Jan. 13, 2009

In the South, In the North

by Peg Lauber

The grass here is strange paradise to northern feet.
Stiff, it explodes into green when we aren't expecting it
remembering it as greening up much later.
All over town they turn the fountains on again.

If there's one thing they've got enough of,
it's water. Dig down a foot and you have it,
even though brackish, and in the summer
no cold water comes out of the tap no matter
how long you run it. In every yard there's another
explosion in January, camellias, pink, deep red,
white, and we not a month past Christmas.

But up north the frigid season crawls on, takes its time;
even in April and May it's still snowing and sleeting,
then comes hail as winter turns to summer
in one day: 90 degrees. Here, however, people eat sack
lunches on the dull green trolley with red touches still
bearing Christmas garlands over the controls at each end.
The riders open the windows to put their elbows out
while they take the long ride to the end of the line
returning to Lee Circle and Canal Street,
the trolley car whistling and dinging.

Soon St. Charles Avenue, the regular route, will be filled
with high school bands and marching feet, arms waving,
voices crying, "Throw me something, mister," to those
on the floats, as the lines and trees above are decorated
with gold, purple, and green beads, the royal colors of Rex,
against the blue void we call sky.

"In the South, In the North" by Peg Lauber, from New Orleans Suite. © Marsh River Editions, 2006. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

On this day in 1941, James Joyce died of a stomach ulcer at the age of 58. He is the author of Dubliners (1914), A Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man (1916), Ulysses (1922), and Finnegans Wake, which remained a work in progress for 16 years until it was finally published in 1939. Finnegans Wake is meant to show that history is cyclic, so the first sentence of the book is the end of the last sentence, which is unfinished. The last sentence is: "A way a lone a last a loved along the," and the first sentence is: "riverrun, past Eve and Adam's, from swerve of shore to bend of bay, brings us by a commodious vicus of recirculation back to Howth Castle and Environs."

Joyce was buried in Fluntern Cemetery in Zurich. He wrote in Ulysses: "We are praying now for the repose of his soul. Hoping you're well and not in hell. Nice change of air. Out of the fryingpan of life into the fire of purgatory."

It's the birthday of novelist and short-story writer Elizabeth Searle, (books by this author) born in Penne York, Pennsylvania (1962). In college, she wrote a 100-page novella, and then she cut it down into a short story. That story, "Missing La Donna," was published in Redbook magazine when she was 19 years old. Her first novel was A Four-Sided Bed (1998). And her most recent work is a rock opera called Tonya & Nancy (2008), about the Olympic figure skaters Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan.

It's the birthday of short-story writer Lorrie Moore, (books by this author) born in Glens Falls, New York (1957). In her first book of stories, Self-Help (1985), she wrote a piece called "How to Be a Writer." It begins: "First, try to be something, anything, else." She's the author of Like Life (1990) and Birds of America (1998).

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
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