a writer,’ the better the writing.” —Pico Iyer
  • “Writing is…that oddest of anomalies: an intimate letter to a stranger.” —Pico Iyer
  • “Writing is my dharma.” —Raja Rao
  • “Writing is a combination of intangible creative fantasy and appallingly hard work.” —Anthony Powell
  • “I think writing is, by definition, an optimistic act.” —Michael Cunningham
The Writer's Almanac on Facebook

The Writer's Almanac on Twitter

Subscribe to our daily newsletter for poems, prose and literary history every morning
An interview with Jeffrey Harrison at The Writer's Almanac Bookshelf
Current Faves - Learn more about poets featured frequently on the show
O, What a Luxury

Although he has edited several anthologies of his favorite poems, O, What a Luxury: Verses Lyrical, Vulgar, Pathetic & Profound forges a new path for Garrison Keillor, as a poet of light verse. Purchase O, What a Luxury »