Monday

Feb. 18, 2002

In the Ancient Tradition

by David Budbill

MONDAY, 18 FEBRUARY 2002
Listen (RealAudio) | How to listen

Poem: "In the Ancient Tradition," and "Dilemma," by David Budbill from Moment to Moment: Poems of a Mountain Recluse (Copper Canyon Press).

In the Ancient Tradition

I live within the ancient tradition:
the poet as mountain recluse,
withdrawn and hidden,
a life of genteel poverty,
a quiet life of meditation,

which gives me lots of time
to gnash my teeth and worry over
how I want to be known and read
by everyone and have admirers
everywhere and lots of money!


Dilemma

I want to be
famous
so I can be
humble
about being
famous.

What good is my
humility
when I am
stuck
in this
obscurity?


It's the birthday of novelist Toni Morrison, born Chloe Anthony Wofford, in Lorain, Ohio (1931), who won the Nobel Prize for Literature (1993). Her first novel, The Bluest Eye (1970), was about a black teenage girl who's obsessed with white standards and longs to have blue eyes. Beloved, winner of the Pulitzer Prize (1987), was based on a true story of a runaway slave who, just as she is recaptured, kills her baby daughter to spare her from slavery. Toni Morrison, who said: "I always get up and make a cup of coffee while it is still dark-it must be dark-and then I drink the coffee and watch the light come. …Writers all devise ways to approach that place where they expect to make the contact, where they become the conduit, or where they engage in this mysterious process. For me, light is the signal in the transition. It's not being in the light, it's being there before it arrives. It enables me, in some sense."

It's the birthday of editor and writer Helen Gurley Brown, born in Green Forest, Arkansas (1922). Her first book, Sex and the Single Girl (1962), was an immediate hit. In brief, her advice to single women was, "Be smart, be charming, and be good in bed." Three years later (1965), Brown was named editor of the languishing women's magazine Cosmopolitan, which she quickly revamped into a slick, extended advice column for young, single, urban working women.

It's the birthday of novelist Wallace Stegner, born in Lake Mills, Iowa (1909). His novels were mostly set in the American West: Angle of Repose (1971-Pulitzer Prize); Big Rock Candy Mountain (1943); The Spectator Bird (1976-National Book Award); and Crossing to Safety (1987). He also wrote several works of historical nonfiction set in the Western United States, including Mormon Country (1942) and Beyond the Hundredth Meridian (1954). He died in Santa Fe in 1993. He said, "I may not know who I am, but I know where I'm from."

It's the birthday of Surrealist writer André Breton, born in Tinchebray, France (1896). In his novel Nadja (1928), Breton defined Surrealist thought as "Pure psychic automatism, by which it is intended to express, whether verbally or in writing, or in any other way, the real process of thought."

It's the birthday of Yiddish humorist and writer Sholem Aleichem, born Sholem Yakov Rabinowitz, in Pereyaslav, Ukraine (1859). At 24 he published his first book in Yiddish, and would produce more than 40 such volumes during the remaining 33 years of his life. He was a great supporter of all things Yiddish including other Yiddish writers and a newspaper he edited. He also wrote Yiddish stories for children, and helped found the Yiddish Art Theater in New York, two years before he died. A collection of his short stories was adapted as the libretto for the musical comedy The Fiddler on the Roof (1964).


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 »