MONDAY, 12 DECEMBER, 2005
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Poem: "Couple at Coney Island" by Charles Simic from Night Picnic. © Harcourt. Reprinted with permission.

Couple at Coney Island

It was early one Sunday morning,
So we put on our best rags
And went for a stroll along the boardwalk
Till we came to a kind of palace
With turrets and pennants flying.
It made me think of a wedding cake
In the window of a fancy bakery shop.

I was warm, so I took my jacket off
And put my arm round your waist
And drew you closer to me
While you leaned your head on my shoulder.
Anyone could see we'd made love
The night before and were still giddy on our feet.
We looked naked in our clothes

Staring at the red and white pennants
Whipped by the sea wind.
The rides and shooting galleries
With their ducks marching in line
Still boarded up and padlocked.
No one around yet to take our first dime.


Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of Frank Sinatra, born in Hoboken, New Jersey (1915). Sinatra grew up in Hoboken, the son of Italian immigrants.


It's the birthday of novelist Patrick O'Brian, born Richard Patrick Russ in London, England (1914). He's the author of the series of novels that began with Master and Commander (1969) about the British navel officer, Captain Jack Aubrey.


It's the birthday of French novelist Gustave Flaubert, born in Rouen, France (1821). He was the son of a surgeon. His father dissected human cadavers at home, and Flaubert often climbed the garden trellis to look in on his father's work.

His parents persuaded him to attend law school, but he had no interest in a career. He said, "If I ever do take an active part in the world, it will be as a thinker and demoralizer. I will simply tell the truth: but that truth will be horrible, cruel, naked." It was around that time that Flaubert experienced his first epileptic seizure. His parents were horrified, but he was relieved, because the condition made it impossible for him to continue law school.

Instead, he began traveling around the world with his rich, intellectual friends, going on an extended journey through Southern Europe and the Middle East. While traveling, Flaubert worked on his first attempted novel, an elaborate historical romance set in the fourth century AD called "The Temptation of Saint Anthony." When he showed it to friends, they said, "We think you ought to throw it into the fire and never mention it again." They told him to write a novel about ordinary middleclass French society instead.

So Flaubert took his friends' advice and moved home with his mother to write a novel about the modern world. He had heard a story about a young married woman who committed a series of affairs and then died, leaving her husband with numerous debts, and that gave Flaubert the idea for Madame Bovary (1857).

It's the story of Emma Bovary, a provincial housewife who spends all her time reading romance novels. After marrying an ordinary country doctor, Emma Bovary realizes that her life will never compare to the books she loves, and so she begins a series of love affairs to stave off her boredom.

It took Flaubert five years to write the novel. As he worked, he became so obsessed with the style of his prose that he could barely finish a sentence. In letters to his lover, he wrote, "I write at the rate of five hundred irreproachable words a week... sentences keep itching without coming to a head... What a heavy oar the pen is!" At one point, he spent five days working on a single page. Part of what made the writing so difficult was that he wanted to describe even the most ordinary things in a new way. He said, "It is so easy to [write] about the beautiful but it takes more genius to say, in proper style, 'close the door.'"

Flaubert also found the novel difficult to write because he was so disgusted by his provincial characters. He once complained to his lover that the novel was driving him crazy, because he said, "I have to spend every minute living under the skins of people that I cannot stand."

That novel became a big success when the government attempted to censor it, and Flaubert won the court case. We still remember Madam Bovary as Flaubert's great masterpiece, but in his lifetime he was best known for his second book Salammbo (1862), a novel about pagan rituals and human sacrifice that became a huge best-seller when it was published, though it is rarely read today.

After Flaubert's death in 1880, the novelist Henry James published an homage to him, writing, "The horror, in particular, that haunted [Flaubert] all his years was the horror of the cliché, the stereotyped, the things usually said and the way it was usually said, the current phrase that passed muster. Nothing, in [Flaubert's] view, passed muster but freshness."

Flaubert wrote, "To be stupid, selfish, and have good health are three requirements for happiness, though if stupidity is lacking, all is lost."




TUESDAY, 13 DECEMBER, 2005
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Poem: "From a Bus Window in Central Ohio, Just Before a Thunder Shower" by James Wright from Above the River: The Complete Poems. © Noonday and University Press of New England. Reprinted with permission.

