Saturday

May 11, 2002

Appetite

by Maxine Kumin

SATURDAY, 11 MAY 2002
Listen
(RealAudio) | How to listen

Poem
: "Appetite," by Maxine Kumin from Selected Poems: 1960-1990 (W.W. Norton & Co.).

Appetite

I eat these
wild red raspberries
still warm from the sun
and smelling faintly of jewelweed
in memory of my father

tucking the napkin
under his chin and bending
over an ironstone bowl
of the bright drupelets
awash in cream

my father
with the sigh of a man
who has seen all and been redeemed
said time after time
as he lifted his spoon

men kill for this.


It's the birthday of Rachel Billington, born (1942). She's the author of a Jane Austen-style novel of manners, a psychological crime thriller, and thirteen other novels. She is also the daughter of a prominent British family of writers. Her father was a publisher, her mother was a journalist, and her sister and brother are both writers. Her uncle was the novelist Anthony Powell.

It's the birthday of Stanley Elkin, born in the Bronx (1930). He won the National Book Critic's Circle Award twice, the second time posthumously, for a novel called Mrs. Ted Bliss, about an eighty-five-year-old widow in Florida who finds herself befriending a drug dealer. A graduate student once told Elkin that writers write for emotional reasons. "No," Elkin said, "writers do not write for emotional reasons-they write because they want to make something. I asked her if she knew the Stephen Sondheim musical with the number about making a hat-'a hat, a hat, I made a hat where there never was a hat.' That's so moving to me I choke up when I tell you about it. That's why people write."

It's the birthday of Mari Sandoz born near Hay Springs, Nebraska (1896). Her father did not let her go to school until she was nine, and when her first story was printed, he locked her in the cellar. He told her artists and writers were "the maggots of society." After a dreadful early marriage, she remained single for the rest of her life, and she spent hours by herself in the basement of the State Historical Society, reading old newspapers with a flashlight. Her first success as a writer did not come until she was almost forty. When her memoir Old Jules was accepted for publication by the Atlantic Press, they told her to take out all the Nebraska colloquialisms she had worked so hard to preserve; they said Eastern readers would not understand them. She did not relent, and continued to write the way she heard people speak. Even her biography of Crazy Horse used speech and metaphors natural to the Oglaga Sioux, so far as she could ascertain them from interviews with his descendents.

It's the birthday of Irving Berlin, born Israel Baline, in Russia (1888). His father was a ritual slaughterer of chickens and the cantor of the community synagogue. The family moved to New York City to escape the pogroms, and Berlin went to work to support them when he was eight. He made more money from royalties than any other songwriter in history. He wrote "God Bless America" for an Army fundraiser during the First World War and then packed it away in a trunk. When Kate Smith asked him for a patriotic song on the eve of World War Two, he took it out again. He did a little work on it before he sent it off. One line ended, "from the green fields of Virginia to the gold fields out in Nome," but he changed it to "from the mountains to the prairies to the oceans white with foam." The royalties for performances of the song traditionally go to the Boy Scouts.

On this day in 1812 the waltz was introduced at Almack's dance hall in London. It was the first closed couple dance the English aristocracy had ever seen. Men and women embraced one another as they were dancing, and the men lifted the women over their thighs as the couples turned. Critics called it "disgusting."

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 Sharon Olds 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 »