Dec. 13, 2009


by David R. Slavitt

Each morning, as I confront my closet's array,
I have to admit again that the life I lead
is hardly good enough: I have not been named
ambassador to Malta; I am not on the board

of any college or large corporation; I shall not
receive a major prize today and pose
for photographers. Those suits, the shirts, the ties
are ready, but I am not, and the shoes are shined

as they wait for different occasions than I imagined
on the tailor's block, when I shopped for a dandified
future brighter than what I expect or deserve.
Even for weddings and funerals that require
a suit, I choose from the second best, reserving
that one for the dream into which I yet hope to awake.

"Suits" by David R. Slavitt, from William Henry Harrison and Other Poems. © Louisiana State University Press, 2006. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of poet Kenneth Patchen, (books by this author) born in Niles, Ohio (1911). He said, "I started a diary in my twelfth year; been writing at something ever since." His father worked in the steel mill, and for a time, Patchen did the same. He went to college for a while, traveled, worked as a migrant laborer. And he went on to write more than 40 books, books of poetry like Before the Brave (1936) and Hurrah for Anything (1957), and also novels, including The Journal of Albion Moonlight (1941). He said, "Think enough and you won't know anything."

It's the birthday of poet James Wright, (books by this author) born in Martins Ferry, Ohio (1927). Neither of his parents had stayed in school beyond eighth grade — his dad worked in a glass factory and his mom worked at a laundry. He started writing in high school, and even though he had a nervous breakdown and had to miss a year of school, he kept writing. Then he joined the Army, and on the G.I. bill, he was able to go to a good college, Kenyon College, and study writing there. He ended up getting a Fulbright Fellowship, traveling in Europe, and teaching all over the country, but he kept writing poems about Ohio, and he said that he wrote in "Ohioan." His inspirations were Robert Frost, Thomas Hardy, Philip Thomas, and Horace. And he said, "I have written about the things I am deeply concerned with — crickets outside my window, cold and hungry old men, ghosts in the twilight, horses in a field, a red-haired child in her mother's arms, a feeling of desolation in the fall, some cities I've known." When he was 27 years old, he wrote his first book, which was published in 1957 as The Green Wall, and W.H. Auden chose it for the Yale Younger Poet's series. One by one, his books came out and were received well, and his Collected Poems (1971) won the Pulitzer Prize.

He said , "My chief enemy in poetry is glibness. My family background is partly Irish, and this means many things, but linguistically it means that it is too easy to talk sometimes."

It's the birthday of playwright Marc Connelly, (books by this author) born in McKeesport, Pennsylvania (1890). He grew up around the theater — his parents had both been touring actors, and during Marc's childhood they ran a hotel, and he enjoyed meeting the people who stayed there, many of them theater people.

He started out as a reporter, moved to New York and got a job as a theater critic, and he met George S. Kaufman. They became friends and they ended up collaborating on plays, many of them successful, including Dulcy (1921) and Merton of the Movies (1922). And, along with Dorothy Parker, Robert Benchley, Alexander Woollcott, and others, he was a member of the infamous Round Table at the Algonquin Hotel.

Connelly wrote The Green Pastures, retelling Old Testament stories with a large all-black cast, the first time that had ever happened on Broadway. The Green Pastures opened in 1930, and Connelly won the Pulitzer Prize for it.

It's the birthday of children's writer Tamora Pierce, (books by this author) born in South Connellsville, Pennsylvania (1954). She grew up poor, moved around constantly, attended 11 schools by the time she graduated from high school, and she said, "Books were my consistent friends."

She went to the University of Pennsylvania and studied social work and education there. After graduating, she started to write a novel, a fantasy novel for adults. When she finished, it was more than 700 pages long, the story of a girl who disguises herself as a boy to become a knight. She was working on editing it when she got a live-in job at a group home for troubled teenage girls. The girls found out that Pierce was a writer, and they asked if they could read the novel she was working on. But her boss wouldn't let her show it to the girls because it had drugs and sex in it. So every day, after school and before bed, Pierce told the story to the girls, and she just left out all the inappropriate parts. And the story worked well that way, and she ended up turning her huge manuscript into four books, and making it a story for young adults, not adults. It was published as The Song of the Lioness Quartet: Alanna: The First Adventure (1983), In The Hand of the Goddess (1984), The Woman Who Rides Like a Man (1986), and Lioness Rampant (1988). The quartet was successful, and she went on to write many more books, and by 1992 she was able to make a living as a full-time writer.

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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