Jun. 10, 2007

A Girl Playing in a Sandbox

by David Wagoner

SUNDAY, 10 JUNE, 2007
Listen (RealAudio) | How to listen

Poem: "A Girl Playing in a Sandbox" by David Wagoner, from The House of Song. © University of Illinois Press, 2002. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

A Girl Playing in a Sandbox

She drops the plastic soldiers, the trucks
            And tanks and caissons over the side
                        Of the sandbox and begins smoothing
The field of battle with her hands and forearms,
            Sweeping away the foxholes, trenches, and craters
                        Where only a moment ago the lost patrols
And panzers had plowed to the four known corners
            Of her desert under the leadership
                        Of boys. She follows her own fingers
With her eyes as if she could see the wind
            Retouching the dunes, as if she could hear it
                        Trembling along the sand, the lovely fragments,
The cracked misshapen incongruously melded
            And bedded abrasive multitudes, the ruins
                        Of mountains, now bringing themselves
More peacefully together around her, obeying
            Her slightest gesture and changing everything
                        They are, for her alone, at her lightest touch.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of Terence Rattigan (books by this author), London (1911), a popular British playwright in the '40s and '50s. He said he wrote for the common theatergoer, whom he called "Aunt Edna."

Terence Rattigan said, " A novelist may lose his readers for a few pages; a playwright never dares lose his audience for a minute."

It's the birthday of novelist and short story writer, James Salter (books by this author), born in New York City (1925). He's the author of The Hunters, The Arm of Flesh, and many Hollywood screenplays as well. James Salter said, "In the richness of language, its grace, breadth, dexterity, lies its power. To speak with clarity, brevity and wit is like holding a lightning rod."

It's the birthday of Saul Bellow (books by this author), born in Quebec, Canada (1915). He grew up in Chicago. He was often sick as a child, and spent his time reading the great classics of literature. Saul Bellow later said, "I came humbly, hat in hand, to literary America. I didn't ask for much; I had a book or two to publish. I didn't expect to make money at it. I saw myself at the tail end of a great glory. I was very moved by the books I had read in school, and I brought an offering to the altar."

His father wasn't happy that Bellow wanted to be a writer. He said, "You write and then you erase. You call that a profession?" His brothers went into more conventional careers and Bellow once said, "All I started out to do was to show up my brothers."

He wrote a couple of novels that didn't do that well. He went to Paris on a Guggenheim fellowship. He hated Paris. The more he hated Paris, the more he loved America and Chicago. It was there he began writing his first big successful book, The Adventures of Augie March.

It's the anniversary of the establishment of A(lcoholics) A(nonymous), (1935) in Akron, Ohio. It was founded by a stockbroker named Bill Wilson and a surgeon, Bob Smith, who found that the best way to keep from drinking was to spend time with other people who were trying to keep from drinking. Between the two of them, they developed the main traditions of AA: anonymity, confession, and mutual support.

Alcoholics Anonymous grew rapidly in the '40s and '50s, but Bill Wilson refused to appear on the cover of Time, wouldn't accept an honorary degree from Yale, because believed in anonymity, and he stuck with it to the end.

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 »