From a Bus Window in Central Ohio, Just Before a Thunder Shower

Cribs loaded with roughage huddle together
Before the north clouds.
The wind tiptoes between poplars.
The silver maple leaves squint
Toward the ground.
An old farmer, his scarlet face
Apologetic with whiskey, swings back a barn door
And calls a hundred black-and-white Holsteins
From the clover field.


Literary and Historical Notes:

It was on this day in 1577 that Sir Francis Drake set out on a three year long journey around the world. He had started his career as a sailor in the slave trading business, but after some run-ins with the Spanish, he decided to devote his life to taking vengeance on the Spanish by disrupting their trade routes. He became a semi-official pirate for Queen Elizabeth I, plundering Spanish ships and gathering intelligence about their naval activities.

On one mission in 1572, Drake sailed to Panama to capture a port there. He failed to capture the port, but it was on that trip that he crossed the Isthmus of Panama, and standing on a high ridge of land, he became the first Englishman to gaze upon the Pacific Ocean. At that time the Pacific was controlled by the Spanish and it was forbidden to all but Spanish ships. Drake stood looking at the Pacific and he said, "[I] besought Almighty God of His goodness to give [me] life and leave to sail once in an English ship in that sea."

He set sail from Plymouth, England, as captain of the Pelican, with four other ships and over 150 men. Two of the ships were abandoned along the way and the third returned to England after a storm in the Straits of Magellan. Drake was left with only one ship, which he renamed the Golden Hind.

Drake sailed all the way up the coasts of South and North America, surprising the Spanish along the way. They'd never seen a hostile ship in their waters before. He captured ports and ships, plundered gold and silver, Spanish coins, precious stones and pearls. He sailed as far north as Vancouver hoping to find the Northwest Passage, and then turned west and crossed the Pacific. He eventually returned to England in 1580 via the Cape of Good Hope, making him the first Englishman to sail around the world.


It's the birthday of mystery novelist who wrote under the name Ross Macdonald, born Kenneth Millar in Los Gatos, California (1915). His father abandoned the family when he was growing up. His mother struggled to support him, occasionally begging for money on the street. One day, she even took Millar to an orphanage to give him up, but she changed her mind at the last minute.

He spent the rest of his childhood being passed from one relative to the next. He read a lot growing up, and wanted to write, but he didn't take it seriously as a career until the summer he won a typewriter in a radio quiz show. He started publishing a series of stories and humor pieces in magazines, being paid one cent per word, and it made him just enough money to support his family for the summer, until he found a job teaching.

Millar went on to write several spy and crime novels, which were fairly successful. But after publishing a few books he began to doubt himself as a writer. He wanted to write something serious, something drawing on his own background, but whenever he tried to write about his childhood directly, he was embarrassed by the quality of the result.

And then, one day, Millar invented a private investigator named Lew Archer. Millar said, "I was in trouble, and Lew Archer got me out of it... I couldn't work directly with my own experiences and feelings. A narrator had to be interposed, like protective lead, between me and the radioactive material."

His first Lew Archer novel was The Moving Target (1949), and he made a point of not describing Lew Archer, who narrated the story. He wanted readers to be able to imagine themselves into the role of the detective. He went on to write eighteen novels featuring Lew Archer, most of them about characters trying to uncover some mystery at the heart of their families, often having to do with lost fathers. Millar became known as one of the authors who helped elevate the mystery novel to the level of great literature.


It's the birthday of American poet James Wright, born in Martins Ferry, Ohio (1927). Wright's hometown was located in a heavily industrialized area of the state that Wright called "my back-broken beloved Ohio." There was a coal mine and a steel mill near his house, and he grew up surrounded by blast furnaces and smoke stacks. During the winter, all the snowdrifts in his town turned black from soot. In the summer, he swam with other boys in the Ohio River, which was full of runoff from the factories.

He started writing poetry when he was eleven years old. His father worked at the Hazel-Atlas Glass Company, and Wright took a job at the same factory when he got out of high school. After working there for a few months, he decided that he had to get out of his hometown or it would kill him.

