Saturday

Sep. 11, 2010

Only Years

by Kenneth Rexroth

I come back to the cottage in
Santa Monica Canyon where
Andrée and I were poor and
Happy together. Sometimes we
Were hungry and stole vegetables
From the neighbors' gardens.
Sometimes we went out and gathered
Cigarette butts by flashlight.
But we went swimming every day,
All year round. We had a dog
Called Proclus, a vast yellow
Mongrel, and a white cat named
Cyprian. We had our first
Joint art show, and they began
To publish my poems in Paris.
We worked under the low umbrella
Of the acacia in the dooryard.
Now I get out of the car
And stand before the house in the dusk.
The acacia blossoms powder the walk
With little pills of gold wool.
The odor is drowsy and thick
In the early evening.
The tree has grown twice as high
As the roof. Inside, an old man
And woman sit in the lamplight.
I go back and drive away
To Malibu Beach and sit
With a grey-haired childhood friend and
Watch the full moon rise over the
Long rollers wrinkling the dark bay.

"Only Years" by Kenneth Rexroth, from Sacramental Acts: The Love Poems of Kenneth Rexroth. © Copper Canyon Press, 1997. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the 81st birthday of Pulitzer Prize-winning political journalist David Broder, (books by this author) born in Chicago Heights, Illinois (1929). He's known as the "Dean" of the Washington Press Corps. Currently, he's the White House correspondent for The Washington Post, and he also writes a twice-a-week column for the paper that appears on Thursdays and Sundays. He's a regular guest on television talk shows and public radio shows, and since his first time on it almost 50 years ago, has appeared on NBC's Meet the Press more than 400 times.

It's the birthday of short-story writer O. Henry, (books by this author) born William Sidney Porter in Greensboro, North Carolina, on this day in 1862. He penned the witty, surprise-ending short stories "The Gift of the Magi," "The Ransom of Red Chief," "A Retrieved Reformation," and "The Cop and the Anthem."

He worked at his uncle's drugstore, becoming a licensed pharmacist when he was 19, and before he turned 20 he'd headed west to Texas, where he spent time on a ranch as a shepherd, domestic servant, and baby-sitter.

He moved to Austin, Texas, worked as a pharmacist, and played guitars on street corners around the city. He eloped with a tuberculosis-infected, rich and beautiful teenage girl whom he'd fallen in love with.

Later, he got a good-paying job as a bank teller so that he could support his wife and young daughter. But he was not a good bookkeeper, and he was fired for embezzlement. He took to writing full time.

The feds did an audit of the bank he'd been working at, and when they found a bunch of discrepancies, they decided to indict him on federal embezzlement charges. His wife's dad posted bail for him, but instead of sticking around for trial, O. Henry fled to New Orleans and then to Honduras, where he stayed for months. But when he found out that his beloved wife was on the verge of dying from her tuberculosis, he came back to Texas and turned himself in. Soon after, his wife died. He stood trial, was convicted of embezzlement, and was sent away to a federal penitentiary in Ohio.

He wrote short stories there, and he came up with the pseudonym O. Henry. Magazine editors were clueless that the stories they published were written by an inmate locked up in a federal penitentiary.

He got out of jail and wrote fast and furiously, about 400 short stories in those years following his release. He became famous, and an alcoholic, and he died less than a decade after getting out of jail, at the age of 47, from liver disease.

In 1909, the year before he died, he conducted an "autobiographical interview" of himself for The New York Times. It appeared under the title: "'O. HENRY' ON HIMSELF, LIFE, AND OTHER THINGS; For the First Time the Author of 'The Four Million' Tells a Bit of the 'Story of My Life.'"

He wrote:

"What advice would you give to young writers?"
"I'll give you the whole secret of short-story writing. Here it is. Rule I: Write stories that please yourself. There is no Rule II."
Asked by himself about writer's block, O. Henry answered:
"Yes, I get dry spells. Sometimes I can't turn out a thing for three months. When one of those spells comes on I quit trying to work and go out and see something of life. You can't write a story that's got any life in it by sitting at a writing table and thinking. You've got to get out into the streets, into the crowds, talk with people, and feel the rush and throb of real life — that's the stimulant for a story writer."

O. Henry said: "People say I know New York well. Just change Twenty-third Street in one of my New York stories to Main Street, rub out the Flatiron Building, and put in the Town Hall and the story will fit just as truly in any up-State town. At least, I hope this can be said of my stories. So long as a story is true to human nature all you need do is change the local color to make it fit in any town North, East, South, or West. If you have the right kind of an eye — the kind that can disregard high hats, cutaway coats, and trolley cars — you can see all the characters in the Arabian Nights parading up and down Broadway at midday."

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 Sharon Olds 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 »