Jul. 1, 2001

The Committee

by Ann Stanford

Sunday, 1 July 2001
Listen (RealAudio) | How to listen

Poem: "The Committee," by Ann Stanford from Holding My Own (Copper Canyon Press).

The Committee

Black and serious, they are dropping down one by one to the
    top of the walnut tree.
It is spring and the bare branches are right for a conversation.
The sap has not risen yet, but those branches will always be bare
Up there, crooked with ebbed life lost now, like a legal
They shift a bit as they settle into place.
Once in a while one says something, but the answer is always
    the same,
The question is too—it is all caw and caw.
Do they think they are hidden by the green leaves partway up
    the branches?
Do they like it up there cocking their heads in the fresh
One by one they fly off as if to other appointments.
Whatever they did, it must be done all over again.

It's the birthday of novelist William DeAndrea, born in Port Chester, New York, in 1952. He is best known for his humorous crime stories. His first novel was Killed in the Ratings, which was published in 1978.

It's the birthday of the motion picture director and producer Sydney Pollack, born in Lafayette, Indiana, in 1934. He went to New York to become an actor and taught acting there. In 1960, he went to California and began directing television shows. He then made four films, which did not do well at the box office, and then hit it big with They Shoot Horses Don't They in 1969. Sydney Pollack, who said: "I like [my] failures as much as I like the successes ... I work just as hard, I care just as much."

It's the birthday of journalist, editor, and novelist James M. Cain, born in Annapolis, Maryland, in 1892, whose writing epitomizes the "hard-boiled" school of literature. He wrote The Postman Always Rings Twice, Double Indemnity, and Mildred Pierce.

It's the birthday of playwright and novelist Susan Glaspell, born in Davenport, Iowa, in 1876. She and her husband moved to New York and began to summer in Providence, Rhode Island, where they created the Provincetown Players. Eugene O'Neill was a playwright there. In 1930, Glaspell became the second woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for her play Alison's House, based on the life of Emily Dickinson.

On this day in 1863, the Battle of Gettysburg began, the largest battle in the Western hemisphere. The fighting went on from the 1st of July through the 3rd, and more men died in this small town than in any other place in North America.

On this day in 1858, Charles Darwin presented his paper on the theory of evolution. Although he had formulated his theory in 1837, he did not publish his ideas for many years. He was prompted to do so because another scientist, Alfred Russel Wallace, had much the same theory, and had written a paper on it. Darwin, realizing he was about to be scooped, read his own paper at a meeting of the Linnean Society in London on July 1, 1858.

It's the birthday of the editor and writer William Strunk Jr., born in Cincinnati in 1869. He taught composition at Cornell University, where he wrote a little book for the instruction of his students called The Elements of Style, probably the most popular simple guide to writing ever published. It was full of useful rules such as "avoid overwriting," "revise and rewrite," and "be direct." Within the handbook, Strunk wrote:

Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words ... This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short, or that he avoid detail and treat his subjects only in outline, but that every word tell.

It's the birthday of the novelist George Sand, the pseudonym of Aurore Dupin, born in Paris in 1804. She was the author of many novels including Consuelo, The Master Bellringers, Indiana, Valentine, and was also known for her romantic affairs, including her long affair with the composer Frédéric Chopin.

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 »