Saturday

Jan. 7, 2006

Complaint

by James Wright

SATURDAY, 7 JANUARY, 2006
Listen (RealAudio) | How to listen

Poem: "Complaint" by James Wright from James Wright: Selected Poems. © Farrar, Straus, and Girous and Wesleyen Press. Reprinted with permission.

Complaint

She's gone. She was my love, my moon or more.
She chased the chickens out and swept the floor,
Emptied the bones and nut-shells after feasts,
And smacked the kids for leaping up like beasts.
Now morbid boys have grown past awkwardness;
The girls let stitches out, dress after dress,
To free some swinging body's riding space
And form the new child's unimagined face.
Yet, while vague nephews, spitting on their curls,
Amble to pester winds and blowsy girls,
What arm will sweep the room, what hand will hold
New snow against the milk to keep it cold?
And who will dump the garbage, feed the hogs,
And pitch the chickens' heads to hungry dogs?
Not my lost hag who dumbly bore such pain:
Childbirth and midnight sassafras and rain.
New snow against her face and hands she bore,
And now lies down, who was my moon or more.


Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of the novelist and essayist Nicholson Baker, born in Rochester, New York (1957). He started out wanting to be a musician and was good enough at the bassoon that he got into the Eastman School of Music. He planned to become a composer and then one day he saw his mother laughing uncontrollably at a New York Times Book Review essay on golf by the writer John Updike. Baker later wrote, "[My mother's laughter] was miraculous, sourced in the nowhere of print, unaided by ham mannerisms... Nothing is more impressive than the sight of a complex person suddenly ripping out a laugh over some words in a serious book or periodical."

At that moment Baker decided that instead of becoming a composer he wanted to be a writer. His most recent book is Checkpoint (2004).

Nicholson Bakers said, "Most writers are secretly worried that they're not really writers. That it's all been happenstance, something came together randomly, the letters came together, and they won't coalesce ever again."

He also said, "It makes me unhappy when certain things change or things are superceded... my nine year old daughter's personality... Card catalogues... Jiffy Pop right now feels imperiled... I want to stop time and get things down on paper before they've flown off like a flock of starlings."


It's the birthday of novelist, folklorist and anthropologist Zora Neale Hurston, born in Notasulga, Alabama (1891). She eventually finished high school in Baltimore while working full time as a live-in maid. In 1920 she enrolled in Howard University. Her first story, Spunk, was published in Opportunity magazine in 1925 when it won second prize in a fiction contest. At the awards dinner Hurston met author Fanny Hurst who hired Hurston as her assistant and arranged for her to receive a scholarship to Barnard College. While in New York Hurston published the "Eatonville Anthology," a series of fourteen brief sketches, some only two paragraphs long, including glimpses of a woman beggar, an incorrigible dog, a backwards farmer, the greatest liar in the village and a cheating husband.

Hurston came to the attention of anthropologist Franz Boas who got her a grant to collect folklore, songs and stories from black Southerners. Unfortunately her subjects were highly suspicious of her New York accent and manners. She said, "When I went about [talking] in carefully accented 'Barnardese,'... the men and women who had whole treasuries of material seeping through their pores looked at me and shook their heads. No, they had never heard of anything like that around here. Maybe it was over in the next county. Why didn't I try over there?'"

On returning to New York, Hurston became part of what has become known as the Harlem Renaissance. And it was there in just seven weeks that she wrote her masterpiece Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937). It's the story of a black woman in rural Florida named Janie Crawford and her three marriages: the first to the farmer Logan Killicks who treats her like a slave, the second to the politician Jody Starks who treats her like a queen, and finally to the penniless Tea Cake Woods with whom she finally finds true love.

Although for a time Hurston was the most prolific and most famous black woman writer in America, interest in her work faded away in the 1950s, and so did her money. She worked at odd jobs for the next ten years writing a few magazine articles every now and again. She wrote three novels which were rejected for publication. Her death in 1960 in a welfare home went largely unnoticed and she was buried in an unmarked grave.

Zora Neale Hurston said, "Love, I find, is like singing. Everybody can do enough to satisfy themselves, though it may not impress the neighbors as being very much."


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 »