Nov. 14, 1999

No Choice

by Norman MacCaig

Broadcast Date: SUNDAY: November 14, 1999

Poem: "No Choice" by Norman MacCaig from Contemporary Scottish Verse published by Calder & Boyers.

It's the birthday of humorist P(atrick) J(ake) O'Rourke, born in Toledo, Ohio (1947), the son of a car salesman. After writing for several underground newspapers in the late 1960s, he moved to the National Lampoon magazine, and within 5 years became its editor-in-chief. Known for his rock-and-roll wildness and libertarian conservatism, he opposes government spending, seat-belt laws, the United Nations, aerobics, and taxation without loopholes. In 1987 he published a collection of 21 articles—Republican Party Reptile: Essays and Outrages. Other books include Parliament of Whores (1991) and The Lighter Side of Overpopulation, Famine, Ecological Disaster, Ethnic Hatred, Plague, and Poverty (1994).

On this day in 1922, the BBC's predecessor, called 2LO London, broadcast its first radio program, consisting of a news bulletin and a weather report, at 6 p.m. (Two days later, the station's first entertainment show broadcast an hour of songs and instrumental music.

On this day in 1916, writer H(ector H(ugh) Munro, known by his pen name "Saki," was killed in the trenches of France, on the Western Front. Munro was shot through the head by a sniper.

It's the birthday of Scottish poet Norman Alexander MacCaig [mk-KEG], born in Edinburgh (1910)—who was one of Scotland's most important men of letters this century. In his early thirties, he issued two collections he later wished he had kept to himself; but Riding Lights (1955), a collection that came out when he was 45, introduced his mature voice, reminding many readers of the polished elegance of John Donne. MacCaig's later collections include Old Maps and New (1978) and The Equal Skies (1980).

It's the birthday of journalist Harrison (Evans) Salisbury [SOLLZ-burr-ee], born in Minneapolis (1908). In 1949 he joined The New York Times and served as its Moscow bureau chief until 1954; in 1955 he won a Pulitzer Prize for his international reporting. In 1970 he started the Times' Op-Ed page. Among his best-known titles are The 900 Days: The Siege of Leningrad (1969), Behind the Lines—Hanoi (1967), China: 100 Years of Revolution (1983), and Heroes of My Time (published in 1993, the year he died). "I am a writer. I like to write and report, and have since I was in college. There is nothing I would rather do."

It's the birthday of children's writer Astrid Lindgren, born in Vimmerby, Sweden (1907)—who wrote Pippi Langstrump [Pippi Longstocking] in 1945. This was the first of three books with Pippi as its main character—a strangely dressed girl, living alone in her little house called the Villa Villekulla, with her horse and monkey. Having great wealth and physical strength, Pippi personified every child's wish for freedom and power.

It's the birthday of historian Frederick Jackson Turner, born in Portage, Wisconsin (1861)—who was much influenced by his rural Midwestern boyhood. While a graduate student at Johns Hopkins University, he rejected the prevailing view that American institutions had been shaped mainly by European ones. During the 14 years he taught at Harvard (1910-24), he developed his view that the frontier had been the key to the development of the United States. American society owed its character to three centuries of westward expansion; the abundance of free land forced frontier settlers to develop specific traits—self-reliance, individualism, inventiveness, restless energy, mobility, materialism, and optimism. He won the Pulitzer Prize for his collection of essays, Significance of Sections in American History (1932).

On this day in 1851, Moby Dick, by Herman Melville, was published in New York by Harper & Brothers.

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 »