Feb. 17, 2007

In Praise of Imperfect Love

by Jessica Goodfellow

Listen (RealAudio) | How to listen

Poem: "In Praise of Imperfect Love" by Jessica Goodfellow, from A Pilgrim's Guide to Chaos in the Heartland. © Concrete Wolf Chapbook Series. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

In Praise of Imperfect Love

Courtesans of tenth century Japan knew
the keening of the caged copper pheasant,
solo double-note aria for a missing mate,
could be silenced with a mirror

The ideal of a love that completes
masks a yearning for homeostasis,
a second umbilical, island fever,
harmony tighter than unison —

dull as a solved equation;
like the ex-lover who said,
"Being with you is like being alone."
He meant it as a compliment.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of novelist Chaim Potok, (books by this author) born in the Bronx, New York (1929). He's the author of several novels about Orthodox Jewish communities in Brooklyn and the Bronx, including The Chosen (1967), The Promise (1969), and The Book of Lights (1981).

It was on this day in 1972 that President Richard Nixon (books by this author) departed on his historic trip to China, with the goal of normalizing relations between the two countries. At the time, relations were so nonexistent with China that the White House didn't even have any Chinese contacts to with whom to communicate. Nixon had to contact the Chinese government through European diplomats.

It's the birthday of crime novelist Ruth Rendell, (books by this author) born in London (1930). One of the most celebrated mystery novelists of all time, she's best known for her mystery novels featuring Chief Inspector Reginald Wexford. But she also writes novels under the pseudonym Barbara Vine, and some critics consider these books to be her best work. Her parents had a difficult marriage, and Rendell spent a lot of time alone when she was a kid. She started writing in her teens, and she was remarkably ambitious. She managed to write an entire novel in verse about a first-century British queen when she was just 15 years old. As a young woman, she began writing dark, literary short stories, but she couldn't get anything published.

Then, just for fun, she decided to write a detective novel. She had no intention of publishing it, but when a publisher turned down another novel and asked her if she had anything else, she decided to see what he thought of the detective story. He loved it. And that was From Doon with Death (1964), the novel that introduced Inspector Wexford. But while most of her Wexford novels are relatively straightforward mysteries, Rendell has also written books that examine how ordinary people could become murderers.

Rendell has averaged about two novels every year for most of her career. Her routine is to write every morning for five hours, and then she always eats the exact same lunch: bread, cheese, salad, and fruit. She also likes to move a lot. Since her writing career began, she's lived in 18 different houses, entirely by choice. She said, "It's a kind of hobby, I suppose. ... I like the whole business of [moving]. And I love the first night in the new place." Her most recent book is End in Tears (2006).

It was on this day in 1801 that the presidential election was decided for Thomas Jefferson (books by this author) by the House of Representatives. The election laws were quite different at the time. Each elector in the Electoral College was allowed to cast two votes. On top of that, each political party nominated two candidates. So the election was between four men, two from each party, and the result was a tie between Jefferson and his fellow Republican Party member Aaron Burr. The tie meant that the election had to be decided in the House of Representatives.

The first vote in the House was held during a blizzard on February 11, 1801. By 3:00 a.m. the following morning, 19 roll calls had been taken, but they'd all been deadlocked. Three days later, the deadlock was still unbroken. Commentators began to worry that Congress would have to adjourn before selecting a new president, meaning that the country would be without an executive branch for several months. John Adams feared that this situation might result in civil war. Some people in Virginia said that they would secede from the Union if Jefferson didn't take the presidency. Others in the Republican Party announced that they would drive the Federalists from Congress by force if necessary.

The election was finally decided when the lone representative from Delaware chose to abstain from voting. And so, on this day in 1801, Jefferson was elected the third president of the United States.

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 »