He served in World War II and used the G.I. Bill to study at Kenyon College. He got a job teaching English at the University of Minnesota, and published two books of poetry, but he suffered from depression and alcoholism, and he lost his teaching job for missing classes. Wright's poetry hadn't attracted any attention, his marriage had broken up, and he wasn't sure what to do next when, one day, he read an issue of Robert Bly's literary magazine The Fifties. It impressed him so much that he wrote Bly a sixteen page single-spaced letter. Bly wrote back and invited him to a farm in western Minnesota, and the two became great friends.

Wright had been writing all of his poetry with formal meter and rhyme, but Bly encouraged him to write free verse, and the result was his first important book of poetry, The Branch Will Not Break (1962). It got great reviews and contained many of his most famous poems, including "Autumn Begins in Martins Ferry, Ohio," "A Blessing," and "Lying in a Hammock at William Duffy's Farm in Pine Island, Minnesota."

His Collected Poems (1971) received the Pulitzer Prize in 1972.




WEDNESDAY, 14 DECEMBER, 2005
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Poem: "In memory of George Lewis, Great Jazzman" by Lou Lipsitz from Seeking the Hook: New & Selected Poems. © Signal Books. Reprinted with permission.

In memory of George Lewis, Great Jazzman

1

Man is the animal that knows
the clarinet

     makes his living
on the docks, a stevedore,
110 lbs., carrying what loads
he can

the Depression comes along,
his teeth rot, no money, and
he has to accept silence

2

Thirteen years
later
     they put the instrument
back together
     with rubber bands
bought him
new teeth
     and then he began

----------I----C----E
------E-------------------I
----C----------------------C
---I-------------------------E
----C---------------------C
------E------------------I
----------I----C----E
--C------------------------C

-----R------------------R

--------E------------E

-----------A------A

-------------M-M


--------------E-----R----------------------------------A-----V
--------V------------------T--------------------W------------------E
-O--------------------------------H-----E-----------------------------------S


--M---------------------------------------T
---Y-------------------------------------I
-----B---------------------------------N
-------U-------------------------------I
---------C---------------------------E
-----------K------------------------L
-------------E---------------------O
---------------T'-----------------H
-----------------S-G-O-T----A



One song they say

     was pure
uninhibited joy
words
     cannot tell you

     survived so long
in those empty jaws

3

He lived and died
there.
Had a New Orleans funeral.

Leading the mourners
his old friends' band
trudged
     to the cemetery, heads
down, trombones scraping
the ground, slow tones of
"Just a Closer Walk..."
helping to carry
     the solemn mud
of their steps.

Graveside,
     words said, tears fallen,
they turned
     to walk back;
a few beats on the big
drum, then soft plucking
of a banjo string—
     in another block
the clarinet wailed
and then suddenly they were
playing
     "The Saints..." full blast
and people jumped
and shouted and danced
just as he'd known they would.

4

Alright. There is a frailness
in all our music.
Sometimes we're broken
and it's lost.
Sometimes we forget
for years it's even in us, heads
filled with burdens and smoke.
And sometimes we've held
to it and it's there,
waiting to break out
walking back from the end.


Literary and Historical Notes:

It was on this day in 1900 that the physicist Max Planck published his theory of quantum mechanics, which is often considered one of the most radical scientific discoveries of the 20th century.

Max Planck was working in a laboratory in 1900, heating up various substances and examining the color of light they emitted when they reached certain temperatures. He wanted to describe his results in mathematical terms, but no matter how hard he tried, his mathematical calculations didn't make sense. The only way he could fix the problem was to assume that light travels in little packets, like bullets, even though this seemed impossible.

But five years later, Albert Einstein took Planck's theory of light seriously, and wrote his first major paper exploring the idea of light traveling in packets, which he called photons. Even though he became better known for his theory of relativity, it was Einstein's work expanding on Planck's original ideas about light that won him a Nobel Prize. Einstein later said, "I use up more brain grease on quantum theory than on relativity."

With the discovery of quantum mechanics, physicists found that subatomic particles were by nature unpredictable. If you shot one across the room, you could guess where it might end up, but you could never be sure. This idea made Einstein miserable. He famously said, "I am at all events convinced God does not play dice."

