MONDAY, 28 MAY 2001
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Poem: "The Eel in the Cave," by Robert Bly from The Night Abraham Called to the Stars (HarperCollins).

The Eel in the Cave

Our veins are open to shadow, and our fingertips
Porous to murder. It's only the inattention
Of the prosecutors that lets us go to lunch.

Reading my old letters I notice a secret will.
It's as if another person had planned my life.
Even in the dark, someone is hitching the horses.

That doesn't mean I have done things well.
I have found so many ways to disgrace
Myself, and throw a dark cloth over my head.

Why is it our fault if we fall into desire?
The eel poking his head from his undersea cave
Entices the tiny soul falling out of Heaven.

So many invisible angels work to keep
Us from drowning; so many hands reach
Down to pull the swimmer from the water.

Even though the District Attorney keeps me
Well in mind, grace allows me sometimes
To slip into Alhambra by night.

Memorial Day has been observed in the United States since 1869 for the purpose of strewing flowers or decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country in the Civil War.

It's the birthday of the novelist Meg Wolitzer, born in Brooklyn in 1959. Her first novel came out when she was just 23, Sleepwalking. It's the story of three teenage girls who suffer from anorexia and depression. She wrote a novel, This is Your Life, that was made into a movie by Nora Ephron, and then wrote a book about making the movie about her book. It's called Fitzgerald Did It: The Writer's Guide to Mastering the Screenplay.

It's the birthday of Maeve Binchy, born in Dalkey, a small village outside of Dublin, Ireland in 1940. She was a writer for the Irish Times for many years before she started writing fiction and plays. She is perhaps best known for her novels Light a Penny Candle, Circle of Friends, The Glass Lake, and Tara Road. Maeve Binchy, who said "I don't think that anyone is dull; I could sit forever in a shopping mall or an airport just watching people. There's a story in everyone; a hope, a dream, a disappointment."

It's the birthday of the poet May Swenson, born in Logan, Utah in 1919, the oldest of ten children born to Swedish immigrants who converted to Mormonism.

It's the birthday of novelist Walker Percy, born in Birmingham, Alabama in 1916. He is best known for his novel, The Moviegoer, which was also his first novel.

It's the birthday of the man who created James Bond, Ian Fleming, born in London in 1908. When he was 31, he joined British Naval Intelligence and spent the years during World War II plotting intelligence operations, some of which later wound up in his spy fiction. His first spy thriller was Casino Royale, published in1953, starring the British spy, the stylish James Bond.

It's the birthday of the naturalist and geologist Louis Agassiz, born in Motier, Switzerland in 1807. He moved to the United States when he was 39 to accept a Harvard professorship, and where he founded the Museum of Comparative Zoology. He was a great teacher who encouraged his students to learn from direct contact with nature instead of through books and lectures.

And it was on this day in 585 BC that a total eclipse of the sun caused the Lydians and Medes, who were at war in what is now Turkey, to call a cease-fire and negotiate peace.

TUESDAY, 29 MAY 2001
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Poem: "Poem About Morning," by William Meredith from Partial Accounts: New and Selected Poems (Alfred A. Knopf).

Poem About Morning

Whether it's sunny or not, it's sure
To be enormously complex—
Trees or streets outdoors, indoors whoever you share,
And yourself, thirsty, hungry, washing,
An attitude towards sex.
No wonder half of you wants to stay
With your head dark and wishing
Rather than take it all on again:
Weren't you duped yesterday?
Things are not orderly here, no matter what they say.

But the clock goes off, if you have a dog
It wags, if you get up now you'll be less
Late. Life is some kind of loathsome hag
Who is forever threatening to turn beautiful.
Now she gives you a quick toothpaste kiss
And puts a glass of cold cranberry juice,
Like a big fake garnet, in your hand.
Cranberry juice! You're lucky, on the whole,
But there is a great deal about it you don't understand.

It was on this day in 1953 that Sir Edmund Hillary and his Sherpa guide, Tensing Norgay, reached the summit of Mount Everest, the first men ever to reach the top. They reached the top at 11:30 in the morning and spent just 15 minutes there while they planted the flags of their various countries and the United Nations. Hillary wrote about the ascent of the mountain in his book, High Adventure, and neither in the book nor in any interviews that Hillary or Tensing Norgay gave in years to come would either of them ever answer which of them had been the first.

It's the birthday of the ecologist Paul Ehrlich, born in Philadelphia in 1932. He's best known for his 1968 book, The Population Bomb, about potentially catastrophic results of overpopulation.

