Nov. 5, 2009

Psalm for a Lost Summer

by Maura Stanton

  1. By the rivers of Estes Park, there we sat down, yes, we sighed, when we
    remembered Italy.
  2. We pressed our pens against paper, and we sat under the pine trees,
    listening to the crows.
  3. For there in Colorado we were captive at a high altitude, required
    to write without breath; and if we could not write, our consciences
    required us to read, and improve our minds.
  4. How shall we write our poems in this strange land?
  5. If I forget you, Venice, let my right hand forget to wind the fettuccini
    around the fork.
  6. If I do not remember balmy Sorrento, let me never taste lemons again;
    if I prefer not Capri above my chief joy.
  7. Remember, O Muse, the couple who strolled about Assisi; who said,
    How lovely this is, but next year let's vacation at home.
  8. O Citizens of Assisi, do not blame us for the earthquake that destroyed
    your basilica; how happy we were, looking at your frescos during a
  9. Happy we shall be again, when we dash from this rented cabin, and
    drive down from these great stone mountains forever, Amen.

"Psalm for a Lost Summer" by Maura Stanton, from Immortal Sofa. © University of Illinois Press, 2008. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Today is the 27th birthday of Uzodinma Iweala, (books by this author) born in Washington, D.C. (1982) to Nigerian parents. He wrote Beasts of No Nation (2005) while he was going to school at Harvard. Published the year after he graduated with an English literature degree, the novel hit bookstores the week of his 23rd birthday. It was his first novel, and it garnered glowing reviews from The New York Times, The London Times, The Washington Post, Rolling Stone, The New Yorker magazine, and many others. Iweala was selected as one of America's 20 Best Young American Novelists by Granta magazine.

Beasts of No Nation is about a boy from West Africa whose father, a village schoolteacher, is killed by guerilla fighters who come to town. The boy, Agu, is forced to become a child soldier with those guerilla fighters. He narrates the brutalities of war, and his gradual embrace and enthusiasm for violence, his experiences coming of age in such conditions, his faltering belief in God, his deferred dream of becoming a doctor. The narrator's age is never specified in the novel, but Iweala said in an interview later that he's anywhere from 9 to 12. The child soldier ponders the promise of redemption that being a doctor holds: the chance to save lives, to possibly make amends for all of the ones he has ended.

The book is written in the first person, in an English cadenced in the idiom of Iweala's parents' native Nigerian languages. At the beginning, the child narrates: "I am not wanting to fight. I am not liking to hear people scream or to be looking at blood. I am not liking any of these thing."

Uzodinma Iweala is now studying to be a doctor; he's a student at Columbia University's medical school.

It's the birthday of the Irish-American writer Tom Phelan, (books by this author) born in County Laois, Ireland (1940). He was a priest, a carpenter, and a professor before he came to the United States and became a writer. His best-known novel, In the Season of the Daisies (1993), is about the murder of a small boy by a member of the Irish Republican Army, after the boy witnessed a political murder. Phelan has written other books, including Iscariot (1995) and, most recently, The Canal Bridge (2005).

It's the birthday of professor and novelist Thomas Flanagan, (books by this author) born in Greenwich, Connecticut (1923). Flanagan was a high school friend of Truman Capote and worked with him on the school newspaper. He taught English literature at Columbia, Berkeley, and SUNY. His specialty was Irish literature, and he began a tradition of spending every summer in Ireland. One day Flanagan was waiting for his wife to pick him up from his office and found himself staring at a blank piece of paper on his desk. He was suddenly struck by an image of a man walking down a road, and decided to write a novel. The image became the opening chapter of his first book, The Year of the French (1979), about the failed 1798 Irish uprising against the British. He went on to write two more historical novels, The Tenants of Time (1988) and The End of the Hunt (1994).

It's the birthday of novelist and biographer Geoffrey Wolff, (books by this author) born in Los Angeles, California (1937). He's written biographies of the poet Harry Crosby, the writer John O'Hara, and his own father.

It's the birthday of actor and playwright Sam Shepard, (books by this author) born in Fort Sheridan, Illinois (1943). His most recent play is Ages of the Moon (2009), in which two men sit on a porch and talk and watch the moon.

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 »