Today quantum mechanics remains one of the most mysterious and difficult scientific theories ever. The Danish physicist Niels Bohr once said that a person who was not shocked by quantum theory did not understand it, and the physicist Richard Feynman once said that while only a modest number of people truly understand the theory of relativity, no one understands quantum mechanics.

Max Planck himself died in 1947, and he never came to fully accept the theory he discovered. But even if few people really understand it, quantum mechanics led to the development of modern electronics, including the transistor, the laser, and the computer.


It's the birthday of novelist and short story writer Shirley Jackson, born in San Francisco (1919). She's the author of the memoirs Life Among the Savages' (1953) and Raising Demons (1957), as well as her famous short story "The Lottery" (1948).


It's the birthday of the short story writer Amy Hempel, born in Chicago, Illinois (1951). Her newest collection Dog of the Marriage came out last March (2005).




THURSDAY, 15 DECEMBER, 2005
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Poem: "idle thought" by Don Marquis from Archyology: the long lost tales of archy and mehitabel. © University Press of New England. Reprinted with permission.

idle thought

paris september
fifth nineteen
twenty three
what i like
about this place
is that it is
such a nice
place to loaf in
and loafing
is the best thing
in life
nature shows
us that
a caterpillar
just eats and
loafs and sleeps
and after a while
without any effort
it turns into
a butterfly
with nothing to do
but flit around
and be beautiful
but consider
the industrious
tumble bug
the tumble bug
toils and plants
and sweats
and worries
pushing its burden
up hill forever
like sisyphus
and pretty soon
some one
comes along
and thinks how
vulgar and ugly
the thing is
and steps on it
and squashes it
idleness
and beauty
are their own
rewards
mehitabel the cat
is still missing


Literary and Historical Notes:

It was on this day in 1791 that the Bill of Rights was adopted by the United States. It was the lack of a bill of rights that made the Constitution so controversial a few years before. Many people feared that the adoption of a strong central government could lead to tyranny unless certain rights were guaranteed to the people in writing. Patrick Henry refused to endorse the Constitution for that reason. Thomas Jefferson supported the new constitution, but when he read the first draft in France, he wrote a letter to James Madison saying, "Let me add that a bill of rights is what the people are entitled to against every government on Earth, general or particular, and what no just government should refuse, or rest on inferences."

It was James Madison who finally realized that a bill of rights was essential to passage of the Constitution, and he promised all the states that a bill of rights would be immediately adopted upon the Constitution's ratification. Madison introduced the Bill of Rights into the first session of congress in 1789, and he used George Mason's Virginia Bill of Rights as the model for the new federal Bill of Rights. Madison originally supported the adoption of seventeen amendments, which was eventually trimmed to twelve, of which ten were adopted.

The rights that were included in the Bill of Rights were directly related to the recent experiences of the colonists. Many colonists had come to this country to get away from religious oppression, so the Bill of Rights protected the free exercise of religion. During the Revolutionary War, colonists had seen printers and journalists jailed and executed when they had opposed the British king, so the Bill of Rights protected the freedom of speech and the press.

The colonists had seen what ordinary citizens with guns could do when they had to fight a revolution against an oppressive government, and so the Bill of Rights protected the right to bear arms and raise militias. Many colonists had been forced to take British soldiers in their houses during the Revolutionary War, and they had also been subject to random searches and seizures by British police. So the Bill of Rights protected citizens against unreasonable searches and seizures, and against the quartering of soldiers. Colonists had seen people thrown into dungeons for no reason, had seen people tortured into giving confessions, had seen inquisitions go on for months, during which the accused were worn down by lengthy interrogations. And so the Bill of Rights gave citizens the right to due process of law, a speedy trial, the right to call witnesses, and the right to use a lawyer in one's own defense.


It's the birthday of Irish writer Edna O'Brien, born in County Clare in the west of Ireland (1932). She grew up in an isolated, rural community, where people were discouraged from reading anything other than religious books. But one woman in town had torn the chapters out of Gone with the Wind, and passed the chapters around so that everyone could read them. Those loose leaf chapters were the first fiction Edna O'Brien ever read.

O'Brien wrote her first novel, Country Girls (1960), at the age of 26, in only three weeks. It's the first book in a trilogy that follows the lives of two women from their childhood in a convent school in the west of Ireland to their unhappy marriages in London. The books talk openly about poverty and sexuality and religious repression. They were banned in Ireland as soon as they were published.