It's the birthday of the thirty-fifth President of the United States, John Fitzgerald Kennedy. Born in Brookline, Massachusetts in1917, he was elected president in 1960, and a month before he was assassinated in 1963, John F. Kennedy said in a speech at Amherst College, "When power leads man toward arrogance, poetry reminds him of his limitations. When power narrows the areas of man's concern, poetry reminds him of the richness and diversity of his existence. When power corrupts, poetry cleanses, for art establishes the basic human truths which must serve as the touchstone of our judgment."

It's the birthday of T.H. White, Terence Handbury White, born in Bombay in 1906. He discovered as he grew up that he got along better with animals than with people and he kept many pets—badgers, hawks, snakes, dogs (he liked Irish setters), and he had an owl that sat on his head—many of which appear in his most famous book, The Sword and the Stone, 1938, including the owl named Archimedes who sits on the head of the wizard Merlin. He wrote three more books about King Arthur which were later published together as The Once and Future King, which inspired the musical Camelot.

It's the birthday of the novelist and poet and essayist G.K. Chesterton, born in London in 1874. He wrote literary criticism and social commentary and theological essays after he converted to Catholicism in 1922. He's best-known, however, for his spy novel The Man Who Was Thursday, and for detective stories featuring Father Brown, a Roman Catholic priest who was a detective.

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Poem: "Here," by Grace Paley from Begin Again: Collected Poems (Farrar Straus Giroux).


Here I am in the garden laughing
an old woman with heavy breasts
and a nicely mapped face

how did this happen
well that's who I wanted to be

at last   a woman
in the old style   sitting
stout thighs apart under
a big skirt   grandchild sliding
on   off my lap   a pleasant
summer perspiration

that's my old man across the yard
he's talking to the meter reader
he's telling him the world's sad story
how electricity is oil or uranium
and so forth   I tell my grandson
run over to your grandpa   ask him
to sit beside me for a minute   I
am suddenly exhausted by my desire
to kiss his sweet explaining lips

It's the birthday of poet Garrett Hongo, born in Volcano, Hawaii, in 1951 . He's the author of two collections of poetry, Yellow Light, and The River of Heaven, which was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize in 1988.

It's the birthday of Benny Goodman, the "King of Swing," born in Chicago in 1909, the eighth of twelve children of an immigrant tailor. When he was ten years old, the local synagogue offered him music lessons and a free loaner clarinet to practice on. At the age of 16, he joined Ben Pollack's band along with Glenn Miller, Jack Teagarden, and Jimmy McPartland.

It's the birthday of Mel Blanc, born in San Francisco in 1908, who did the voice of Bugs Bunny, the voice of Porky Pig, and Barney Rubble on The Flintstones.

It's the birthday of poet and novelist and a major figure of the Harlem Renaissance, Countee Cullen, born in Louisville in 1903. His first three volumes came out in the late '20s, Color, Copper Sun, and The Ballad of the Brown Girl. He was the most popular black poet in America at that time and then he published his longest and most complex poem, "The Black Christ," and received less-than-favorable reviews. He was bitterly disappointed, and after that he wrote a great deal less and spent the rest of his life teaching French at Frederick Douglass Junior High School in Harlem where he had James Baldwin in his classroom. He also wrote for children. The Lost Zoo, a collection of poems about the animals Noah did not take on the ark, and an autobiography of his cat, My Lives and How I Lost Them.

It's the birthday of Cornelia Otis Skinner, born in Chicago in 1901. She is best known for her memoir, Our Hearts Were Young and Gay and the play, The Pleasure of His Company.

It's the birthday of the film director Howard Hawks, born in Goshen, Indiana in 1896. He started out in Hollywood as a prop man, then a story editor, and then started directing gangster movies, westerns, film noir, screwball comedies like Bringing Up Baby, the musical Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, and To Have and Have Not.

It was on this day in 1783 that America's first daily newspaper began publication. The Pennsylvania Evening Post and Daily Advertiser, composed and printed by Benjamin Towne, who also hawked the paper on the street himself, shouting, "All the news for two coppers." It came out every day for one month and then it went under.

It was on this day in 1431 that Joan of Arc was burned at the stake as a witch.

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Poem: lines from "Leaves of Grass," by Walt Whitman from Whitman: Poetry and Prose (Viking Press).

Leaves of Grass

Who goes there? Hankering, gross, mystical, nude;
How is it I extract strength from the beef I eat?

What is a man anyhow? what am I? what are you?

All I mark as my own you shall offset it with your own,
Else it were time lost listening to me.

Why should I pray? why should I venerate and be

Having pried through the strata, analyzed to a hair,
    counsel'd with doctors and calculated close,
I find no sweeter fat than sticks to my own bones.

In all people I see myself, none more and not one a barley-
    corn less,
And the good or bad I say of myself I say of them.

I know I am solid and sound,
To me the converging objects of the universe perpetually flow,
All are written to me, and I must get what the writing means.

