Aug. 3, 2001


by John Updike

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Poem: “Hoeing,” by John Updike from Telephone Poles and Other Poems (Alfred A. Knopf).


I sometimes fear the younger generation will be deprived
    of the pleasures of hoeing;
    there is no knowing
how many souls have been formed by this simple exercise.

The dry earth like a great scab breaks, revealing
    moist-dark loam—
    the pea-root's home,
a fertile wound perpetually healing.

How neatly the green weeds go under!
    The blade chops the earth new.
    Ignorant the wise boy who
has never rendered thus the world fecunder.

It's the birthday, in Akron, Ohio, 1962, of writer Walter Kirn, author of the short story collection My Hard Bargain, published in 1990, and the novel She Needed Me, published in 1992. He has also been a reviewer for the New Yorker and other magazines.

Samuel Becket's play Waiting for Godot was performed for the first time in English on this day in 1955, at the Arts Theater in London. Becket, who was Irish, actually wrote the play in French, and the play had its world premier in Paris two years earlier. About half the audience walked out of the London premier.

It's the birthday of poet Diane Wakoski, born in Whittier, California in 1937. She taught junior high school for a while, then left teaching and supported herself entirely through her own poetry: She wrote and published new work, gave as many as 80 readings a year, and did short guest-professorships until she finally settled down to teach at Michigan State University.

Poet Marvin Bell was born on this day in 1937 in New York City. He has written several collections, but is best known for Stars Which See, Stars Which Do Not See, which made him a National Book Award finalist in 1977. He said, "American poetry has been tiresome in its discovery of the individual self, over and over and over, and its discovery of emotions, that, indeed, we all have: loneliness, fear, despair, etc. We know these things. It's ultimately pleasanter and healthier for everyone if one thinks of the self as being very small and unimportant."

It's the birthday, in 1929, Cuero, Texas, of Annette Sanford, who taught high school English for 25 years in Ganado, Texas, then retired and started writing. She is known for writing, among other things, romance novels. She has created nearly two-dozen under the pen names of Mary Carroll, Meg Dominique, Lisa St. John, Anne Star, and Anne Shore.

It's the birthday in Baltimore, 1924, of novelist Leon Uris. He is the author of Exodus, a novel about the formation of the State of Israel; it was a best seller in 1958.

It's the birthday in Oxford, 1920, of the English crime novelist P.D. (Phyllis Dorothy) James. Her husband had returned from WWII traumatized and had to be institutionalized for years. She had two young children to support on her own, so she wrote early in the morning before going to work as a hospital administrator, on the commuter train, or on weekends. Now there are many P.D. James mysteries.

It's the birthday near Dana, Indiana, 1900, of the WWII correspondent Ernie Pyle. In the '30s he was a roving reporter for Scripps-Howard, traveling the country writing about how ordinary people coped with the Great Depression. During the war he turned to writing about the everyday life of the G.I. He was killed by a sniper in the South Pacific in April, 1945.

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