Monday

Feb. 5, 2001

MONDAY, 5 February 2001
Listen (RealAudio) | How to listen

Poem: "To Elsie," by William Carlos Williams, from The Collected Poems of William Carlos Williams (New Directions).

To Elsie

The pure products of America
go crazy—
mountain folk from Kentucky

or the ribbed north end of
Jersey
with its isolate lakes and

valleys, its deaf mutes, thieves
old names
and promiscuity between

devil-may-care men who have taken
to railroading
out of sheer lust of adventure—

and young slatterns, bathed
in filth
from Monday to Saturday

to be tricked out that night
with gauds
from imaginations which have no

peasant traditions to give them
character
but flutter and flaunt

sheer rags—succumbing without
emotion
save numbed terror

under some hedge of choke-cherry
or viburnum—
which they cannot express—

Unless it be that marriage
perhaps
with a dash of Indian blood

will throw up a girl so desolate
so hemmed round
with disease or murder

that she'll be rescued by an
agent—
reared by the state and

sent out at fifteen to work in
some hard-pressed
house in the suburbs—

some doctor's family, some Elsie—
voluptuous water
expressing with broken

brain the truth about us—
her great
ungainly hips and flopping breasts

addressed to cheap
jewelry
and rich young men with fine eyes

as if the earth under our feet
were
an excrement of some sky

and we degraded prisoners
destined
to hunger until we eat filth

while the imagination strains
after deer
going by fields of goldenrod in

the stifling heat of September
Somehow
it seems to destroy us

It is only in isolate flecks that
something
is given off

No one
to witness
and adjust, no one to drive the car

It's the birthday of Elizabeth Swados, born in Buffalo, New York (1951), into a family of artists and performers. She was part of the avant-garde La Mama Theatre Group in New York, where she did an adaptation of Medea (1972) that used Greek and Latin words chosen for sound rather than sense. She created similar versions of The Trojan Women and Electra, incorporating Asian, African, Mayan, Aztec and Native American languages. She has also written several novels, most recently Flamboyant (1999), and a memoir of her family entitled The Four of Us (1991).

It's the birthday of playwright John Guare, born in New York City (1938). In grade school he went to the theater every week and listened to Broadway albums by the hour. When he started writing plays at the age of ten, his parents gave him a typewriter that he still uses. To promote his first production, when he was eleven, he and a friend called Newsday and said, "Two boys are putting on a play in a garage and giving all the money to orphans," and they got their pictures in the paper. His works include House of Blue Leaves (1971), and Six Degrees of Separation (1990).

"I always tell my students...Whatever it is that wakes you up at four o'clock in the morning, that's what you have to write about. You have to write about the nightmares."

It's the birthday of baseball player Hank (Henry) Aaron, born in Mobile, Alabama (1934). He started off in the Negro Leagues with the Indianapolis Clowns, then spent 20 years with the Milwaukee (later, Atlanta) Braves. He hit 755 home runs—40 more than the record set by Babe Ruth.

The first issue of Reader's Digest magazine was published on this day in 1922: thirty-one condensed articles, edited by DeWitt Wallace.

It's the birthday of William S. Burroughs, born in St. Louis (1914). Most of his books are about heroin addiction, his homosexuality, or the drug culture. His first novel, Junky: Confessions of an Unredeemed Drug Addict (1951), was followed by Naked Lunch (1959) and many others, including Queen (1985).

(Instapaper)

-->

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 Sharon Olds 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 »