Sunday

Jul. 8, 2001

Familiars

by Pamela Stewart

Sunday, 8 July 2001
Listen (RealAudio) | How to listen

Poem: "Familiars," by Pamela Stewart from The Red Window (University of Georgia Press).

Familiars

Sniffing juice and drip from the still
warm barbeque, a gray cat splays
his six-toed paws, glares in
where a family sits eating. The woman rises,
opens the door onto its wild face.
Its eyes daze to panic.
He leaps away, slashes the air
then slams each corner of the fenced yard to escape.
It's June. Strawberries splatter
in their huge steel pot.
The hot blue flames suck and drift.
The softer family cat slips upstairs
where two small children curl against summery dreams.
Beyond, night thickens in the forest
and those who hunger edge closer.

It's the birthday of the novelist and syndicated columnist Anna Quindlen, born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 1953. She went Barnard College, wrote for the New York Post, and then moved to the New York Times, where she stayed for 17 years. In 1985, she took time off to be with her children and to write a novel, then returned to write her Life in the 30s column, which was picked up in syndication by 60 newspapers across the country. After another leave of absence when her daughter was born, she began her Public and Private column, which won her the Pulitzer Prize for commentary in 1992. She finally left the Times for good in 1994, and began to concentrate on writing novels, which include Object Lessons, One True Thing, and Black and Blue.

It's the birthday of singer and songwriter Raffi Cavoukian, better known to millions of children and parents simply as Raffi, born in Cairo, Egypt, in 1948. His family moved to Canada when he was ten, and a few years later he started to play the guitar. In the late 1960s, he began performing as a folk singer, but didn't have much success until he was put in front of an audience of nursery school children. Using his own money, he put out the record Singable Songs for the Very Young in 1976. The record was a hit, and Raffi was on his way to becoming a superstar for the preschool set. His albums include Baby Beluga, One Light, One Sun, and Everything Grows.

It's the birthday of the physician and author Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, born in Zurich, Switzerland in 1926. As a teenager, she hitchhiked through Europe, and visited recently-liberated concentration camps. The experience shaped her entire career. She became a doctor and moved to America, where she was appalled by the sterile and isolated ways in which people died. She began to interview terminally ill patients, and came up with her famous stages of dying: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. She published the results of her research in her most famous book, On Death and Dying, in 1969.

It's the birthday of the jazz singer and bandleader Billy Eckstein, born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in 1914. He gave many musicians their start, including Sarah Vaughn, Dizzy Gillespie, and Charlie Parker.

On this date in 1822, the English Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley drowned in a boating accident off the coast of Livorno, Italy. He was sailing in his boat, the Don Juan, when a sudden squall came up and swamped the boat. His body washed ashore several days later, and was buried in the Protestant Cemetery in Rome, near the grave of John Keats. When he heard the news of Shelley's death, Lord Byron wrote: "Shelley was, without exception, the best and least selfish man I ever knew."

It's the birthday of the French poet Jean de la Fontaine, born in Château-Thierry in 1621. He was able to line up a number of wealthy patrons who gave him the freedom to pursue a career as a writer. His greatest work was his Fables, 240 poems in free verse which came out in twelve books between 1668 and 1693. The Fables include familiar tales like "The Tortoise and the Hare" and "The Crow and the Fox."

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 »