I know I am deathless,
I know this orbit of mine cannot be swept by a carpenter's
I know I shall not pass like a child's carlacue cut with a
    burnt stick at night.

I know I am august,
I do not trouble my spirit to vindicate itself or be understood,
I see that the elementary laws never apologize,
(I reckon I behave no prouder than the level I plant my
    house by, after all.)

I exist as I am, that is enough,
If no other in the world be aware I sit content,
And if each and all be aware I sit content.

One world is aware and by far the largest to me, and that is
And whether I come to my own to-day or in ten thousand
    or ten million years,
I can cheerfully take it now, or with equal cheerfulness I
    can wait.

It's the birthday of writer Bailey White, born in Thomasville, Georgia, in 1950. She was a first grade teacher in her hometown when she started doing commentaries for NPR's All Things Considered. She has published two memoirs, Mama Makes Up Her Mind and Other Dangers of Southern Living, and Sleeping At the Starlite Motel, and Other Adventures of the Way Back Home.

It's the birthday of poet and novelist Jonis Agee, born in Omaha in 1943. Her first collection of short stories was Pretend We've Never Met, which introduces the reader to the fictional town of Divinity, Iowa, which is also the setting of her first novel, Sweet Eyes.

It's the birthday of comedian Fred Allen, born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1894. He worked nights at the Boston Public Library when he was in high school in Boston, and one night he came across a book about comedy that fascinated him. So, he began to collect jokes and also taught himself to juggle, and that was his start in vaudeville as a comic juggler. He got into radio with an hour-long show of his own, "Town Hall Tonight," 1934, which was later renamed "The Fred Allen Show." He wrote most of his own material and was famous for his satire and for poking fun at his corporate sponsors.

It's the birthday of poet Walt Whitman, born in West Hills, Long Island, in New York, in 1819. He was a printer and then the editor of a daily newspaper, the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. He came out with a first edition of Leaves of Grass in 1855 at his own expense because no one else wanted to publish it. He sold ten copies and gave away the rest. Whitman was not above self-promotion; he even wrote his own reviews of Leaves of Grass anonymously. He said, "The public is a thick-skinned beast and you have to keep whacking away at its hide to let it know you're there." In 1862, he went to Washington and took a series of bureaucratic jobs while he volunteered in Union hospitals. He was appalled by the conditions he found there and published his collection of war poems, Drum Taps, in 1865, which included the great elegy on the death of Lincoln, "When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd." Ralph Waldo Emerson was a great fan of Whitman. Henry David Thoreau felt otherwise. He said of Whitman, "He was not only eager to talk about himself, but reluctant to have the conversation stray from the subject for long."

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Poem: "Death of Marilyn Monroe," by Sharon Olds from The Dead and the Living (Alfred A. Knopf).

Death of Marilyn Monroe

The ambulance men touched her cold
body, lifted it, heavy as iron,
onto the stretcher, tried to close
the mouth, closed the eyes, tied the
arms to the side, moved a caught
strand of hair, as if it mattered,
saw the shape of her breasts, flattened by
gravity, under the sheet,
carried her, as if it were she,
down the steps.

These men were never the same. They went out
afterwards, as they always did,
for a drink or two, but they could not meet
each other's eyes.

        Their lives took
a turn—one had nightmares, strange
pains, impotence, depression. One did not
like his work, his wife looked
different, his kids. Even death
seemed different to him—a place where she
would be waiting,

and one found himself standing at night
in the doorway to a room of sleep, listening to a
woman breathing, just an ordinary

On this day in 1967, the Beatles released their concept album, "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Heart's Club Band," which they had originally planned to call "Dr. Pepper's Lonely Heart's Club Band" until they remembered about the soft drink.

It's the birthday of Colleen McCullough, born in Wellington, New South Wales, Australia in 1938. She worked as a teacher, a librarian, and a bus driver before she published her first novel in 1974, Tim. She said before she sat down to write, she did a little market research. "I sat down with six girls who were working with me. They were very dissimilar types, and not especially avid readers. Yet, they were all mad about Erich Segal's Love Story. They enjoyed books that made them cry. If you didn't cry the book wasn't worth reading. So, I said, 'That's it, mate. No matter what else you do in a book, don't forget the buckets of tears.'" Her big bestseller came out in 1977. It was The Thorn Birds.

It's the birthday of actress Marilyn Monroe, born Norma Jean Mortenson in Los Angeles in 1926. Her mother was committed to a state mental hospital, and young Norma Jean spent several years in foster homes and in an orphanage. She married young; she was only sixteen when she married an airplane factory worker. She got a job assembling airplanes at a plant in Van Nuys, and was spotted by an army photographer who chose her to model for an article. A modeling agency saw the photograph and she signed with 20th Century Fox in 1946, and started using name Marilyn Monroe. To make money, she posed nude for a calendar photograph. When asked later if it was true that she had nothing on in the photograph, she said, "I had the radio on." When asked what she wanted to do with her life, she said, "Oh, I just want to be wonderful."

