MONDAY, 7 NOVEMBER, 2005
Listen (RealAudio) | How to listen

Poem: "Autism Poem: The Grid" by Barbara Crooker from Radiance © Word Press. Reprinted with permission.

Autism Poem: The Grid

A black and yellow spider hangs motionless in its web,
and my son, who is eleven and doesn't talk, sits
on a patch of grass by the perennial border, watching.
What does he see in his world, where geometry
is more beautiful than a human face?
Given chalk, he draws shapes on the driveway:
pentagons, hexagons, rectangles, squares.
The spider's web is a grid,
transecting the garden in equal parts.

Sometimes he stares through the mesh on a screen.
He loves things that are perforated:
toilet paper, graham crackers, coupons
in magazines, loves the order of the tiny holes,
the way the boundaries are defined. And in real life
is messy and vague. He shrinks back to a stare,
switches off his hearing. And my heart,
not cleanly cut like a valentine, but irregular
and many-chambered, expands and contracts,
contracts and expands.


Literary and Historical Notes:

It was on this day in 1917 that the Russian Revolution took place, bringing the first Communist government in the world to power, under the control of Vladimir Lenin. There had been a semi-Democratic government in Russia since 1905, with the Czar sharing power with a parliament. But the Czar had grown increasingly unpopular, especially since the beginning of World War I. The Russian army was poorly equipped and poorly led, and Russian soldiers were slaughtered in the thousands by the Germans. World War I also disrupted the economy and created huge food shortages. Inflation raised the prices of available goods by more than 700% in just three years.

Soldiers began deserting the Russian Army and many of them went to St. Petersberg, where food riots broke out in the winter of 1917. There were demonstrations calling for an end to the war and an end to the Czar's rule. To prevent revolution, Czar Nicholas II stepped down from the throne on March 15th, 1917 and he was replaced by a provisional government.

That summer, Russia experienced a brief taste of true democracy. Freedom of speech was granted to both individuals and newspapers for the first time. All political and religious prisoners were given amnesty. And all citizens were given the right to vote in secret ballot elections. But the provisional government decided to continue fighting in the extremely unpopular war against Germany, and that helped fuel opposition groups.

In April of 1917, Vladimir Lenin crossed the boarder back into Russia for the first time in ten years. He had been in exile in Switzerland, plotting how to start a socialist revolution. Lenin's argument was that capitalism had started the World War, and that the workers in the trenches fighting the war should turn their guns away from each other and instead fight a civil war to overthrow their leaders and take rightful control of their governments.

Lenin's political party was called the Bolsheviks, and their slogan was "Peace, Land, and Bread." With the continuing unpopularity of the war, they quickly became the most popular political party in the country.

Lenin was accused of being a German spy by the provisional government in July 1917, so he had to go underground. In order to attend a meeting of the Bolsheviks in late October of that year, he had to wear a disguise and sneak through the city streets. He made it to the meeting undetected, and after a heated ten hour debate, he persuaded a majority of his party to launch an armed takeover of the country.

Lenin gave the order for the workers' militia to seize government buildings on this day in 1917, and the coup met almost no resistance. Then next day, Lenin was elected chairman of the Council of the new Soviet Government. Overnight, he had gone from a fugitive in hiding to the leader of the revolutionary government in the largest country in the world.

Lenin believed that a communist country would need to be ruled at first by a military dictatorship, but that once communism took hold, people would be so happy with the new system that most of the coercive elements of the government would wither away, and society would become a classless, stateless paradise. He said, "While the State exists there can be no freedom; when there is freedom there will be no State." His vision never came to pass. Russia would remain a totalitarian police state for most of the rest of the twentieth century.


It's the birthday of writer Albert Camus born in Mondovi, Algeria (1913). His father was killed in the Battle of the Marne, and his mother worked as a cleaning woman; she could barely read. His family lived in two rooms, and they had no money, but a grammar-school teacher prodded him toward a university education. He studied philosophy in Algiers.

