Monday

Jun. 3, 2013

Sonnet

by Willa Cather

Alas, that June should come when thou didst go;
I think you passed each other on the way;
And seeing thee, the Summer loved thee so
That all her loveliness she gave away;
Her rare perfumes, in hawthorn boughs distilled,
Blushing, she in thy sweeter bosom left,
Thine arms with all her virgin roses filled,
Yet felt herself the richer for thy theft;
Beggared herself of morning for thine eyes,
Hung on the lips of every bird the tune,
Breathed on thy cheek her soft vermilion dyes,
And in thee set the singing heart of June.
And so, not only do I mourn thy flight,
But Summer comes despoiled of her delight.

"Sonnet" by Willa Cather, from April Twilights. © Amereon House, 1968. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of poet Allen Ginsberg (books by this author), born in Newark, New Jersey (1926). He was raised by a family of Russian-Jewish immigrants; his father was a high school teacher and a poet, and his mother struggled with mental illness her entire life. At Columbia University, he fell in with a group of poets and artists that included Jack Kerouac, Neal Cassady, and William S. Burroughs. They read poetry to each other and took drugs and had all-night conversations, and sometime in the late '40s, they started calling themselves "Beats."

When Ginsberg was 26 years old, he was sitting in his apartment in Harlem when he suddenly had a vision of William Blake. He called it "a sudden awakening into a totally deeper real universe than I'd been existing in." But Ginsberg still wasn't sure that he wanted to be a poet after he graduated from Columbia. He worked as an apprentice book reviewer for Newsweek magazine for a time, and then he spent five years working for an advertising agency in an office in the Empire State Building.

In 1955, he moved to San Francisco, where he became part of the poetry scene that included Gary Snyder and Lawrence Ferlinghetti. In October of that year, he read his poem "Howl" at the Six Gallery in San Francisco. It was a huge success, and it launched a writing career that lasted more than 40 years.

The poem "Howl" begins:

"I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked, dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix, angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night ..."

Ginsberg said, "Poetry is the one place where people can speak their original human mind. It is the outlet for people to say in public what is known in private."

It's the birthday of Larry McMurtry (books by this author), born in Wichita Falls, Texas (1936). His early novels were set in the Southwest, on the frontier and in small towns. They included Horseman, Pass By (1961) and The Last Picture Show (1966), which were both made into movies. Then in 1981, he wrote an essay in The Texas Observer in which he said that "the cowboy myth" had become "an inhibiting, rather than a creative, factor in our literary life," and that "there was really no more that needed to be said about it." The future of Texas literature was urban, he said: "Now what we need is a Balzac, a Dickens." But a few years later, he published one of his best books, Lonesome Dove (1985), a historical novel about a cattle drive, and it won a Pulitzer Prize.

He said: "The earth is mostly just a boneyard. But pretty in the sunlight."

It's the birthday of Josephine Baker, born Freda Josephine Carson in St. Louis, Missouri (1906). She was told that she was "too skinny and too dark" to be a chorus girl at the Plantation Club, but she worked backstage and learned all the routines and went on as an understudy. Instead of acting cool and sophisticated on stage, she rolled her eyes and pretended to fall over things. Audiences loved her. She wore skimpy costumes made of feathers and bananas, and sang and danced in a way no one had ever seen before. Baker said: "I wasn't really naked ... I simply didn't have any clothes on."

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 »