Apr. 28, 2007

I Have Lived This Way For Years And Do Not Wish To Change

by Michael Blumenthal

Listen (RealAudio) | How to listen

Poem: "I HAVE LIVED THIS WAY FOR YEARS AND DO NOT WISH TO CHANGE" by Michael Blumenthal, from Sympathetic Magic. © Water Mark Press. Reprinted with permission.


I hope you'll forgive the black paint
on my windows, the smell of cat litter
in the kitchen. Guests complain sometimes
that my collection of Minoan cadavers spoils
their appetite, or that having the shower
in the living room creates too much moisture,
but I think you'll grow used to it
if we get to be friends.

Yes, it is kind of inconvenient
having the bed strapped to the ceiling,
but I've grown so accustomed to the view
of my Max Ernst carpet that I hardly think
I could sleep with gravity anymore.

Why thank you, it was a gift from my lover's husband
after our honeymoon in Cincinnati. I do think
it goes well with the orange bedroom set, the burgundy curtain.

See, you're feeling quite at home already.
Don't be shy.
Help yourself to the jellyfish, the goose down,
the chocolate-covered cotton balls.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It was on this day in 1925 that the poet T.S. Eliot (books by this author) accepted the offer of a job at a small publishing house then called Faber & Gwyer, but which eventually became known as Faber and Faber. As a result, Eliot had an immense influence on the literature being published in Great Britain for the next several decades.

At that time, Faber & Gwyer specialized in medical and scientific publications. But the new chairman, Geoffrey Faber, wanted to branch out into high-quality literature. He was looking for a literary advisor, and a friend suggested Eliot. At the time, Eliot was a world-renowned poet, having published The Waste Land three years before that, in 1922. But the poem hadn't made him enough money to live on. He was still working at a bank, where he'd worked for eight years, and he found the work there increasingly exhausting. He was also in the middle of a terrible marriage, and he was beginning to consider divorcing his wife. He jumped at the chance for a change, hoping that it would improve his writing and possibly even his marriage.

The offices were located in an old Victorian mansion at 24 Russell Square, and Eliot became known as "the Pope of Russell Square." His office had formerly been a maid's bedroom on the second floor. Working there, he went on to discover the young poet W.H. Auden. He would also publish works by Marianne Moore, Louis MacNeice, Siegfried Sassoon, Jean Cocteau, Stephen Spender, Windham Lewis, Djuna Barnes, James Joyce, and Ted Hughes. He also presided over the publication of The Faber Book of Modern Verse (1936), which became one of the most popular and influential anthologies of modern poetry at the time. Under his leadership, the firm passed on publishing Animal Farm by George Orwell, but they chose to publish a book that had been rejected by everybody else in Great Britain, called The Lord of the Flies. It would become the best-selling novel in Faber and Faber's history.

Perhaps the most positive development for Eliot at Faber and Faber was the hiring of a young secretary named Valerie Fletcher in 1949. The two were married less than 10 years later, in 1957, and that marriage was the happiest period of Eliot's life.

It's the birthday of Harper Lee, (books by this author) born Nelle Harper in Monroeville, Alabama (1926). She's the author of To Kill a Mockingbird (1960), a novel about a girl named Scout growing up in Alabama during the Great Depression. She, her brother Jem, and her best friend Dill spend all their time trying to uncover the mystery of Boo Radley, the recluse who lives down the street.

Harper Lee grew up in Monroeville, which had a population of about 7,000, and it was the model for the town of Maycomb in To Kill a Mockingbird. Lee wrote, "It was a tired old town when I first knew it. In rainy weather the streets turned to red slop; grass grew on the sidewalks, the courthouse sagged in the square. Somehow, it was hotter then: a black dog suffered on a summer's day; bony mules hitched to Hoover carts flicked flies in the sweltering shade of the live oaks on the square. Men's stiff collars wilted by nine in the morning. Ladies bathed before noon, after their three-o'clock naps, and by nightfall were like soft teacakes with frostings of sweat and sweet talcum."

Today, To Kill a Mockingbird sells about a million copies every year, and it's sold more than 30 million copies since its publication. In 1963, just three years after its publication, it was taught in 8 percent of U.S. public middle schools and high schools, and today that figure is closer to 80 percent. Only Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth, and Huckleberry Finn are assigned more often.

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 »