Thursday

Jul. 27, 2006

One Lonely Afternoon

by Russell Edson

THURSDAY, 27 JULY, 2006
Listen (RealAudio) | How to listen

Poem: "One Lonely Afternoon" by Russell Edson from The Rooster's Wife. © BOA Editions, LTD. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

One Lonely Afternoon

Since the fern can't go to the sink for a drink, I graciously
submit myself to the task, returning with two glasses of water.
    And so we sit, the fern and I, sipping water together. ...

    Of course I'm more complex than a fern, full of deep
thoughts as I am. But I lay this aside for the easy company of
an afternoon friendship.
    Yet, had I my druthers, I'd be speeding through the sky for
Stockholm, sipping bloody marys with wedges of lime. ...

    And so we sit one lonely afternoon sipping water together.
The fern looking out of its fronds, as I look out of mine. ...


Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of Joseph Mitchell, (books by this author) born in Fairmont, North Carolina (1908). He wanted to be a reporter, so he moved to New York City after college, arriving in town the day after the stock market crash in 1929. He got a job covering crime stories in Brooklyn, and he especially enjoyed writing about gangster funerals. He eventually got a job writing for The New Yorker.

In 1965, Mitchell published Joe Gould's Secret, about a man who claimed to have learned the language of seagulls and was translating the poetry of Longfellow into their language. It was Mitchell's last book. He kept going to his New Yorker office every day for the next thirty years, but he never published another word.


It's the birthday of Elizabeth Hardwick, (books by this author) born in Lexington, Kentucky (1916). She is the author of novels such as The Ghostly Lover (1945) and The Simple Truth (1955). In the early 1960s, she and some of her literary friends decided over dinner to found a book-reviewing journal called The New York Review of Books. She said it was dedicated to "the unusual, the difficult, the lengthy, the intransigent, and, above all, the interesting."

Elizabeth Hardwick said, "The greatest gift is a passion for reading. It is cheap, it consoles, it distracts, it excites, it gives you knowledge of the world and experience of a wide kind. It is a moral illumination."


It was on this day in 1940 that Bugs Bunny made his debut in a short animated film called "A Wild Hare". He was modeled on Groucho Marx, with a carrot rather than a cigar. Mel Blanc gave him a Brooklyn accent. The story line of the cartoon involved Elmer Fudd hunting rabbits, only to have Bugs thwart him at every turn. Bugs Bunny's first line in the cartoon, when he meets Elmer Fudd, is, "What's up, doc?" It was a phrase that one of the writers remembered people saying where he grew up in Texas.


It was on this day in 1793 that Maximilien de Robespierre, became the head the Committee of Public Safety, which led to the Reign of Terror in France.

Robespierre had started out as an idealistic lawyer and judge. He was well known for representing poor people in court, and he often spoke out against the absolute authority of the king. Even after he became a public figure in Paris and Versailles, he lived an extremely frugal life. He lived as a lodger in the house of a carpenter. He worked on the first French constitution and fought for universal suffrage. He opposed all forms of religious and racial discrimination, taking the unpopular view that that even Jews and black slaves should be granted full citizenship.

After the French Revolution broke out, Robespierre was elected to the new National Convention, where he called for the execution of the king. He then worked to unify the various splinter groups within the revolution. At the time, France was being threatened by war with Austria. There was also a great fear of civil war breaking out between the various revolutionary factions. In his diary, Robespierre wrote, "What is needed is one single will."

And so, a man who had fought for constitutional democracy and universal citizenship found himself helping to organize a military dictatorship. On this day in 1793, he took his place on the Committee of Public Safety, which would rule France for the next year. And in order to keep French citizens in line, Robespierre advocated the use of the guillotine, a new machine that was supposed to make all executions efficient and humane. The guillotine was set up in the Place de la Révolution, which later became the Place de la Concorde, and over the next year more than 2,000 people were beheaded for having opposed the Revolution.

At first Robespierre executed people who had supported the monarchy. But then he began to execute revolutionaries who were too moderate. And finally, he began to execute people who had merely opposed him on one issue or another. Eventually, members of the National Convention began to realize that no one was safe, and even they could be the next victims. So they turned on Robespierre. Exactly one year, to the day, after he had taken control of the Committee of Public Safety, he was arrested, and the day after his arrest he went to the guillotine himself.

For more than a year Robespierre had been executing people in the public square to cheering crowds. When Robespierre went to his own death at the guillotine, onlookers said the crowd cheered just as loudly as ever.


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 »