Friday

Aug. 17, 2012

Perfect Light

by Ted Hughes

Today's poem is available in audio form only. Listen to it here.

"Perfect Light" by Ted Hughes, from Birthday Letters. © Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1998. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of Jonathan Franzen (books by this author), born in Western Springs, Illinois (1959). He's the author of the acclaimed novels Freedom (2010) and The Corrections (2001), and has also written a memoir and two essay collections. His latest book is one of those essay collections; it's called Farther Away (2012).

Jonathan Franzen said: "I come from a kind of old-fashioned Midwest, and I live in a technocorporate, postironic, cool, late-late-late Eastern world. The two worlds hardly ever talk to each other, but they're completely, constantly talking to one another inside me. [...] I have my parents talking to me in my head and then other parts of myself talking back. I think this is potentially an interesting conversation."

Today is the birthday of poet Ted Hughes (books by this author), born in West Riding, Yorkshire (1930). He became noteworthy as a poet in 1957 with the publication of his first collection, The Hawk in the Rain. During a time when most poets were confining themselves to quiet, domestic verses, Hughes wrote about dramatic mythological themes, and often tried to write from the point of view of animals, especially Crow, who features in several of his books. He married poet Sylvia Plath in 1956; she committed suicide in 1963. He administered her literary estate, but didn't talk about her publicly until Birthday Letters (1998), his collection of poems about Plath and their relationship.

Hughes said: "The inmost spirit of poetry, in other words, is at bottom, in every recorded case, the voice of pain — and the physical body, so to speak, of poetry, is the treatment by which the poet tries to reconcile that pain with the world."

It's the birthday of actress and playwright Mae West (books by this author), born in Brooklyn, New York (1893). She became famous for her quippy innuendoes and double entendres. Some of her more notable quotes include: "A dame that knows the ropes isn't likely to get tied up." And, "Between two evils, I like to pick the one I haven't tried before." And, "I used to be Snow White, but I drifted."

Today is the birthday of American soldier, politician, and folk hero David — better known as "Davy" — Crockett, born in Greene County, Tennessee (1786). He was first elected to the state legislature of Tennessee in 1821, and the U.S. House of Representatives in 1827, where he served three nonconsecutive terms in all. He was defeated in 1835 by a peg-legged lawyer named Andrew Huntsman, and gave up politics, saying, "Since you have chosen to elect a man with a timber toe to succeed me, you may all go to hell and I will go to Texas." He left the next day, and he was killed at the Battle of the Alamo the following year.

Although he was a skilled hunter and marksman, and had a reputation for telling tall tales, much of his rustic frontier image was a product of political spin. On his way to Congress, he reportedly bragged to a crowd, "I'm that same David Crockett, fresh from the backwoods, half-horse, half-alligator, a little touched with the snapping turtle; can wade the Mississippi, leap the Ohio, ride upon a streak of lightning, and slip without a scratch down a honey locust [tree]." His legend was cemented by the Davy Crockett Almanack, a series of humorous books published from 1835 to 1856.

Today is the birthday of German-born economist, journalist, and author Sylvia Nasar (books by this author), born in Rosenheim, Bavaria (1947). She's best known for her 1998 biography of mathematician and Nobel Prize-winning economist John Forbes Nash Jr. A Beautiful Mind (1998) tells the story of Nash's struggle with severe mental illness, and it inspired a movie of the same name, which came out in 2001. Nasar had first become aware of Nash while working on an economics article for The New York Times. She heard about a schizophrenic mathematical genius who was on the short list for the Nobel Prize. "I thought, 'Oh my God, this sounds like a Greek tragedy, Shakespeare play and fairy tale rolled into one,'" she later said.

It's the birthday of journalist and author Eric Schlosser (books by this author), born in New York City (1959). He was an aspiring playwright and wrote two plays drawn from American history, and in 1994 he got his first journalism job, writing for The Atlantic Monthly. He made a name for himself with his first book, Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal (2002). The book, which reveals disturbing practices in the fast food, factory farming, and meatpacking industries, evolved out of a two-part article he wrote for Rolling Stone in 1998; the article prompted a flood of letters to the magazine. Salon calls Fast Food Nation a "gross-out exposé," but Schlosser has said: "I'm not trying to be a scaremonger, I don't want people to be afraid of their food. There are a lot of things in life that pose a greater immediate risk. For example, in New York City, taking a cab to La Guardia Airport."

It's been 10 years since Fast Food Nation was originally published, and Schlosser reports that, while some things have changed, much still remains the same. And he's been subject to a lot of criticism: "I've been called a communist and a socialist, a 'dunce,' a 'health fascist,' an 'economics ignoramus,' a 'banjo-strumming performer at Farm Aid,' a 'hectoring nanny of the nanny state,' and much stronger epithets." Supporters of the fast food and meatpacking industries have disrupted his readings. But he says the experience has been rewarding and he feels optimistic about the possibilities for change.

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 »