Thursday

Apr. 23, 2009

From a Bus Window in Central Ohio, Just Before a Thunder Shower

by James Wright

Cribs loaded with roughage huddle together
Before the north clouds.
The wind tiptoes between poplars.
The silver maple leaves squint
Toward the ground.
An old farmer, his scarlet face
Apologetic with whiskey, swings back a barn door
And calls a hundred black-and-white Holsteins
From the clover field.

"From a Bus Window in Central Ohio, Just Before a Thunder Shower" by James Wright, from Selected Poems. © Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2005. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of William Shakespeare, (books by this author) born in 1564 in Stratford-on-Avon.

It's the birthday of novelist Vladimir Nabokov, (books by this author) born in St Petersburg, Russia (1899). He said he grew up "a perfectly normal trilingual child in a family with a large library." They had a large town home in St. Petersburg and a country estate. His governesses taught him to read and write English before his native Russian. When the Bolsheviks came to power in Russia, Nabokov's family was forced to flee. They escaped to Germany, but had to leave behind their fortune. Nabokov's father was a lawyer, a journalist, and a politician; he was assassinated at a political rally in Berlin the same year that Nabokov went off to Cambridge to study literature. After graduation, Nabokov returned to Germany, where he supported himself by giving language lessons, teaching tennis and boxing, and creating crossword puzzles and chess problems.

At night, he wrote, sitting in the family bathroom so that the light wouldn't bother people who were sleeping. He wrote his first nine novels in Russian, as well as dozens of short stories and plays.

In 1939, when he was 40 years old, he was invited to give a lecture on Slavic languages at Stanford University. He decided to stay and become an American citizen, and he started to write in English instead of Russian. With the help of his friend Edmund Wilson, he became a regular contributor to The New Yorker magazine.

Wilson and Nabokov were close friends during the 1940s and 1950s, and they exchanged hundreds of letters. And then Edmund Wilson wrote a very unflattering review of Nabokov's translation of Eugene Onegin, and he accused Nabokov of "faulty" Russian, and after that they became personal enemies.

Nabokov loved butterfly hunting, and he and his wife, Vera, traveled across the country every summer in search of butterflies. During one of these road trips, he was struck by an idea and started taking notes on index cards, and they became his most famous novel, Lolita (1955). The New York Times review said the book was "highbrow pornography." But despite mixed reviews, the book sold extremely well, and Hollywood bought the film rights. Nabokov was able to quit teaching and devote himself to writing. He moved into a hotel in Switzerland on the shore of Lake Geneva, where, with his wife, he spent the last 20 years of his life. He said, "I don't fish, cook, dance, endorse books, sign declarations, eat oysters, get drunk, go to analysts, or take part in any demonstrations. I'm a mild old gentleman, very kind."

He said: "Seeing things as if they were new is funny in itself. The unusual is funny in itself. A man slips and falls down. It is the contrary of gravity in both senses."

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 »