Sep. 26, 2001

The Boarder

by Louis Simpson

Listen (RealAudio) | How to listen

Poem: “The Boarder,” by Louis Simpson from Strong Measures (Harper & Row).

The Boarder

The time is after dinner. Cigarettes
    Glow on the lawn;
Glasses begin to tinkle; TV sets
    Have been turned on.

The moon is brimming like a glass of beer
    Above the town,
And love keeps her appointments—"Harry's here!"
    "I'll be right down."

But the pale stranger in the furnished room
    Lies on his back
Looking at paper roses, how they bloom,
    And ceilings crack.

West Side Story, the Bernstein/Sondheim musical, opened at the Winter Garden Theatre in New York City on this day in 1957—Maria and Tony and the Jets and the Sharks, in place of Juliet and Romeo and the Montagues and Capulets.

It’s the birthday of novelist Jane Smiley born in Los Angeles (1949). She grew up in St. Louis, went to Vassar, traveled in Europe, and went to graduate school at the University of Iowa. She wrote a 500-page historical novel set in 14th-century Greenland, The Greenlanders, which took five years to research and write. When she set out to write A Thousand Acres she had a few ideas she thought were inter-related, such as the big, industrial mid-western American farms; female subservience; relationships within a dysfunctional family; and King Lear. The work of bringing these things together, she said, was “like lifting a heavy stone, carrying it forward two steps and dropping it. It was exhausting.”  But the book was a bestseller and won The National Book Critics Circle Award and the Pulitzer Prize. She once said, “I don't write to investigate my own life or sensibility. I write more to investigate the world,” and “Your sons weren't made to like you. That's what grandchildren are for.”

It’s the birthday of poet Ned O’Gorman, born in New York City (1929).

It’s the birthday of T(homas) S(tearns) Eliot born in St. Louis, Missouri (1888). He studied philosophy under George Santayana at Harvard, and was turned down by the U.S. Navy, so he went to Europe, studied in Paris and at Oxford and decided to settle in England. His poem The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock was written while he was still in college. His long poem The Wasteland was published in 1922, and Four Quartets in 1943. He also wrote a number of plays, the most successful of which was Murder in the Cathedral about the martyrdom of Thomas Becket. He said, “The years between 50 and 70 are the hardest. You are always being asked to do things, and you are not yet decrepit enough to turn them down,” and  “Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal.”

It’s the birthday of poet Jane Taylor born in London (1783), who, when she was 21, came out with a book of poems, Original Poems for Infant Minds (1804), and two years later, Rhymes for the Nursery which contained the poem, “Twinkle, twinkle, little star.”

It’s the birthday of Johnny Appleseed, John Chapman, born in Leominster, Massachusetts (1774), the son of a Revolutionary War hero. In his late teens or early 20s, he began wandering the Midwest frontier planting apple orchards, giving away apple seeds, and teaching people about the healing properties of plants. He was a mystic who was obeying a vision, and he walked barefoot, even in winter. He was a friend to the Indians, cut down no trees, did not kill animals, and did not carry a weapon. He wore raggedy old clothes, a tunic made of a coffee sack, and on his head, a tin mush pan as a hat. He died at 71 of pneumonia in northern Indiana. 

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 »