Saturday

Feb. 27, 2010

Ocean

by Jason Shinder

Goodbye again. Say there is a little song in my head

and because of it I can't sleep or change my mind
about the future. Now the song runs all the way down

to the beach where I sit as if the sky

were my room now. No one, not even you,
can hear me singing. Not even me.

As if the music rose from the mouth of the ocean.

No mouth. Like rain before it reaches us.
Like wind twirling dresses on the clothesline.

Who has no one has the history of the ocean.

Lord, give me two more days. So that
the last moments may be with someone.

"Ocean" by Jason Shinder, from Stupid Hope. © Graywolf Press, 2009. Reprinted with permission (buy now)

It's the birthday of the poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, (books by this author) born in Portland, Maine (1807). Longfellow wrote many long, narrative poems that are still well known to this day, including "Evangeline" (1847) and "The Courtship of Miles Standish" (1858). He also translated Dante's Divine Comedy. Poem: "Ground Waters" by Alison Apotheker, from Slim Margin. © Word Press, 2008. Reprinted with permission.

It's the birthday of John Steinbeck, (books by this author) born in Salinas, California (1902). He is the author of the epic novel The Grapes of Wrath (1939) and also Of Mice and Men (1937).

It's the birthday of the Kiowa novelist and poet N. Scott Momaday, (books by this author) born in Lawton, Oklahoma (1934). He started writing, and he was working on a project about the sacred Sun Dance doll of the Kiowa tribe. He tried to write a book of poems based on the experience, but a teacher suggested he turn the poems into fiction, and that became his first novel, House Made of Dawn (1968), which won the Pulitzer Prize.

It's the birthday of the writer who said, "Truth disappears with the telling of it": Lawrence Durrell, (books by this author) born to a British father and Irish mother in Jullundur, India (1911). He's best known for his experimental tetralogy The Alexandria Quartet.

When Durrell was 11, his parents sent him off to England to boarding school so he could get a proper British education. He hated living in England and said, "English life is really like an autopsy. It is so, so dreary." Cambridge rejected him, and he left the country and spent most of the rest of his life abroad.

Before he could make a living solely from his writing, he sold real estate, played jazz piano in nightclubs, raced fast cars, ran a photography studio, worked as a teacher, edited various publications, worked for the British Information Office, worked in public relations and as a press attaché for the British government. In the span of 15 years, he lived Paris; Kalamata, Greece; Cairo; Alexandria; Cordoba, Argentina; Belgrade, Yugoslavia; and Cyprus. Briefly he was a special correspondent for The Economist magazine. He eventually returned to France and settled there.

It was in Paris in the late 1930s that Lawrence Durrell met Henry Miller. He'd read Henry Miller's Book Tropic of Cancer, been totally impressed, and written Miller a fan letter. The two men met up, became fast friends, and started editing a literary magazine together. They would exchange letters for the next five decades. Durrell's early books were very much imitations of Miller's writing.

The Alexandria Quartet, Durrell's best-known work, is a set of four experimental books, each of which covers the same set of events but from a different narrative viewpoint. Durrell explained that he hoped to write a book about love and memory and space that would blend Einstein's theory of relativity with ideas of Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung and Indian mysticism and Chinese philosophy. He said the story "is a four-dimensional dance, a relativity poem." Rather than being structured by chronology, the story is structured by memory and geography.

The four books are Justine (1957), Balthazar (1958), Mountolive (1958), Clea (1960). The first novel is narrated by a young Englishman, a struggling writer and schoolteacher who recounts his love affair with a rich and beautiful married Jewish woman in Alexandria whom everyone else also seemed to be in love with. In it, he narrates: "A city becomes a world when one loves one of its inhabitants." And, "A woman's best love letters are always written to the man she is betraying."

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 »