Aug. 26, 2013

Found Poem

by Howard Nemerov

after information received in The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 4 v 86

The population center of the USA
Has shifted to Potosi, in Missouri.

The calculation employed by authorities
In arriving at this dislocation assumes

That the country is a geometric plane,
Perfectly flat, and that every citizen,

Including those in Alaska and Hawaii
And the District of Columbia, weighs the same;

So that, given these simple presuppositions,
The entire bulk and spread of all the people

Should theoretically balance on the point
Of a needle under Potosi in Missouri

Where no one is residing nowadays
But the watchman over an abandoned mine

Whence the company got the lead out and left.
'It gets pretty lonely here,' he says, 'at night.'

"Found Poem" by Howard Nemerov, from War Stories. © University of Chicago Press, 1990. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of French poet and art critic Guillaume Apollinaire (books by this author), born in Rome, Italy (1880).

It's also the birthday of novelist and playwright Christopher Isherwood (books by this author), born in Cheshire, England (1904). He's best known for the novels he wrote about life in Berlin, just before the rise of the Nazi party, including Mr Norris Changes Trains (1935), Sally Bowles (1937), and Goodbye to Berlin (1939).

Isherwood met the future poet W.H. Auden at prep school. The two became good friends. In the 1930s, they wrote three prose-verse plays together. In 1938, they traveled to China, where Isherwood did some research for his book Journey to a War (1939). They immigrated together to the United States, in 1939.

He settled in Santa Monica, where he lived until he died. He worked as a teacher and wrote for Hollywood films. He was a pacifist. During the first stages of World War II, he worked at a Quaker hostel in Pennsylvania with refugees from Europe.

Isherwood's friend, fellow writer Aldous Huxley, introduced him to an active swami in Hollywood. Isherwood became a follower of Hinduism. He started meditating and became a vegetarian. He said, "I'm tired of strumming on that old harp, the Ego, darling Me."

Isherwood wrote: "I am a camera with its shutter open, quite passive, recording, not thinking. Recording the man shaving at the window opposite and the woman in the kimono washing her hair."

It was on this day in 1968 that the Democratic National Convention opened in Chicago. It had already been one of the bloodiest years of the decade. That February, the North Vietnamese launched their devastating "Tet Offensive," which indicated that the war was nowhere near over. Lyndon Johnson announced that he would not seek reelection, and the anti-war movement thought that they had won a victory. Then, in April, Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, sparking widespread riots. Two months later, Robert Kennedy was shot and killed as he left a celebration for his victory in the California primary.

In the wake of Robert Kennedy's murder, the Democratic Party establishment chose Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey as their candidate, but the anti-war faction of the party wanted Senator Eugene McCarthy. Thousands of college students and anti-war activists showed up at the convention on this day to protest the choice of Humphrey, and the Democratic Party's support of the war in Vietnam.

Abbie Hoffman, leader of the "yippies," announced a plan to lace the city's water supply with hallucinogenic drugs, release animals from the zoo, and seduce the wives and daughters of delegates. Chicago Mayor Richard Daley called in 7,500 U.S. Army troops and 6,000 National Guardsmen to keep the peace.

For the first two days of the convention, protesters shouted insults at the police and threw rocks and other objects. On the evening of the third day, the police responded by charging toward Grant Park where thousands of protestors were gathered, attacking everyone in their path with billy clubs and tear gas.

On the first floor of the Hilton Hotel, the crowd began to chant, "The whole world is watching," because TV news cameras were capturing the whole thing. Footage of police attacking men, women, and even elderly protesters was being broadcast on news stations within the hour.

As the delegates were beginning their roll call to choose Humphrey as their nominee, Connecticut was about to be called when news footage of the riot outside appeared on the monitors in the convention hall. Senator Abraham Ribicoff took the podium to attack what he called Mayor Daley's "Gestapo tactics." Television cameras then turned and captured Mayor Daley shouting obscenities at Senator Ribicoff.

In his notebook that night, the reporter and historian Theodore White wrote, "The Democrats are finished." Hubert Humphrey lost the election to Richard Nixon that year.

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 »