In 1940, he moved to an Algerian town called Oran, where he spent time on the beach. One day, he saw a friend of his get into a fight with some Arab men and threaten them with a pistol. Soon afterward, he worked the scene into a novel called The Stranger, which became his most famous book.

The Stranger was published in 1942, followed by a collection of essays, The Myth of Sisyphus (1943). He also wrote The Plague (1947), a novel about the way people react when disease terrorizes their city. The Plague made him rich enough to quit his job at a publishing house, but he stayed. His boss convinced him to drive back to Paris one night in 1960 instead of taking the train. He was killed in an accident on the way. His unused train ticket lay in his pocket, and the manuscript of his last novel was found in the wreckage.




TUESDAY, 8 NOVEMBER, 2005
Listen (RealAudio) | How to listen

Poem:"The Wildest Word" by June Robertson Beisch from Fatherless Woman.© Cape Cod Literary Press. Reprinted with permission.

The Wildest Word

The Benedictines had it, they knew
           the joys of silence, the illuminating of
                      manuscripts, the careful diffusion of
                                 esoteria.

The pleasures of abstinence.

Get to a point where you can deny yourself anything
           and then you are halfway there, some say.
                      And poems are made
                                 of love not made.

Emily Dickinson refused
           the offered touch and reveled in her own
                      self abnegation. "The wildest word
                                 consigned to man is No," she wrote.

"You love me best when I refuse."

           "Imagined love is better than the real,
                      and occupies the highest branch of Eden's tree,"
                                 wrote Edna St. Vincent Millay.

"Like fallen fruit, lived love is cheap."


Literary and Historical Notes:

It was on this day in 1864 that Abraham Lincoln was elected to his second term as President of the United States, an election that helped ensure the preservation of the Union. It was one of the only times in history that an election was held by a nation in the middle of a civil war.

Lincoln had a lot of reasons to worry the election might not go his way. The summer before the election, most Americans were weary of war, and calls to end the conflict were becoming louder and louder. Then, at the beginning of July, 1864, Lincoln was confronted with the embarrassment of a Confederate battalion trying to invade and capture Washington D.C. itself. The Confederates were driven off but not captured, and everyone who knew Lincoln at the time said he was in a terrible mood for the rest of the month.

In August, Lincoln announced that he would only negotiate peace with the Southern states if they reintegrated with the Union and if they abandoned slavery. This was the most radical position he'd taken on slavery yet, and it was so controversial that he began to lose support among his few allies in the Democratic Party, as well as members of his own Republican Party. There was talk that the Republican Party might try to nominate someone else. Lincoln worried that he'd made a terrible mistake, and so he didn't say anything else about slavery for the rest of the campaign.

The war continued to go badly. On July 30, 4000 Union soldiers were killed in a disastrous attempt to invade Petersburg, Virginia. The army needed 500,000 more soldiers, Lincoln would probably have to call for another draft, and the war debt was becoming unsustainable. Even moderate Republicans began to criticize the president's policies. On August 23, Lincoln wrote a memorandum to his cabinet that said, "This morning, and for some days past, it seems exceedingly probable that this Administration will not be re-elected."

The Democratic Party held their nominating convention in the last days of August, and they chose to run on a platform of ending hostilities with the Confederate States. This turned out to be a huge mistake when, on September 4th, General Sherman announced that his army had captured Atlanta. At the same time, Rear Admiral David G. Farragut announced that he had captured Mobile, Alabama, the last major Gulf port in Confederate hands.

Suddenly, the Democratic Party looked like the party of surrender when the Union was on the verge of winning the war. In the end, Lincoln carried every state except New Jersey, Delaware, and Kentucky.


It's the birthday of Bram Stoker, born in Dublin, Ireland (1847). He was working as a clerk for the civil service when he saw an unknown actor named Henry Irving in a play that changed his life. He became obsessed with Irving's acting career, and began writing freelance reviews of every play in which Irving appeared. Eventually, Irving became one of the most famous Shakespearian actors of the era, and he invited Bram Stoker to be his manager at the Lyceum Theater in London.