It's the birthday of the poet John Masefield, born in Ledbury in Herefordshire, England, in 1878. He went to sea as a teenager, and arrived in New York on a ship of the White Star line and decided to stay in America for awhile. He spent about three years in New York, working in a bakery, a saloon, and finally in a carpet factory in Yonkers, where he began to read poetry and write. John Masefield was the Poet Laureate of Great Britain from 1930 to 1967, and is best known for his poem, "Sea Fever," which begins: "I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,/And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by."

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Poem: "The Cabbages of Chekhov," by Robert Bly from The Night Abraham Called to the Stars (HarperCollins).

The Cabbages of Chekhov

Some gamblers abandon carefully built houses
In order to live near water. It's all right. One day
On the river is worth a thousand nights on land.

It is our attraction to ruin that saves us;
And disaster, friends, bring us health. Chekhov
Shocks the heavens with his dark cabbages.

William Blake knew that fierce old man,
Irritable, chained and majestic, who bends over
To measure with his calipers the ruin of the world.

It takes so little to make me happy tonight!
Four hours of singing will do it, if we remember
How much of our life is a ruin, and agree to that.

Butterflies spend all afternoon concentrating
On the buddleia bush; human beings take in
The fragrance of a thousand nights of ruin.

We planted fields of sorrow near the Tigris.
The Harvesters will come in at the end of time
And tell us that the crop of ruin has been great.

It was on this day in 1953 that Queen Elizabeth was crowned Queen of England by the Archbishop of Canterbury in Westminster Abbey in London, which two and a half million Britons watched on television and many more in the United States.

It's the birthday of novelist and short-story writer Carol Shields, born in Oak Park, Illinois in 1935. She emigrated to Canada with her husband, raised five children there, and when they were older and in school she started to write. At first she wrote poems, then a novel, Small Ceremonies in 1976, Swann, The Republic of Love, and then in 1993, her best-selling book, The Stone Diaries, which was short-listed for the Booker Prize in England and received the Pulitzer Prize in the United States in 1995.

It's the birthday of the novelist Barbara Pym, born in Shropshire, England, in 1913. She was the author of many comic novels about upper-middle-class life in England, books like Excellent Women and A Glass of Blessings. She worked for an anthropology magazine for nearly 30 years as an assistant editor, and tried to get her novels published with very little success. Though a few were published, they did not sell well, and then in her mid-50s she gave up writing altogether, and moved with her cat to a village near Oxford. In1977, when The London Times asked the best-known writers in Britain to name the most underrated novelist of the century, Barbara Pym was the only one who was mentioned twice. Overnight, she became a sort of star and all 12 of her novels were quickly published or republished.

It's the birthday of novelist Thomas Hardy, born in Higher Brocklehampton, near Dorchester, England in1840. His father, a stonemason, taught the boy to play the fiddle, and he and his father played for country dances all through his childhood. He thought of becoming a clergyman, apprenticed himself to an architect, and when he was 23, he started to write. At first he wrote poetry, and then fiction. He published several novels in the 1870s, before he finally achieved success with Far from the Madding Crowd in 1874. More followed including The Return of the Native, The Mayor of Casterbridge, and Tess of the D'Urbervilles. After his novel Jude the Obscure was attacked for its sexual frankness, he gave up fiction and concentrated on writing poetry for the last three decades of his life.

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Poem: "Church Going," by Philip Larkin from The Less Deceived (The Marwell Press).

On this day in 1989, a group of protesters demonstrating in Tianenmen Square in Beijing, demonstrating in favor of democratic reforms, were set upon by Chinese soldiers and between 400 hundred and 800 civilians were left dead.

It's the birthday of novelist Larry McMurtry, born in Witchita Falls, Texas, in 1936, who won the Pulitzer Prize for his novel Lonesome Dove in 1986.

It's the birthday of the poet Allen Ginsberg, born in Newark, New Jersey in 1926. He's best-known for his long poem, "Howl," published when he was 30 years old.

And it's the birthday of the British journalist William Hone, born in Bath, England, in 1780. He was famous for the first exposés of the conditions of insane asylums in Great Britain, and for his battles to win freedom of speech. In 1819, he came out with a political satire, The Political House That Jack Built, with lines such as These are the people all tatter'd and torn,/Who curse the day wherein they were born,/On account of Taxation too great to be borne. He was charged with sedition for writing the stuff, and in a landmark case centering on freedom of speech, won his own acquittal, which made him a hero for writers across England. When he died in London in 1842, young Charles Dickens attended his funeral and helped to pay for his widow's living expenses.



  • “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
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