Aug. 4, 2007


by Cecilia Woloch

Listen (RealAudio) | How to listen

Poem: "1978" by Cecilia Woloch, from Late. © BOA Editions, 2003. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)


That winter we were so broke
we each siphoned gasoline from the other's cars,
lived on tea and cigarettes.
You let me wear the moth-eaten mink
your last lover, the stripper, had left behind.
(Or was she a fire-eater, that Rose, an exotic dancer
heading west and sure you would follow her?
You did.) Icy mornings, I lay in bed
while you warmed both engines; the frost would melt.
The check would come in the mail any day;
you'd take me to breakfast, suddenly rich.
But while we were young and poor our breath
was visible, like steam, like smoke.
(And Rosa, your Rosa, your Rose
was the ghost in each photograph you took.
I turned from the camera, ashamed
of how my face was still unformed.)
When the snow blurred to rain you would go.
I remember the taste of gasoline
and how you wrote a few times from the road
that sullen spring, then never wrote.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of one of the longest-running White House reporters in American history, Helen Thomas (books by this author), born in Winchester, Kentucky (1920). She went to Washington, D.C. to get a job as a journalist, but the only job she could find was getting coffee and donuts for reporters at the Washington Daily News. Even though she wasn't a journalist yet, she just loved being there. She would hover near the news ticker, and she got excited whenever the bell would ring to announce a news bulletin.

She eventually worked her way up to a job writing for the United Press International. She started covering the White House during the Kennedy administration and developed a reputation for extraordinary bluntness. She has gone on to cover every president since Kennedy, attending almost every White House press conference for more than 45 years. In all that time, she has occasionally been criticized for being too tough on presidents, asking too many combative questions. But she once said, "I just treat [presidents] like other human beings. I don't bow and scrape. I don't ask for their autographs. I cover them. They deserve respect, but not awe and certainly not fear."

Her most recent book is Watchdogs of Democracy?: The Waning Washington Press Corps and How It Has Failed the Public (2006).

It's the birthday of the Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley (books by this author), born in Sussex, England (1792). He died before the age of 30, because he was a careless sailor, but many of his poems are considered masterpieces, including "The Cloud," "To a Skylark," and "Prometheus Unbound."

He said, "Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world." And Shelly said, "Do it now — write nothing but what your conviction of its truth inspires you to writ. ... Contemporary criticism only represents the amount of ignorance genius has to contend with."

It's the birthday of Louis Armstrong (music and books by this artist), born in New Orleans, Louisiana (1901), in a poor section of town known as "The Battlefield." In 1907, Louis formed a vocal quartet with three other boys and performed on street corners for tips. The Karnofskys, a family of Russian Jewish immigrants, hired Louis to work on their junk wagon. Louis purchased his first cornet with money the family lent him.

In 1913, he was sent to a reform school as a juvenile delinquent, and that's where he learned to play the cornet. Armstrong listened to pioneers like New Orleans cornetist King Oliver, who gave Armstrong his big break by letting him play in the Creole Jazz Band in Chicago in 1922.

Armstrong's Hot Five and Hot Seven recordings (1925-1928) were among the first 50 items preserved by the National Recording Registry at the Library of Congress. His autobiographies include Swing That Music (1936) and Satchmo: My Life in New Orleans (1954).

He said, "Musicians don't retire; they stop when there's no more music in them."

He also said, "If ya ain't got it in ya, ya can't blow it out."

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 »