One night, in 1890, Stoker dreamt that a woman was trying to kiss him on the throat, and an elderly Count interrupted her shouting, "This man belongs to me!" Stoker woke up and immediately wrote about the dream in his diary. He couldn't get it out of his mind for weeks, and kept wondering who the Count might be. And that was the beginning of his novel Dracula (1897).

Dracula only became a minor best-seller in Stoker's lifetime. When he died in 1912, the obituaries about Stoker focused on his career in theater, and not a single one mentioned his authorship of Dracula. It wasn't until 1922, when Dracula movies started to appear, that people realized Bram Stoker had created one of the most enduring fictional characters of all time. Since then, some version of Dracula has appeared in more than 250 movies.


It's the birthday of the author of Gone with the Wind (1936), Margaret Mitchell, born in Atlanta, Georgia (1900). She was an independent and controversial young lady. The Atlanta Junior League rejected her application for membership because she'd once performed a risqué dance at a debutante ball. She married a wild bootlegger named Red Upshaw, who later became the basis of the character Rhett Butler, but when he turned violent she divorced him and married his best friend.

She got a job as a reporter, and wrote a series of stories about Georgia women who'd broken conventions, including a woman who'd disguised herself as a man to fight in the Civil War. In 1926, Mitchell injured her ankle, which forced her to quit her job as a reporter, and that was when she began writing Gone with the Wind (1936).




WEDNESDAY, 9 NOVEMBER, 2005
Listen (RealAudio) | How to listen

Poem: "The Best Ex-Husband You Could Ever Ask For" by Elizabeth W. Garber from Listening Inside the Dance: A Life in Maine Infused with Tango.© The Illuminated Sea Press, 2005. Reprinted with permission.

The Best Ex-Husband You Could Ever Ask For

Traveling with my Ex,
we take our daughter and her friend to New York City.
Since we were traveling the same way,
it only made sense.

We settle into an old comfort,
the familiarity of all the years of car trips with our children,
as the girls chatter away in the backseat.
We worry about our sleep-deprived son at college,
and share our amazement at his last paper
he'd emailed both of us for our editing comments.

It's been six years of unwinding the knotted battles,
until they've mostly vanished, forgotten.
What were those battles all about,
when it felt like I was fighting for my life?

He talks of his girlfriend,
of living without making plans.
I gently hold him at a distance,
as he continues to vaguely court me.
as he, perhaps, vaguely courts all women.
We drive, facing our unknown lives ahead,
wondering about what still waits to be lived.

Mid trip, my mind goes blank with his talk
in all the old familiar ways.
This used to feel like dying, again and again.
Today it's like being a tourist
at a historic battleground.
Grass has grown over all the bloodshed.

We settle into the easy silence
of long married couples,
smiling as we overhear the conversations from the backseat.

It is good to find peace.
No furious expectations haunt us,
no heartbreaking slights,
no land-mined conversations.

We are thoughtful about simple things.
Thank you for driving,
for packing food, for trading off on paying tolls,
for finding this great Salsa club in Soho for our teenaged daughter.

We sit together, the parents, smiling and slightly anxious
as a man asks our daughter to dance.
We stand up as well, but tentatively,
following a rhythm and steps we don't know,
dancing like chaste old friends.
We are careful,
discovering this new dance.


Literary and Historical Notes:

It was on this day in 1906 that Teddy Roosevelt went against more than a century of tradition and became the first American president ever to leave the country while in office. He went to view the construction site of the Panama Canal.

Before Roosevelt, it was assumed that a President of the United States couldn't oversee the country effectively if he traveled abroad. It would take too long for him to communicate with government officials back home. But with the invention of the telegraph and then the telephone, high speed communication had grown much more feasible.

So on this day in 1906, Roosevelt and his wife climbed aboard the U.S.S. Louisiana and sailed south. The journey to Panama made Roosevelt happier than he'd been in a long while. He strolled the decks with his wife, read a stack of books he'd brought with him, including Tacitus and Milton, and the captain even let him steer the ship at one point. When he got to Panama itself, he was so impressed by the jungle and the tropical wildlife that he didn't even mind the torrential rains.

