Thursday

Oct. 13, 2005

How To Be a Poet

by Wendell Berry

THURSDAY, 13 OCTOBER, 2005
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Poem: "How To Be a Poet" by Wendell Berry from Given: New Poems. © Shoemaker Hoard, Washington, D.C. Reprinted with permission.

How To Be a Poet
(to remind myself)

Make a place to sit down.
Sit down. Be quiet.
You must depend upon
affection, reading, knowledge,
skill-more of each
that you have-inspiration,
work, growing older, patience,
for patience joins time
to eternity. Any readers
who like your work,
doubt their judgment.

Breathe with unconditional breath
the unconditioned air.
Shun electric wire.
Communicate slowly. Live
a three-dimensioned life;
stay away from screens.
Stay away from anything
that obscures the place it is in.
There are no unsacred places;
there are only sacred places
and desecrated places.

Accept what comes from silence.
Make the best you can of it.
Of the little words that come
out of the silence, like prayers
prayed back to the one who prays,
make a poem that does not disturb
the silence from which it came.


Literary and Historical Notes:

It was on this day in 1792 in Washington D.C. that the cornerstone was laid for the presidential residence, now known as the White House. The Frenchman, Pierre L'Enfant, who designed Washington, D.C. wanted the residence to look like the palace of Versailles. George Washington thought that was a little too fancy, so he got an Irish architect named James Hoban to reduce the design to one-fifth of its original size. Washington laid the cornerstone and supervised the construction. John Adams was the first president to call it home.

People nicknamed it the White House from the very beginning. There was a coat of whitewash brushed on the sandstone to protect it against winter. Thomas Jefferson was the one who installed flushing toilets. Andrew Jackson got the first shower. Martin Van Buren brought in central heating. Rutherford B. Hayes introduced the telephone. Benjamin Harrison had it wired for electricity. President Truman brought in the first TV set.


It's the birthday of novelist Conrad Richter, born in Pine Grove, Pennsylvania (1890). He wrote a trilogy about frontier life in Ohio: The Trees (1940), The Fields (1946), and The Town (1950).


It's the birthday of Arna Wendell Bontemps born in Alexandria, Louisiana (1902). He moved to New York City to become part of the Harlem Renaissance with Langston Hughes and James Weldon Johnson. His first novel was God Sends Sunday in 1931, and his masterpiece, Black Thunder, was published in 1936.


It's the birthday of the poet and translator Richard Howard, born in Cleveland (1929). He was a translator of more than 150 books, most of them from French, including The Flowers of Evil by Charles Baudelaire. Howard's own selected poems, Inner Voices, came out last year.


It's the birthday of comedian Lenny Bruce, born on Long Island (1925). He was one of the first comedians who didn't tell jokes as such but just stood up on stage and talked about things, politics, society, and religion.


It's the birthday of songwriter Paul Simon, born in Newark (1941). He was an English major at Queens College. He formed a duo with his boyhood friend Art Garfunkel, and they made their first album in 1964. It didn't sell well. The two men split up and Paul Simon went to Europe to work as a folk singer. But while he was there, the Simon & Garfunkel song "The Sound of Silence" made its way up the Top 40 charts, all the way to number one.


Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®

 









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  • “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
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