Sunday

Jun. 20, 2010

A Dandling Song

by Anonymous

My Papa's Waltz

by Theodore Roethke

No Signs of Getting Better

by Hal Sirowitz

A Dandling Song
Dance to your daddy
my little babby
dance to your daddy
my little lamb
you shall have a fishy
in a little dishy
you shall have a fishy
when the boät comes in

My Papa's Waltz
The whiskey on your breath
Could make a small boy dizzy;
But I hung on like death:
Such waltzing was not easy.

We romped until the pans
Slid from the kitchen shelf;
My mother's countenance
Could not unfrown itself.

The hand that held my wrist
Was battered on one knuckle;
At every step you missed
My right ear scraped a buckle.

You beat time on my head
With a palm caked hard by dirt,
Then waltzed me off to bed
Still clinging to your shirt.

No Signs of Getting Better
You went into therapy looking depressed
Father said. After going a full year
you look even worse. Yet, your therapist
had the audacity to tell me that you've
been making great progress. At least after
you get a haircut your hair looks better,
but after seeing her you're lucky if you
look the same. The only area where
you've improved is in your cheeks.
You put on a little weight. They
look less bony. But she wasn't
the one feeding you.

"A Dandling Song" by Anonymous. Public Domain.
"My Papa's Waltz" by Theodore Roethke, from Collected Poems of Theodore Roethke. © Anchor Books, 1974. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)
"No Signs of Getting Better" by Hal Sirowitz, from Father Said. © Soft Skull Press, 2004. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Today is Father's Day. It's also the 100th anniversary of the first Father's Day celebration, which was organized by a woman named Sonora Smart Dodd, who thought up the holiday while listening to a Mother's Day sermon at her Methodist Episcopal Church in Spokane, Washington.

It was on this day in 1977 that the Trans-Alaska Pipeline began to pump oil for the first time. It was the largest private construction project ever completed in United States history.

Oil companies had been drilling for oil in Alaska for years, without much luck. Then the company that would become Exxon decided to drill one more hole before giving up, and they struck what turned out to be the largest oil discovery in North America. The only problem was that the oil field was 800 miles away from the nearest harbor where oil tankers could pick up the oil and transport it to the rest of the world.

So the oil companies decided to build a pipeline to transport that oil across the state of Alaska, 48-inches in diameter, stretching 800 miles, zigzagging over three mountain ranges and crossing 34 major rivers, including the Yukon. Once it began pumping, about 1.9 million barrels of crude oil began flowing through the pipe every day, traveling at about seven miles an hour to the port of Valdez.

It's the birthday of poet Paul Muldoon, (books by this author) born in County Armagh, Northern Ireland (1951). His most recent volume came out this year; it's entitled Maggot (2010).

He said, "The point of poetry is to be acutely discomforting, to prod and provoke, to poke us in the eye, to punch us in the nose, to knock us off our feet, to take our breath away."

It's the birthday of American playwright and memoirist Lillian Hellman, (books by this author) born in New Orleans (1905). Her best-known works include the plays The Children's Hour (1934), The Little Foxes (1939), and Toys in the Attic (1960).

She said, "Cynicism is an unpleasant way of saying the truth."

It's the birthday of poet and novelist Vikram Seth, (books by this author) born in Calcutta, India (1952). Seth grew up in India, went to Corpus Christi College, Oxford, and moved out to Northern California to study economics in graduate school. He started working on a master's thesis he titled "Seven Chinese Villages: An Economic and Demographic Portrait," but one day got fed up of entering numbers into a computer database. He walked into a bookstore and up to the poetry section. He pulled off the shelf several volumes. One of them was Pushkin's novel in verse, Eugene Onegin, a new translation by Charles Johnston (1977) — a version that preserved Pushkin's Onegin stanza of iambic tetrameter. Seth was so impressed and obsessed with the book that he decided to quit working on his master's thesis for a while and write his own novel in verse using that scheme, set in California.

He never finished his graduate school economics project, but he did write that novel in verse, published in 1986 as The Golden Gate.

It begins:
To make a start more swift than weighty,
Hail Muse. Dear Reader, once upon
A time, say, circa 1980,
There lived a man. His name was John.
Successful in his field though only
Twenty-six, respected, lonely,
One evening as he walked across
Golden Gate Park, the ill-judged toss
Of a red frisbee almost brained him.

Seth's native language is Hindi. He writes in English, and he's fluent in Mandarin and Urdu, Pakistan's national language. He plays the cello and the Indian flute, and he sings German lieder. His other novels are A Suitable Boy (1993), An Equal Music (1999), and Tonight (1990).

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 »