Aug. 23, 2003


by John Ciardi

(RealAudio) | How to listen

Poem: "Suburban," by John Ciardi, from Selected Poems (University of Arkansas Press).


Yesterday Mrs. Friar phoned. "Mr. Ciardi,
how do you do?" she said. "I am sorry to say
this isn't exactly a social call. The fact is
your dog has just deposited-forgive me-
a large repulsive object in my petunias."

I thought to ask, "Have you checked the rectal grooving
   for a positive I.D.?" My dog, as it happened,
was in Vermont with my son, who had gone fishing-
   if that's what one does with a girl, two cases of beer,
and a borrowed camper. I guessed I'd get no trout.

But why lose out on organic gold for a wise crack?
   "Yes, Mrs. Friar," I said, "I understand."
"Most kind of you," she said. "Not at all," I said.
   I went with a spade. She pointed, looking away.
"I always have loved dogs," she said, "but really!"

I scooped it up and bowed. "The animal of it.
I hope this hasn't upset you, Mrs. Friar."
"Not really," she said, "but really!" I bore the turd
   across the line to my own petunias
and buried it till the glorious resurrection

when even these suburbs shall give up their dead.

Literary Notes:

It's the birthday of dancer, choreographer, and film director Gene Kelly, born in Pittsburgh (1912). He changed the way America saw men who danced. In 1942 he made his film debut with Judy Garland in For Me and My Gal, and moviegoers loved him. He tailored his dance to film. He said, "I tried to do things ... that you couldn't do on a stage .... I tried to invent the dance to fit the camera and its movements." He danced with an image of himself in Cover Girl (1944); with an animated mouse in Anchors Aweigh (1945); and in a downpour in Singin' in the Rain (1952), his most famous role.

It's the birthday of playwright Willy Russell, born in Whitson, England (1947), one of Britain's best-known dramatists. He writes about the lives of working-class Britons, especially in Liverpool, and his works are full of the language of the city. He was a hairdresser and laborer before he was a writer. He owned his own salon, and as the ladies chatted, he paid attention to their dialect. In between appointments he would write. When he was 25, three of his one-act plays were noticed at the Edinburgh Festival, and he was commissioned to write a play about the Beatles. John, Paul, George, Ringo ... and Bert (1974) was his first big hit in London's West End. He's also the author of the plays Educating Rita (1980) and Shirley Valentine (1986).

It's the birthday of poet and novelist Edgar Lee Masters, born in Garnett, Kansas (1869). He was a lawyer who also wrote poems and novels. His Spoon River Anthology (1915) became extremely popular, as much for its scandal as its poetry. It's composed of 245 epitaphs for the dead citizens buried in a cemetery near Spoon River, a fictional town based on the small Illinois towns Masters knew in his youth. It was the sex-shocker of its day. Masters exposed the hypocrisy of small town life, portraying the dead citizens as fornicators and thieves. One man, Henry Barker, impregnates his wife because he knows that childbirth will literally kill her. Old Henry Bennett dies of overexertion in the bed of his young wife. Masters went on to publish many more books, but none of the same quality as Spoon River.

It's the birthday of humorist and literary critic Will Cuppy, born in Auburn, Indiana (1884). He was discharged from the military after World War I and he became a recluse, living in an abandoned cabin on Jones Island, New York, and then spending the last 20 years of his life secluded in a Greenwich Village apartment. He supported himself by writing book reviews—more than 4,000 over 23 years—for the New York Herald. His first book of humor was called How to Be a Hermit; or, A Bachelor Keeps House (1929). His later books use a mock-scientific tone: How to Tell Your Friends From the Apes (1931), How to Become Extinct (1941), The Decline and Fall of Practically Everybody (1950), and How to Get From January to December (1951)

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 »