Wednesday

Dec. 15, 1999

What It Is Life To Read the Ancients

by David Budbill

Broadcast Date: WEDNESDAY: December 15, 1999

Poem: "What It Is Like To Read the Ancients" by David Budbill from Copper Canyon Press.

On December 15, 1791, the new United States of America adopted the BILL OF RIGHTS, the first ten amendments to the U.S. Constitution, laying out the fundamental rights of its citizens, including freedom of religion, speech, and the press, as well as the rights of peaceful assembly and petition.

The Sioux Chief SITTING BULL and 11 other tribe members were killed in Grand River, South Dakota, on this day in 1890, during a fight with Indian police. Sitting Bull had wiped out General George Custer's troops at the Battle of Little Bighorn, then gone on to win other showdowns with the Federal army; but he'd been arrested and held for several years in the South. His participation in the Ghost Dance movement, which looked for an Indian leader to sweep away the nation's white settlers, alarmed the government, and he was shipped north to prison in South Dakota. When a band of warriors tried to rescue him, they were all killed.

It's the birthday of writer BETTY SMITH, in Brooklyn, 1904, who wrote over three dozen plays, but was best known for her novels, particularly her first: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, which came out in 1943.

The French Army defeated the Germans on this day in 1916, in one of the bloodiest battles of the western front in W.W.I: the BATTLE OF VERDUN. The Germans had planned to concentrate all they had on one strategic point, the fort at the city of Verdun in northeastern France, then press on to Paris. They began their assault in February, nearly 10 months earlier, and the two sides waged a seesaw war of attrition all year. The fighting came to a head in the late spring and early summer, with over 400,000 casualties for the French, and nearly as many for the Germans. The fort and city were destroyed, but on December 15 the French turned the tide, capturing 7,500 prisoners and driving the rest of the German army back east.

It's the birthday in Buffalo, New York, 1922, of novelist ELLIOTT BAKER, author of A Fine Madness (1964), and a half-dozen other novels, including And We Were Young, (1979), and Unhealthful Air (1988). A Fine Madness is his best known book, the story of the problems of drunken poet Samson Shillitoe.

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 »