The chief engineer had the incredibly difficult task of accompanying Roosevelt everywhere he went. He said, "I have blisters on both feet and am worn out…Scaling a hill with Roosevelt is like taking a fort by storm." They took a train to the construction site, but when Roosevelt saw the first 95-ton steam shovel, he ordered that the train be stopped so that he could hike through the mud to see the steam shovel up close. It was a new invention at the time, and Roosevelt spent a half an hour asking about its operation. He then took a turn at the controls.

The photograph of the president at the controls of the steam shovel became one of the most popular images of Roosevelt at the time. His decision to build the Panama Canal had been a controversial one, in part because he had to engineer the independence of Panama from Columbia in order to have access to the land, but by the time he traveled to Panama himself, he had won the people over to the idea.


Today is the anniversary of Kristallnacht, the night in 1938 when German Nazis coordinated a nationwide attack on Jewish homes, businesses, and synagogues. The attack was inspired by the murder of a German diplomat by a Jew in Paris. When Hitler heard the news, he got the idea to stage a mass uprising in response. He and Joseph Goebbels contacted storm troopers around the country, and told them to attack Jewish buildings but to make the attacks look like spontaneous demonstrations. The police were told not to interfere with the demonstrators, but instead to arrest the Jewish victims. Fire fighters were told only to put out fires in any adjacent Aryan properties. Everyone cooperated.

In all, more than 1,000 synagogues were burned or destroyed. Rioters looted about 7,500 Jewish businesses and vandalized Jewish hospitals, homes, schools, and cemeteries. Many of the attackers were neighbors of the victims.

The event was called Kristallnacht, which means, "Night of Broken Glass." It's generally considered the official beginning of the Holocaust.


It's the birthday of the poet Anne Sexton, born Anne Harvey in Newton, Massachusetts (1928). Most critics consider her best poems to be those in her first two books To Bedlam and Partway Back (1960) and All My Pretty Ones (1962). Her collection Live or Die (1966) won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry. She committed suicide in 1974.




THURSDAY, 10 NOVEMBER, 2005
Listen (RealAudio) | How to listen

Poem: "Groceries" by Cathy Smith Bowers from Traveling in Time of Danger© Iris Press. Reprinted with permission.

Groceries

I had a boyfriend once, after my mother
and brothers and sisters and I
fled my father's house, who worked
at the Piggly Wiggly where he stocked
shelves on Fridays until midnight
then drove to my house to sneak me out,
take me down to the tracks by the cotton mill
where he lifted me and the quilt I brought
into an empty boxcar. All night
the wild thunder of looms. The roar of trains
passing on adjacent tracks, hauling
their difficult cargo, cotton bales
or rolls of muslin on their way
to the bleachery to be whitened, patterned
into stripes and checks, into still-life gardens
of wisteria and rose. And when the whistle
signaled third shift free, he would lift me
down again onto the gravel and take me home.
If my mother ever knew, she didn't say, so glad
in her new freedom, so grateful for the bags
of damaged goods stolen from the stockroom
and left on our kitchen table. Slashed
bags of rice and beans he had bandaged
with masking tape, the labelless cans,
the cereals and detergents in varying
stages of destruction. Plenty
to get us through the week, and even some plums
and cherries, tender and delicious,
still whole inside the mutilated cans
and floating in their own sweet juice.


Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of theologian Martin Luther, born in Eisleben, Saxony (1483), which is now located in Germany. He's best known as the man who sparked the Protestant Reformation, but he was also an extraordinarily productive writer. Between the years of 1516 to 1546, he published an article on religion every other week, totaling more than sixty thousand pages. It has been estimated that during his writing life, his published writings made up twenty percent of all the literature being published in Germany at the time.

In addition to his own writing, Luther spent much of his late life working on a translation of the Bible into German. There had been a few German translations before his, but they were purely literal translations. He said, "[The translator] must ask the mother at home, children in the street, the common man in the market and look them in the mouth, and listen to how they speak, then translate accordingly."