It's the birthday of poet Muriel Rukeyser, born in New York City (1913). Over five decades, she wrote over 15 collections of poetry, including The Green Wave (1948), The Speed of Darkness (1968), and Breaking Open (1973). A new collection of her work, Selected Poems, came out this year.


It's the birthday of the civil engineer, Gustave Eiffel, born in Dijon, France (1832). His Eiffel Tower still holds up well to the wind. In 1999, Paris was hit by a terrible storm that knocked down more than 100,000 trees. A record wind speed of 133 mph was recorded at the top of the tower. But the tower itself only swayed 9 centimeters.




FRIDAY, 16 DECEMBER, 2005
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Poem: "Song" by Allen Ginsberg from Collected Poems 1947-1980. © Harper Collins. Reprinted with permission.

Song

The weight of the world
            is love.
Under the burden
            of solitude,
under the burden
            of dissatisfaction

            the weight,
the weight we carry
            is love.

Who can deny?
            In dreams
it touches
            the body,
in thought
            constructs
a miracle,
            in imagination
anguishes
            till born
in human—

looks out of the heart
            burning with purity-
for the burden of life
            is love,
but we carry the weight
            wearily,
and so must rest
in the arms of love
            at last,
must rest in the arms
            of love.

No rest
            without love,
no sleep
            without dreams
of love—
            be mad or chill
obsessed with angels
            or machines,
the final wish
            is love
—cannot be bitter,
            cannot deny,
cannot withhold
            if denied:

the weight is too heavy

            —must give
for no return
            as thought
is given
            in solitude
in all the excellence
            of its excess.

The warm bodies
            shine together
in the darkness,
            the hand moves
to the center
            of the flesh,
the skin trembles
            in happiness
and the soul comes
            joyful to the eye—

yes, yes,
            that's what
I wanted,
            I always wanted,
I always wanted,
            to return
to the body
            where I was born.


Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of Sir Noël Coward, born in Teddington, England (1899). He wrote Private Lives (1930), and Blithe Spirit (1941). He had many successes during the thirties, but when the war started and London was under air attack, the British weren't in the mood for frothy entertainment. Coward wrote Blithe Sprit, a darker comedy about a man whose second wife is done in by the ghost of his first; it ran for nearly two thousand performances. The program said, "If an air raid warning be received during the performance, the audience will be informed from the stage... [T]hose desiring to leave the theatre may do so, but the performance will continue."


It's the birthday of science fiction novelist Philip K. Dick, born in Chicago (1928). Since his death in 1982, many of his novels and short stories have been made into movies, including Blade Runner (1982), Total Recall (1990) and Minority Report (2002).


It's the birthday of the science fiction novelist Arthur C. Clarke, born in Somerset, England (1917). He's the author of many science fiction novels, including Childhood's End (1953), 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), and Rendezvous with Rama (1973).


It's the birthday of Jane Austen, born in Steventon, Hampshire, England (1775). She is the only novelist who published before Charles Dickens whose books still sell thousands of copies every year. All of her novels have been made into movies at least once in the last ten years.

She is best known for her novels about women yearning to get married, including Sense and Sensibility (1811) and Pride and Prejudice (1813). But she never got married herself. She didn't seem to mind the single life. In her letters, she often wrote about the many women she knew suffering from and often dying from childbirth. Of her niece, who had just gotten pregnant for the second time, she wrote, "Poor animal, she will be worn out before she's thirty." In another letter, she wrote, "Mrs. Hall of Sherbourn was brought to bed yesterday of a dead child, some weeks before she expected, owing to a fright—I suppose she happened unawares to look at her husband."

She spent most of her life relatively poor and dependent on her older brothers. She decided to try publishing fiction in order to get herself some money. She wrote on a table in the family drawing room.

Austen's first published novel was Sense and Sensibility (1811), the story of the Dashwood sisters, the sensible and proper Elinor Dashwood and her more romantic younger sister Marianne, who are kicked out of their house with their mother when their father dies, and have to struggle to find marriageable husbands.

