Friday

Aug. 19, 2005

Girder

by Nan Cohen

FRIDAY, 19 AUGUST, 2005
Listen (RealAudio) | How to listen

Poem: "Girder" by Nan Cohen, from Rope Bridge. © Cherry Grove Collection. Reprinted with permission.

Girder

The simplest of bridges, a promise
that you will go forward,

that you can come back.
So you cross over.

It says you can come back.
So you go forward.

But even if you come back
then you must go forward.

I am always either going back
or coming forward. There is always

something I have to carry,
something I leave behind.

I am a figure in a logic problem,
standing on one shore

with the things I cannot leave,
looking across at what I cannot have.


Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of Ogden Nash, born in Rye, New York (1902). He wrote "To keep your marriage brimming, / With love in the loving cup, / Whenever you're wrong, admit it; / Whenever you're right, shut up."


It's the birthday of fashion designer (Gabrielle) Coco Chanel, born in Saumur, France (1883). Along with the perfume Chanel No. 5, which came out in 1922, she introduced turtleneck sweaters, trench coats, costume jewelry, bell-bottom trousers, bobbed hair, and the "little black dress."

Chanel said, "I invented my life by taking for granted that everything I did not like would have an opposite, which I would like."


It's the birthday of the memoirist Frank McCourt, born in Brooklyn, New York (1930). He was the first of seven children born to two Irish immigrants. He lived for a few years in New York City, as his father struggled to hold onto a job, but after his younger sister died, the family decided to return to Ireland. They settled in a tiny Irish town called Limerick.

McCourt's father was an alcoholic, who got fired from his jobs again and again, and managed to spend all of his meager income at the pub. McCourt grew up wearing tattered clothing and shoes that had been resoled with scraps of old tires. His family's home had neither a bathroom nor electricity. He and his siblings slept every night in bed with their parents on a flea infested mattress. For most meals, all they had was tea and bread. McCourt's mother said that tea and bread was a balanced meal, because it contained a liquid and a solid.

Two of McCourt's brothers died of disease and malnutrition. McCourt was ten years old when he caught typhoid fever. He had to spend a week in the hospital, and he was shocked to find that the hospital was a kind of paradise. It was the first time he could remember that he got three square meals a day, the first time he had slept between real bed sheets, and it was also the first time that he had free access to books. He read Shakespeare in the hospital, and fell in love with literature. From that day forward, he would borrow books wherever he could find them, and since his house had no electricity, he would read at night on the street, standing under a streetlamp.

McCourt eventually saved enough money to buy a ticket on a boat to New York City. He served in the Korean War and went to college on the GI Bill. He became a high school English teacher, and taught in the New York City public schools for 18 years.

For years he tried to write about his experiences growing up in Ireland, but he found he was too angry to write anything worth reading. Then, one day, he was listening to the way his granddaughter used language, and he suddenly realized that the key to writing his book would be to write it in the voice of a child. A few days later, McCourt opened up a notebook and wrote the words, "I'm in a playground on Classon Avenue in Brooklyn with my brother, Malachy. He's two, I'm three. We're on the seesaw." It was his earliest memory, and it became one of the first scenes in what would become his memoir, Angela's Ashes.

The book came out in 1996. The publisher printed a modest run of 27,000 copies, and McCourt himself said he was just pleased to have published a book at all. But the book caught on through word-of-mouth, and McCourt's public readings were immensely popular, and then the book won the Pulitzer Prize. It eventually spent two years on the New York Times best-seller list, becoming one of the most popular memoirs ever written.


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 »