It's the birthday of American novelist John Phillips Marquand, born in Wilmington, Delaware (1893). He came from a distinguished family of governors, shipbuilders, and sea captains. As a boy, his father was a wealthy stockbroker, but the panic of 1907 bankrupted him. Marquand was sent to live with his aunts, and he was the first member of his family to go to public instead of private school.

He got into Harvard on a scholarship, but he was always ashamed of his family's financial troubles, and it made him acutely aware of the struggle for social status among the upper class. After college he wrote ad copy about soap and underwear and rubber heeled shoes, until he had saved up enough money to take a year off to write a novel. The result was a historical novel called The Unspeakable Gentleman (1922), which he sold as a serial to the Ladies Home Journal.

At the time, one of the most popular forms of entertainment in the country was the fiction published in magazines, and between 1921 and 1931, John P. Marquand published five serial novels and fifty-nine short stories in the Saturday Evening Post and Collier's. Most of the stories were about romantic adventures in exotic foreign countries, and they were so popular that Marquand became the most highly paid author in the country.

Marquand's most popular novels of the 1930's were those featuring a Japanese agent named Mr. Moto, who speaks perfect English, has gold fillings in his teeth, is proficient with firearms and jujitsu, but whose most formidable weapon is his unfailing politeness. Marquand wrote six Moto novels, including Thank You, Mr. Moto (1936), Think Fast, Mr. Moto (1937) and Mr. Moto Is So Sorry (1938), but the character lost much of his appeal after the bombing of Pearl Harbor.

At the same time that Marquand was cranking out his novels of adventure and intrigue, he became fascinated by a series of biographies of supposedly prominent New England men that were quite popular at the time. Marquand thought these boring biographies of self-important upper-class New Englanders were absurd, so he decided to write a satirical fictionalized version. The result was his book The Late George Apley (1937), narrated by the smug and evasive fictional biographer Horatio Willing.

It was Marquand's first serious novel and it won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. He followed it with several more novels of manners, including Wickford Point (1939), and Point of No Return (1949).


It's the birthday of the poet Vachel Lindsay, born in Springfield, Illinois (1879). His parents wanted him to become a doctor, but he dropped out of medical school after three years and tried to make a living drawing pictures and writing poetry. After struggling for several years, and working for a time in the toy department of Marshall Fields, he decided to walk across the United States, trading his poems and pictures for food and shelter along the way.

Then in 1913 Poetry magazine published Lindsay's poem "General William Booth Enters into Heaven," and it was a big hit. He became one of the leaders of the movement to revive poetry as an oral art form, and he spent much of the rest of his life traveling around the country, reciting his work for audiences. He went on to write many collections of poetry for adults and children, including Rhymes To Be Traded for Bread (1912), The Congo and Other Poems (1914), and The Chinese Nightingale and Other Poems (1917).


It's the birthday of Karl Shapiro, born in Baltimore, Maryland (1913). He became famous at an early age for his poems about World War II. His collection of war poetry V-Letter and Other Poems won the Pulitzer Prize in 1945. He spent the rest of his career trying to prove that he was more than a war poet. When other poets were disgusted by the modern world, he wrote poems celebrating things like Buicks, drug stores, and Hollywood.




FRIDAY, 11 NOVEMBER, 2005
Listen (RealAudio) | How to listen

Poem: "17," excerpt of "Fall" by H.L. Hix from Shadows of Houses© Etruscan Press. Reprinted with permission

17, excerpt of Fall

A hedgeapple falling, the neighbor's radio,
a rusty squeaking roof vent, someone yelling You boys
stop that
, cicadas, cars on the highway, sparrows
rustling in gutters, all these competing noises.
A swingset's rusty voice severed by a chainsaw,
one life nourished by the erotic, one poisoned.
Though latched shut and locked, the truck's draw-down trailer door
each time it takes a bump clatters and tries to rise.
Two screens between us gray the neighbor's white lace curtains,
but the sun makes pumpkin-colored soy fields brighter
now than our maple will be. Though it clings to green,
gold has found at branch's end one eight-leaf cluster.
The horizon approaches, those rising mountains,
and everything else grows narrow and more clear.