Austen's first two books, Sense and Sensibility (1811) and Pride and Prejudice (1813) were great successes in her lifetime, but after that her readers grew less enthusiastic. Neither Mansfield Park (1814) nor Emma (1816), were as popular.

It was only after her death that she became one of the most popular novelists from the 19th century. After the First World War, Jane Austen novels were prescribed to shell-shocked English soldiers for therapy, because the psychologists found that Austen helped them recover their sense of the world they'd known before the war.




SATURDAY, 17 DECEMBER, 2005
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Poem: "Coming Home" by Elizabeth Tibbetts. Used with permission from the poet.

Coming Home

Oh, God, the full-faced moon is smiling at me
in his pink sky, and I'm alive, alive (!)
and driving home to you and our new refrigerator.
A skin of snow shines on the mountain beyond Burger King
and this garden of wires and poles and lighted signs.
Oh, I want to be new: I want to be the girl I saw
last night at the mike, sex leaking from her fingertips
as they traveled down to pick at her hem.
She was younger than I've ever been, with hair cropped,
ragged clothes, and face as clear as a child's.
She read as though she were in bed, eyes half closed,
teeth glistening, her shimmering body written
beneath her dress. She held every man in the audience
taut, and I thought of you. Now I'm coming home
dressed in my sensible coat and shoes, my purse
and a bundle of groceries beside me. When I arrive
we'll open the door of our Frigidaire
to its shining white interior, fill the butter's
little box, set eggs in their hollows, slip meats
and greens into separate drawers, and pause
in the newness of the refrigerator's light
while beside us, through the window,
the moon will lay a sheet on the kitchen floor.


Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of William Safire, born in New York City (1929). In 1979 he began writing his "On Language" column, which laid out the dos and don'ts of grammar and usage. He retired from the column earlier this year. He once wrote a list called "William Safire's Rules for Writers" as an aid for the use of correct English. The rules included, "Remember to never split an infinitive"; "The passive voice should never be used"; and "Last, but not least, avoid clichés like the plague."

William Safire said, "Never assume the obvious is true."


On this day in 1903, Wilbur and Orville Wright took off on the world's first airplane flight near Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. They were just two of the many scientists and inventors around the world trying to solve the problem of motor-powered flight. The most prominent man attempting to build an airplane at the time was the third Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, Samuel Langley. He had been studying aeronautics since 1886, and by 1899 he had a large endowment from the U.S. War Department and an entire staff of workers building his design.

One of the problems with Langley's design, however, was that his plane lacked an ability to steer. He made two test flights in the fall of 1903, and in both cases his plane went straight up and then crashed straight back down. His test flights were covered by all the major newspapers of the day, and such disastrous failure made it seem that motor-powered flight might never be achieved.

The Wright Brothers, by contrast, had believed from the start that steering and balance were the most important aspects of flight. They ran a bicycle shop, so they understood the importance of balance, and they designed their plane to be steered by the pilot shifting his own weight. They began testing gliders with their steering system in 1900, and it was almost as an afterthought that they decided to add an engine.

The Wright Brothers were from Ohio, but they picked Kitty Hawk, North Carolina as their testing ground because it was one of the windiest places in the country. The villagers of Kitty Hawk thought they were crazy, but after spending three summers there in a row, they became well known in the town, and local children began to watch them work.

This day in 1903 began with gray skies and sharp winds, and the brothers huddled in a shed to warm themselves. Orville said years later that he should have realized it was much too dangerous to fly in that weather. But they had already waited several days for the right flying conditions, and they wanted to get home before Christmas. Around mid-morning, they decided to give their machine a try. Orville shook hands with his brother and climbed into the pilot's seat.

The machine built up a speed of about 10 miles an hour, rose about ten feet off the ground, and landed almost immediately. The brothers made two more attempts, and still they barely got anywhere. Then Wilbur tried again, and suddenly, he took off into the air. He flew straight into the wind for nearly a full minute, covering 852 feet. When he landed, the rudder frame was cracked, which would take months to repair, but they had made their first successful flight.

Orville Wright later wrote of their first flight, "It was a flight very modest compared with that of birds, but it was nevertheless the first in the history of the world in which a machine carrying a man had raised itself by its own power into the air in full flight, had sailed forward without reduction of speed, and had finally landed at a point as high as that from which it started."

