Monday

Apr. 7, 2008

We Bring Democracy To The Fish

by Donald Hall

It is unacceptable that fish prey on each other.
For their comfort and safety, we will liberate them
into fishfarms with secure, durable boundaries
that exclude predators. Our care will provide
for their liberty, health, happiness, and nutrition.
Of course all creatures need to feel useful.
At maturity the fish will discover their purposes.

"We Bring Democracy To The Fish" by Donald Hall, from White Apples and the Taste of Stone. © Houghton Mifflin Company, 2007. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of jazz singer Billie Holiday, born Eleanora Fagan in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (1915). She was discovered by the jazz producer John Hammond. By the early '30s, she was touring with jazz legends like Count Basie and Lester Young. And by the 1940s, she was already being called the best jazz singer of all time.

It's the birthday of journalist and radio broadcaster Walter Winchell, born in New York City (1897). He said, "The way to become famous fast is to throw a brick at someone who is famous."

It's the birthday of filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola, born in Detroit, Michigan (1939). By the time he was 30, he was $300,000 in debt and possibly finished as a filmmaker. Then he was offered the job of directing a mobster movie based on a Mario Puzo novel. And that was The Godfather, which came out in 1972 and became the most profitable movie ever made up to that time.

It was on this day in 1927 that an audience in New York City saw an image of Commerce Secretary Herbert Hoover in the first successful long-distance demonstration of television. At the time, there were several competing versions of television, and this version was a mechanical process that used a metal disc, punched with holes in a spiral pattern, which transformed light into electrical impulses. It had been invented in Europe, and it was called "Radio Vision."

Herbert Hoover was speaking in Washington, D.C., to the audience in New York City. The broadcast began with a close-up of Hoover's forehead, because he was sitting too close to the camera. Hoover backed up and delivered his speech, saying, "It is a matter of just pride to have a part in this historic occasion … the transmission of sight, for the first time in the world's history." Hoover's speech was followed by a comedian performing jokes in blackface.

"Radio Vision" never really caught on. Instead, the TV as we know today was an entirely different technology, invented by a high school student in rural Idaho named Philo Farnsworth.

It's the birthday of the English Romantic poet William Wordsworth, (books by this author) born in Cockermouth, England (1770). He planned to go into the clergy as a young man, but he got mediocre grades at university and refused to prepare for a career. Instead, all he wanted to do was to walk around the countryside, surrounded by nature.

While on vacation from college at Cambridge, he and a friend sailed to France for a 12-week walking tour of the Alps, during which they covered about 3,000 miles.

It was between 1797 and 1807 that he wrote most of his greatest poetry, including "The Prelude," "Tintern Abbey," "She Dwelt Among the Untrodden Ways," "A Slumber Did My Spirit Seal," "Ode: Intimations of Immortality," and "I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud."

But by the time he had reached middle age, he became a cult sensation and his collections of poetry became best sellers. Tourists from London would take day trips up to the lake district where Wordsworth lived and gawk at him through the window of his house. His wife once wrote in a letter, "At this moment, a group of young Tourists are standing before the window … William is reading a newspaper — and on lifting up his head a profound bow greeted him from each."

It's the birthday of Donald Barthelme, (books by this author) born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (1931). He's the author of four novels, including Snow White (1967), but he's best known for his strange, fragmented short stories, the first collection of which was Come Back, Dr. Caligari (1964).

Donald Barthelme said, "Write about what you're afraid of."

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 »