Literary and Historical Notes:

Today is Veterans Day, honoring Americans who have served in the armed forces.

November 11 was originally called Armistice Day because it was on this day in 1918 that the First World War came to an end. The armistice was signed at 11:00 AM, on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of the year. After four years of brutal trench fighting, nine million soldiers had died and 21 million were wounded. It was called "The War to End All Wars," because it was the bloodiest war in history up to that point, and it made many people so sick of war that they hoped no war would ever break out again.

Many intellectuals and artists were disillusioned by the war. The philosopher Bertrand Russell said, "All this madness, all this rage, all this flaming death of our civilization and our hopes, has been brought about because a set of official gentlemen, living luxurious lives, mostly stupid, and all without imagination or heart, have chosen that it should occur rather than that any one of them should suffer some infinitesimal rebuff to his country's pride."


It's the birthday of Fyodor Dostoyevsky, born in Moscow (1821). He had just graduated from engineering school with no real prospects when he wrote his first novel, Poor Folk (1846), about a young clerk who's so poor that he lives in the corner of a dirty kitchen, spends all his time pouring his heart out in letters to the girl he loves, even though she eventually marries someone else. When he finished the novel, he gave it to some friends, and they stayed up all night reading it. At 4:00 in the morning, they pounded on Dostoyevsky's door to wake him up and tell him that he'd written a masterpiece. He later said that was the happiest moment of his life.

Poor Folk was a best-seller when it came out in 1846, and then Dostoyevsky got involved in politics. He joined a group of utopian socialists, and in 1849, the Russian government arrested him along with a group of other writers for planning to distribute political pamphlets advocating socialism and the emancipation of the serfs. They were told they'd been sentenced to death, they were led out to the firing squad, blindfolded and bound to stakes.

Dostoyevsky later wrote to his brother, "Being the third in the row, I concluded I had only a few minutes of life before me. I thought of you and your dear ones and I contrived to kiss [my friends] who were next to me, and to bid them farewell. Suddenly the troops beat a tattoo, we were unbound, brought back upon the scaffold, and informed that his Majesty had spared our lives." Two of Dostoevsky's friends never recovered their sanity.

Dostoyevsky spent four years in a Siberian prison and went on to write many novels, including Crime and Punishment (1866), The Idiot (1868), The Possessed (1872), and The Brothers Karamazov (1880).


It's the birthday of Kurt Vonnegut Jr., born in Indianapolis, Indiana (1922). He's the author of many novels, including Cat's Cradle (1963), Hocus Pocus (1990) and, most recently, Timequake (1997).

His father forced him to go to college to study biochemistry, though he wanted to be a journalist. Vonnegut said, "[College] was a boozy dream, partly because of booze itself, and partly because I was enrolled exclusively in courses I had no talent for." He was failing almost all of his classes when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, and he jumped at the chance to join the army and get out of school.

In December of 1944, Vonnegut was captured by the Germans during the Battle of the Bulge. He was imprisoned in a slaughterhouse in Dresden, and forced to work in a factory producing vitamin-enriched malt syrup for pregnant women. On the night of February 13, 1945, British and American bombers attacked Dresden, igniting a firestorm that burned up the oxygen in the city and killed almost all the city's inhabitants in two hours.

It was more than twenty years later when he published Slaughterhouse-Five (1969), about a man named Billy Pilgrim who experiences the bombing of Dresden and loses his mind, believing he has traveled to an alien planet where time does not exist. Vonnegut said it was an anti-war book. But he also said, "Anti-war books are as likely to stop war as anti-glacier books are to stop glaciers." He has since become one of the most popular guest lecturers at universities across the country.




SATURDAY, 12 NOVEMBER, 2005
Listen (RealAudio) | How to listen

Poem:"Modern Maturity" by Jeffrey Skinner from Salt Water Amnesia © Ausable Press. Reprinted with permission of the poet.