No journalists attended the event. The Wright Brothers hired an amateur photographer to take a single photograph that day, which he did while the plane was only ten feet off the ground. When it leaked to the press, most major newspapers refused to run the story, assuming that it was some kind of hoax. It wasn't until Wilbur flew a plane over Manhattan six years later that most people finally accepted the fact that the Wright Brothers had invented the first airplane.




SUNDAY, 18 DECEMBER, 2005
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Poem: "Criss Cross Apple Sauce" by Thomas Lux from New & Selected Poems. © Houghton Mifflin. Reprinted with permission.

Criss Cross Apple Sauce

Criss cross apple sauce
do me a favor and get lost
while you're at it drop dead
then come back without a head

my daughter sings for me
when I ask her what she learned in school today
as we drive from her mother's house to mine.
She knows I like some things that rhyme.
She sings another she knows I like:
Trick of treat, trick or treat
give me something good to eat
if you don't I don't care
I'll put apples in your underwear
...
Apples in your underwear—I like that more
than Lautremont's umbrella
on the operating table, I say to her
and ask her if she sees the parallel.
She says no but she prefers the apples too.
Sitting on a bench
nothing to do
along come some boys—p.u., p.u., p.u.

my daughter sings
my daughter with her buffalo-sized heart,
my daughter brilliant and kind,
my daughter singing
as we drive from her mother's house to mine.


Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of the filmmaker Steven Spielberg, born in Cincinnati, Ohio (1946). His parents had a difficult marriage and eventually got separated. Spielberg escaped from all the tension in the house by making amateur movies with his father's Super-8 camera. He made two movies about World War II, and a movie about a UFO invasion, starring his sisters as victims. His mother helped with special effects. He got a local movie house to show one of his films when he was eighteen, and he made $500 in one night.

Though he applied twice to the film program at the University of Southern California, he didn't get in, and he ended up going for a degree in English from California State University at Long Beach. One day, he was taking a tour of Universal Studios when he slipped by security, found an abandoned janitors' closet, cleaned it up, and turned it into an office. He discovered that if he wore a suit and tie he could walk right past the security guards at the front gate, and he began coming in to his office every day. He made a short silent movie that caught the attention of some executives, and that got him a contract to make TV movies. He was only twenty-one years old.

Spielberg's first feature length movie The Sugarland Express (1974) got good reviews, but it was a box office disappointment. For his next project, he started working on a movie about a seaside town being terrorized by a man-eating shark. It was an incredibly difficult movie to make. The robot shark they used kept breaking down. They had to shoot almost half the movie on a boat. They went over schedule and over budget. The producers of the film had worried about hiring such a young director, and their fears seemed to be coming true. As the work on the film dragged on and on, Spielberg began to worry that his career as a filmmaker might be over.

But when it finally came out in 1975, Jaws made more money than any other movie had ever made up to that point in history. It's often been called the first blockbuster, because it was the first summer movie that teenagers went back to see again and again throughout the whole summer that it was released. Ever since Jaws, Hollywood studios have been releasing action packed movies every summer, trying to duplicate Spielberg's success.

Seven years later, Spielberg topped the success of Jaws with his movie, E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982) about a young boy who's recovering from the breakup of his parents' marriage when he befriends an alien that has been left behind by his spaceship. Spielberg has called E.T. his most personal movie. He said, "It's about how I felt when my parents broke up... I responded by escaping into my imagination to shut down all my nerve endings... I dreamed about going to space or having space come to me."

Today Steven Spielberg is arguably one of the most popular entertainers in history. Three of his movies are among the top ten highest grossing films of all time.


It's the birthday of the British writer known as Saki, born Hector Hugh Munro in Akyab, Burma (1870). He wrote short, whimsical stories about the British upper class, and died during World War I.


It's the birthday of playwright Abe Burrows, born in New York City (1910). In 1950 he teamed up with composer Frank Loesser to write the musical Guys and Dolls, and also wrote Can-Can (1953) and Silk Stockings (1955), and How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying (1961), which won the Pulitzer Prize for drama.


It's the birthday of hymn writer Charles Wesley, born in Epworth, England (1708). He wrote more than 6000 hymns, including "Hark! the herald angels sing," and "Oh for a thousand tongues to sing."





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