Tuesday

Jul. 31, 2012

Unification

by Ramon Montaigne

The Mississippi at its mouth
Joins the Gulf of Mexico,
The west wind mixes with the south,
High pressure with the low.
Nothing in nature stands apart,
All things rendezvous—
I'd like to mingle with you.
Intermingled, intertwined,
This is what I have in mind.
I just feel a sudden urge
To merge.

The compound that is chlorophyll
Formed as the light increases
Makes every little flower thrill
With photosynthesis.
The morning glory mingles
With the honeysuckle vine,
Come wrap your little tendrils around mine.

I've been lonely as a cloud,
Drifting miserable and proud,
Lonely as a limestone butte—
Handsome, noble, destitute,
But I need you, I confess
Let's coalesce.

"Unification" by Ramon Montaigne. Reprinted with permission of the author.

It's the birthday of poet and novelist Kim Addonizio (books by this author), born in Washington, D.C. (1954). Her dad was a sportswriter for The Washington Post, and her mom was the tennis champion Pauline Betz. She's the author of Tell Me (2000) and What Is This Thing Called Love (2004), and her fifth book of poetry, Lucifer at the Starlite, came out in 2009.

She said, "Poetry is not a means to an end, but a continuing engagement with being alive."

It's the birthday of the woman Teddy Roosevelt once called "the most dangerous woman in America" when she was 87 years old. Mary Harris Jones, or "Mother Jones," (books by this author) was born to a tenant farmer in Cork, Ireland, in 1837. Her family fled the potato famine when she was just 10, resettling in Toronto. She trained to be a teacher and took a job in Memphis, where on the eve of the Civil War she married a union foundry worker and started a family. But in 1867, a yellow fever epidemic swept through the city, taking the lives of her husband and all four children. A widow at 30, she moved to Chicago and built a successful dressmaking business — only to lose everything in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. Jones then threw herself into the city's bustling labor movement, where she worked in obscurity for the next 20 years. By the turn of the century, she emerged as a charismatic speaker and one of the country's leading labor organizers, co-founding the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).

She traveled the country to wherever there was labor struggle, sometimes evading company security by wading the riverbed into town, earning her the nickname "The Miner's Angel." She used storytelling, the Bible, humor, and even coarse language to reach a crowd. She said: "I asked a man in prison once how he happened to be there and he said he had stolen a pair of shoes. I said if he had stolen a railroad, he would be a United States Senator." Jones also had little patience for hesitation, volunteering to lead a strike "if there were no men present." A passionate critic of child labor, she organized a children's march from Philadelphia to the home of Theodore Roosevelt in Oyster Bay, New York with banners reading, "We want to go to school and not the mines!" At the age of 88, she published a first-person account of her time in the labor movement called The Autobiography of Mother Jones (1925). She died at the age of 93 and is buried at a miners' cemetery in Mt. Olive, Illinois.

She said: "Whatever the fight, don't be ladylike."

It's the birthday of writer Primo Levi (books by this author), born in Turin, Italy (1919.) He came of age when Mussolini was in power and, as was expected, he joined the movement for young Fascists as a teen. He was fascinated by science and graduated with a degree in industrial chemistry, but his diploma listed him "of Jewish race," and he was unable to find work in his field. Two years later, his family was forced to flee Mussolini's forces and he joined the partisan resistance. His group was taken prisoner, and on February 21, 1944, he and 650 other Italian Jews were transported to the concentration camps at Auschwitz. When the camp was liberated by the Red Army almost a year later, Levi was one of only 20 of that group who survived.

A year after returning home, he met and fell in love with his future wife, Lucia, when she offered to teach him to dance at a New Year's Eve party. She also encouraged him to take up writing and he began to document his experience in the camps. He found work at a paint factory, but rather than commute he stayed at the plant during the week and used the quiet time at night to draft his first novel, If This Is a Man. A small press published it in 1947, but 10 years later, it had only sold 1,500 copies. Levi worked with a translator, and in 1958, the book was released in the U.S. under the title Survival at Auschwitz. He followed with books of poetry and more memoirs, including The Periodic Table (1975), which traced his family history using the chart of elements. London's Royal Institution voted it one of the greatest science books ever written. Levi visited more than 130 schools in his lifetime to talk about his experience during the Holocaust. He was deeply concerned with people's ability to remain passive in the face of injustice.

He said: "Monsters exist, but they are too few in numbers to be truly dangerous. More dangerous are [those] ready to believe and act without asking questions."

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 »