Modern Maturity

When I quit smoking my sense of smell increased sevenfold. I knew the drop of rain, still
cloud-borne, beginning to think of its fall. Walking on the pier, I sensed the crate of
marjoram and other spices nudged carelessly to the rocks, some two hundred years ago. I
imagined the soft explosion of blonde dust drifting over waves…I can now smell my
wife's moods, which has done wonders for our marriage! Last night I looked at the sky
and, I swear, a clean blue-and-white burning reached me from Orion. Smells, tunneling
back to childhood; thermos of coffee Mom opens on long car trips; the red-headed girl I
loved because she smelled like spaghetti; the rubbery cold bathing suit; pee,
chlorine…My hearing and eyesight are going fast, but my smell is keen as a basset
hound's! In fact, I'm spending more time than ever with my basset hound, Emma. Emma,
I say, donning my deerstalker, Looks very like another day for the woods, what? Oh she
and I wander so happy beneath the canopy, on a trail-less floor of dry leaf, moss, stone.
Everything that has ever befallen the universe, I have discovered, is written there, if only
you know how to read it, and we do, my dog and I, we do.


Literary and Historical Notes:

It was on this day in 1969 that the reporter Seymour Hersh broke the story of the My Lai massacre. On March 16, 1968, American soldiers under the command of Lieutenant William Calley marched into the village of My Lai. They had been ordered to destroy the village, because it was supposed to be a Viet Cong stronghold. When they arrived, the Americans found no evidence the any of the villagers were soldiers, but they proceeded to kill almost every man, woman, and child they could find. An Army photographer took a photograph of a trench where the Americans piled up almost six hundred bodies.

One witness to the incident was a helicopter pilot named Hugh Thompson, who flew over the village that day and couldn't understand how there came to be so many dead civilians. When he spotted several elderly adults and children running for shelter, chased by Americans, he landed his chopper between them and ordered the Americans to stand down. He called in gunships to rescue the remaining survivors of the village, and he personally pulled a surviving four-year-old boy out of a pile of bodies.

Thomson was the first person to report the incident to his superiors, but nothing happened. No one was court-martialed. It was another soldier, named Ron Ridenhour, who heard about the incident and vowed to make it public. He interviewed as many men who'd been there that day, and when he got back to the United States he wrote a description of the massacre and sent it to thirty people, including his congressman.

The pentagon initiated an investigation and it charged Lieutenant Calley with the murder of an unknown murder of civilians. But there was no media coverage until freelance reporter Seymour Hersh heard about the incident from a lawyer who had been working with military deserters. He interviewed as many people involved as he could find, and wrote the first article about the incident. But no major magazine would publish it.

So Hersh turned to a tiny news syndicate called the Dispatch News Service, which offered the article to fifty newspapers around the United States and Europe for the price of $100. Thirty-six of the newspapers, including the Boston Globe and the San Francisco Chronicle, chose to run the article on this day in 1969. Hersh went on to write a total of five articles about the massacre and its aftermath, and he won a Pulitzer Prize for his coverage.

Twenty-five men were eventually charged with war crimes in connection with the My Lai massacre, including the man who had given the order to attack the village. But only Lieutenant William Calley was convicted. He was sentenced to life imprisonment, but he only spent three days in the stockade before Nixon released him to house arrest, and he was paroled three years later by the Secretary of the Army.


It's the birthday of journalist and short story writer Tracy Kidder, born in New York City (1945). He started out writing fiction but eventually decided that the best use of his talent would be to describe the real world in non-fiction. After a book about a murder trial that he considered a failure, he focused his attention on the growing industry of computers.

He spent eight months living in the basement of Data General Corporation, watching the engineers at work on a new microcomputer, which he wrote about in his book The Soul of a New Machine (1981). It was one of the first non-technical books about the computer industry, and it won the Pulitzer Prize. Kidder went on to write many more books, including House (1985), about the world of carpenters and house building, and Among Schoolchildren (1989), about the education industry. His most recent book is Mountains Beyond Mountains (2003).


