Saturday

Feb. 18, 2012

Cook

by Jane Hirshfield

Each night you come home with five continents on your hands:
garlic, olive oil, saffron, anise, coriander, tea,
your fingernails blackened with marjoram and thyme.
Sometimes the zucchini's flesh seems like a fish-steak,
cut into neat filets, or the salt-rubbed eggplant
yields not bitter water, but dark mystery.
You cut everything into bits.
No core, no kernel, no seed is sacred: you cut
onions for hours and do not cry,
cut them to thin transparencies, the red ones
spreading before you like fallen flowers;
you cut scallions from white to green, you cut
radishes, apples, broccoli, you cut oranges, watercress,
romaine, you cut your fingers, you cut and cut
beyond the heart of things, where
nothing remains, and you cut that too, scoring coup
on the butcherblock, leaving your mark,
when you go
your feet are as pounded as brioche dough.

"Cook" by Jane Hirshfield, from Of Gravity and Angels. © Wesleyan University Press, 1988. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Today is the birthday of Greek writer Nikos Kazantzakis (books by this author), born in Heraklion, Crete (1883). Kazantzakis made his international reputation as a writer fairly late — when he was 56 — with the publication of his best-known work, Zorba the Greek (1946). The book was semi-autobiographical, based on a man Kazantzakis had known, George Zorbas, who in the novel was an uneducated man who pursues experiential rather than book learning, and who drinks, works, loves, and lives like a force of nature, the perfect embodiment of vital energy.

Kazantzakis's other well-known work is The Last Temptation (1953), which was condemned and banned by the Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox churches for presenting a Christ who wants to cast off his divinity. The work reached a new level of notoriety after Kazantzakis's death when director Martin Scorsese adapted it for film, and book and movie alike were attacked for what many church leaders said were blasphemous implications. Kazantzakis, on the other hand, felt his revisionist look at Jesus was in fact a reverent one and that "every free man who reads this book, so filled as it is with love, will more than ever before, better than ever before, love Christ."

When Kazantzakis died, the church refused him burial in consecrated ground, and he was laid to rest in a tomb outside the walls of his ancient home town, his grave marked by a stone that reads: I hope for nothing. I fear nothing. I am free.

It's the birthday of writer Wallace Stegner (books by this author), born in Lake Mills, Iowa (1909). Wallace's father had what Wallace called "the pioneering itch in his bones," and moved his family around hoping to strike it rich in a Western boomtown. They moved from North Dakota, to Washington state, then Montana, California, Saskatchewan, and finally settled in Salt Lake City, where Stegner got into the University of Utah when he was just 16. He was finishing his dissertation when his brother died suddenly of pneumonia. Not long after, his mother died of cancer and, finally, his father committed suicide. By the end of the 1930s, Stegner had lost his entire family.

Stegner wanted to write about the American West, but instead of a novel about cowboys and heroic pioneers, a novel "about what happens to the pioneer virtues and the pioneer type of family when the frontiers are gone and the opportunities are all used up." His first big success was The Big Rock Candy Mountain (1943), loosely based on the experiences of his own family.

Stegner wrote many novels and started the creative writing program at Stanford, where he taught Edward Abbey, Larry McMurtry, and Wendell Berry.

Not only did he write about the American Western experience and the need to preserve those spaces, Stegner also actively fought for preservation and became involved with the conservation movement of the 1950s. He said, "Something will have gone out of us as a people if we ever let the remaining wilderness be destroyed ... We need wilderness preserved — as much of it as is still left, and as many kinds — because it was the challenge against which our character as a people was formed ... We simply need that wild country available to us, even if we never do more than drive to its edge and look in. For it can be a means of reassuring ourselves of our sanity as creatures, a part of the geography of hope."

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 »