Saturday

Dec. 24, 2011

December

by Anne Porter

Gift Wrapping

by David Wagoner

December

Out in the middle of the lake
Some men who work for the village
Have moored
A floating Christmas tree

At night I see it
From my bedroom window
It rocks a little
Drifts a little
In the wind from the ocean
A fiery cone of jewels.

"December" by Anne Porter, from An Altogether Different Language. © Zoland Books, 1994. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)



Gift Wrapping

Already imagining her
Unwrapping it, I fold the corners,
Putting paper and ribbon between her
And this small box. I could hand it over
Out in the open: why bother to catch her eye
With floss and glitter?
Looking manhandled, it lies there
Like something lost in the mail, the bow
On backwards. And minutes from now,
She will have seen what it is.
But between her guesswork
And the lifting of the lid, I can delay
All disappointments: the give and take
Of love is in the immediate present
Again, though I can't remember myself
What's in it for her.

"Gift Wrapping" by David Wagoner, from Collected Poems 1956-1976. © Indiana University Press, 1976. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Today is Christmas Eve.

It was on this day in 1914 that the last known Christmas truce occurred along the Western Front during World War I. In the week leading up to Christmas, soldiers all over the battlefields had been decorating their trenches with candles and makeshift trimmings when groups of German and British soldiers began shouting seasonal greetings and singing songs to each other. On occasion, a soldier or two would even cross the battlefield to take gifts to the enemy. Then, on Christmas Eve, the men of the Western Front put the war on hold and many soldiers from both sides left their trenches to meet in No Man's Land, where they mingled and exchanged tobacco, chocolate, and sometimes even the buttons from their own uniforms as souvenirs. They played games of football, sang carols, and buried fallen comrades together as the unofficial truce lasted through the night.

It's the birthday of the "Queen of Suspense," mystery writer Mary Higgins Clark (books by this author), born in New York City (1927). Clark's father died when she was 11 and her mother struggled to raise Mary and her two brothers, working as a babysitter and taking in boarders to make ends meet. Mary went to school on scholarship and worked as a hotel switchboard operator while daydreaming about how life would be one day when she was a famous writer.

As a young woman, Clark married, had five children, and was herself widowed when her first child was nearly the same age she had been when her own father died. To get by, Clark wrote radio scripts and then a novel about George Washington. The book sold poorly, but proved to the author that she could "write a book. So I thought, 'now I'll try one that sells,'" and turned out her first suspense story, Where are the Children? (1975). It was a best-seller and she quickly followed it with five more, including A Stranger is Watching (1978) and The Cradle Will Fall (1980).

Clark says she believes in good guys and bad guys and the tension that is created when a fictional child is in danger. But however terrifying the hazards of her stories, she keeps her books free of profanity and gore. She's written more than 40 best-sellers already, while she adds at least one new book to the list every year with no plans for slowing down. In recent years, Clark has also co-written a series of Christmas mysteries with her daughter, Carol, including Deck the Halls (2001) and The Christmas Thief (2008), in which a private detective tracks down a stolen Christmas tree only to find the hollowed trunk stuffed with priceless gems.

Today is also the birthday of poet and essayist Dana Gioia (books by this author), born in Hawthorn, California (1950). Gioia's résumé is rather unpoetic. He attended business school at Stanford, claiming to be "the only person in history who went to business school to be a poet," and ended up a vice president at General Foods, where he marketed products like Kool-Aid. A year after his first book of poems, Daily Horoscope (1986), was published, Gioia left the world of business to write poetry and criticism and serve as Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts. There Gioia created initiatives that brought together distinguished American authors with troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan to help soldiers write about their experiences; began a program that put professional theater companies on tour to bring Shakespeare to more than 1 million students who had never before seen live theater; and started a national poetry competition for high school students to encourage them to read and write and compete for college scholarships.

Gioia published the collection The Gods of Winter (1991), the essays of Can Poetry Matter? (1992), the American Book Award winner Interrogations at Noon (2002), and numerous poetry chapbooks and books of criticism.

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 »