It's the birthday of actor and playwright Wallace Shawn, born in New York City (1943).




SUNDAY, 13 NOVEMBER, 2005
Listen (RealAudio) | How to listen

Poem: "Making a Living" by Dana Wildsmith from One Good Hand: Poems © Iris Press, Oak Ridge, Tennessee. Reprinted with permission.

Making a Living

Out here where we make our living
on a farm we won't let die,
work days last as long as I do

then while I sleep my shadow-work
goes on in dreams of you
juggling to set a roof beam, but

whichever end you aren't gripping
slips, and no one to help you hold.

Some nights my mind's dream-worker
can't find food to feed us,
or there's food but I can't reach it.

Last night while we were both asleep
I searched for paying work,
but everyone said, "Go home and finish

your jobs that need doing there." How?
Work done for love is never done.
Each evening I stow our tools
in the shed like hound pups
hot and spent. Time for them to rest

as I need rest. I wish I could believe
each day winds down to done,
each night brings perfect sleep,

but I've made the bed we lie in
with extra covers,
knowing nights can start hot, end cold,
and knowing work carried over to dreams
is one of the darker sides of our living.


Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of Saint Augustine, born in Tagaste, Numidia (354), a part of North Africa that is now Algeria. He lived at a time when the Roman Empire was beginning to decline, and there were new religions cropping up everywhere. His mother was a Christian, but he went away to college in Carthage and got involved in a trendy new religion called Manichaeism, which taught that the universe was controlled by two equal but opposing forces, one good and one evil. When he came home from college, and his mother found out about his new pagan ways, she was so disgusted that she threw him out of the house.

After the death of his best friend and patron, Augustine fell into a deep depression. A friend gave Augustine a book of St. Paul's Epistles, and he had the book with him one day in the garden when he heard a child's voice in the street say, "Take up and read." He opened the book and the first passage he saw read, "Not in rioting and drunkenness, not in promiscuity and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy, but put on the Lord Jesus Christ and take no care for the flesh in its desires." Augustine was instantly converted. He said, "It was as though the light of salvation had been poured into my heart."


It's the birthday of Robert Louis Stevenson, born in Edinburgh, Scotland (1850). He began to suffer from a lung disease at a very early age. His nurse stayed up with him at night when he couldn't sleep and told him all kinds of stories about ghosts and monsters and pirates. He said, "My recollections of the long nights when I was kept awake by coughing are only relieved by thoughts of the tenderness of my nurse."

His father was an engineer who specialized in building lighthouses, and Stevenson studied engineering himself until he dropped out of school and became a bohemian, hanging out with seamen, chimney-sweeps and thieves. He wanted to live a life of adventure, to sail the high seas, but his poor health forced him to move to France, where the weather was supposed to be better.

One night in France, he was passing by the window of a house when he looked inside and fell instantly in love with a woman he saw eating dinner with a group of friends. He stared at her for what seemed like hours, and then opened the window and leapt inside. The guests were shocked, but Stevenson just bowed and introduced himself. The woman was an American named Fanny Osborne. They fell in love and got married a few years later.

Marriage seemed to make Stevenson more industrious. Even though he was often bed-ridden, he published on average 400 pages of writing a year for the rest of his life. And he wrote all kinds of things: essays, political reportage, anthropology, travel writing, novels, and children's poetry.

One day in the summer of 1881, Stevenson painted a map of an imaginary island for his stepson, and the map gave him an idea for the novel Treasure Island (1883). He later wrote, "As I pored upon my map…the future characters of the book began to appear there visibly among imaginary woods; and their brown faces and bright weapons peeped out upon me from unexpected quarters, as they passed to and fro, fighting, and hunting treasure, on the few inches of a flat projection."


It's the birthday of the lawyer and associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court Louis Brandeis, born in Louisville, Kentucky (1856). He was the man who introduced the concept of a right to privacy to American law.




«

»

  • “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