Jul. 13, 2011

Today I sit on the sun porch
with my body, just the two of us
for a change, the flu
having left me for someone else.

I'm thinking about how good it is
to have been sick, to have been turned
inside out. Until we are sick, says Keats,
we understand not. and for four or five days
I understood. Fully and completely.
There was absolutely no ambiguity,
no misunderstandings of any sort whatsoever.

For awhile I thought I'd never get better.
I'd be that sick eagle, staring at the sky
on a permanent basis. But
we're living in the age of miracles:
another jetliner smacked into New York,
only this time nobody got hurt. A black guy
thoroughly fumigated the White House.

And this morning I woke up
feeling like a little French village
the Nazis suddenly decided to pull out of
after a particularly cruel occupation.

The baker has come back to his store
and everything smells like warm baguettes.
The children are playing in the schoolyard,
the piano bars along the river
have thrown open their doors.

And here you are, with coffee
and an open blouse, and two cool breasts
from the land of joy.

"Joy" by George Bilgere, from The White Museum. © Autumn House Press, 2010. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It was on this day in 1798 that William Wordsworth (books by this author) began to write "Lines composed a few miles above Tintern Abbey on revisiting the banks of the Wye during a tour, 13 July 1798," a poem better known as "Tintern Abbey." Wordworth said: "No poem of mine was composed under circumstances more pleasant for me to remember than this. I began it upon leaving Tintern, after crossing the Wye, and concluded it just as I was entering Bristol in the evening, after a ramble of 4 or 5 days, with my sister. Not a line of it was altered, and not any part of it written down till I reached Bristol."

In "Tintern Abbey," he wrote:
            These beauteous forms,
            Through a long absence, have not been to me
            As is a landscape to a blind man's eye:
            But oft, in lonely rooms, and 'mid the din
            Of towns and cities, I have owed to them
            In hours of weariness, sensations sweet,
            Felt in the blood, and felt along the heart;
            And passing even into my purer mind,
            With tranquil restoration: — feelings too
            Of unremembered pleasure: such, perhaps,
            As have no slight or trivial influence
            On that best portion of a good man's life,
            His little, nameless, unremembered, acts
            Of kindness and of love.

It's the birthday of a poet who said: "I found my poems in the fields, and only wrote them down." That's John Clare (books by this author), born in Helpston, England (1793). His parents were poor farm workers. John loved to read — books like The Vicar of Wakefield and Paradise Lost. He went to school until he was 12, but then dropped out to work as a farm laborer, lime-burner, fiddler, and servant.

He started writing poems as a young boy. He said: "I always wrote my poems in the fields and when I was out of work I used to go out of the village to particular spots which I was fond of from the beauty or secrecy of the scenes or some assosiation [...] I used to drop down under a bush and scribble the fresh thoughts on the crown of my hat."

He never thought to try to publish anything until his parents were about to be evicted from their tenement house. He took a bunch of his poems to the local bookseller, who sent them to a relative who happened to publish John Keats. Clare's book, Poems Descriptive of Rural Life and Scenery (1820), was a sensation. He made enough to keep his parents in their home, although not much more — most of the money went to his publisher. A year later, his second book, Village Minstrel and other Poems (1821), was also a success.

His literary celebrity as "the Northamptonshire Peasant Poet" was not enough to earn him a living, especially with seven children to support. He never really fit in the with other famous writers of the day, men like Lord Byron, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, or John Keats — well-educated poets who rarely had to work for a living. At the same time, once he was thrust into the literary world, his old friends back in Northamptonshire didn't really trust him anymore, convinced that he thought himself superior. Clare said, "I live here among the ignorant like a lost man. They hardly dare talk in my company." He was frustrated that critics didn't react to him as a poet in his own right, but as a peasant poet. He wrote to a friend: "All I wish now is to stand upon my own bottom as a poet without any apology as to want of education or anything else and I say it not in the feeling of either ambition or vanity but in the spirit of common sense."

Clare was only five feet tall because of childhood malnourishment, and he had never been strong. His health deteriorated, he was depressed, and he drank too much. He started seeing visions and evil spirits, and was convinced that his family was bewitched. In 1837, he was confined to an insane asylum, where he spent the last 25 years of his life and wrote some of his greatest poems.

He wrote the poem "Summer Moods":
I love at eventide to walk alone
Down narrow lanes o'erhung with dewy thorn
Where from the long grass underneath the snail
Jet black creeps out and sprouts his timid horn.
I love to muse o'er meadows newly mown
Where withering grass perfumes the sultry air
Where bees search round with sad and weary drone
In vain for flowers that bloomed but newly there,
While in the juicey corn the hidden quail
Cries 'wet my foot' and hid as thoughts unborn
The fairy like and seldom-seen land rail
Utters 'craik craik' like voices underground
Right glad to meet the evenings dewy veil
And see the light fade into glooms around.

It's the birthday of screenwriter and director Cameron Crowe, born in Palm Springs, California (1957). He was a talented student, and his mother pushed him to skip two grades, so he graduated from high school at the age of 15. By that time, he had already transitioned from writing for his school paper to writing for Creem; and then he met the editor of Rolling Stone and started writing for them. In 1973, when he was just 16 years old, Crowe spent weeks on the road with the Allman Brothers and wrote a cover story on them for Rolling Stone.

After a few years he left Rolling Stone and went undercover as a high school student for a writing project. He turned his experience into a book, Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1981), which he then adapted into a screenplay for the film. He wrote and directed Say Anything... (1989) and Jerry Maguire (1996). Then, in 2000, he considered his own life story and instead of writing a memoir, he made the film Almost Famous (2000).

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 »