Aug. 7, 2002


by David Citino

Listen (RealAudio) | How to listen

Poem: "Obsession," by David Citino from The Invention of Secrecy (Ohio State University Press).


A sixteen-year-old boy obsessed with smelling nice died after months of repeatedly
spraying his entire body with deodorant.

Nor can foot feel, being shod,
Hopkins says in "God's Grandeur."
How can nose know the real rose
from the faux? It's come to this.

Banks of foggers, each one large
as the screws of the Titanic,
turn our fields any odor we wish,
Vanilla Passion, Kiwi Apricot Musk

from the mall's Bath & Body Works.
My ninth-grade daughter, still
the angel who flew from heaven
between her mother's legs,

leaves for school smelling like nothing
found in nature. When no pines
are left, we can hang plastic trees
from the sides of glass malls,

just the right chemical soup
to dope our very noses
into not seeing clearly.
Back in the day, our tribe

made progress on all fours.
Now, we're too high to smell
where we've been, where
we're bound. Your calf gods

stink, O Samaria, Hosea
shouted at the unwashed crowd,
his face grave, wrinkled
in haughty distaste, a dried fig.

Time and again they whored
after sweet, beastly meat.
The prophet's God was lilac, wild-
flower, onion, new mown hay

drying in July fields. And then
you have the essence of love,
good sense we sucked in
at the breast. I will come to you

in two weeks, Napoleon, knowing
the sweet intensity of desire,
wrote to his dear Josephine.
Promise me you will not bathe.

It's the birthday of writer and editor Anne Fadiman, born in New York City (1953). As an adult, she became an editor for Life magazine, a position she held for nine years. She went on to become an editor-at-large for the magazine Civilization for three years before being named editor of The American Scholar in 1998. She won a National Book Critics Circle Award in 1998 for her book The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down (1997), about the culture clash between the American medical system and the family of a young Hmong refugee stricken with epilepsy.

It's the birthday of popular and prolific children's author Betsy Byars, born in Charlotte, North Carolina (1928). She's the author of a long list of children's books, including the Newbery Medal-winning The Summer of the Swans (1970) and National Book Award finalist The House of Wings (1972). The Summer of the Swans is about a girl's struggles to come to terms with having a mentally retarded younger brother, and grew out of Byars's own work with mentally retarded children. Recently, she's been writing a series of mysteries for young readers, featuring thirteen-year old Herculeah Jones, the daughter of a police officer and a private investigator. The first book in the series was The Dark Stairs (1994).

It's the birthday of anthropologist and archeologist Louis Leakey, born in Kenya (1903). His parents were British missionaries to the Kikuyu tribe, and he grew up among the Kikuyus, who initiated him into the tribe when he was thirteen. At sixteen, he went off to an English school, then studied at Cambridge before returning to Africa as an anthropologist. He made his most spectacular discoveries while digging for fossils in Olduvai Gorge on the Serengeti Plain in Tanzania. In 1960, he and his wife Mary Leakey unearthed fossil remains of a hominid species they named Homo habilis, which represented an important link between modern humans and their distant ape-like ancestors.

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®




  • “Writers end up writing stories—or rather, stories' shadows—and they're grateful if they can, but it is not enough. Nothing the writer can do is ever enough” —Joy Williams
  • “I want to live other lives. I've never quite believed that one chance is all I get. Writing is my way of making other chances.” —Anne Tyler
  • “Writing is a performance, like singing an aria or dancing a jig” —Stephen Greenblatt
  • “All good writing is swimming under water and holding your breath.” —F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • “Good writing is always about things that are important to you, things that are scary to you, things that eat you up.” —John Edgar Wideman
  • “In certain ways writing is a form of prayer.” —Denise Levertov
  • “Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia.” —E.L. Doctorow
  • “Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” —E.L. Doctorow
  • “Let's face it, writing is hell.” —William Styron
  • “A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.” —Thomas Mann
  • “Writing is 90 percent procrastination: reading magazines, eating cereal out of the box, watching infomercials.” —Paul Rudnick
  • “Writing is a failure. Writing is not only useless, it's spoiled paper.” —Padget Powell
  • “Writing is very hard work and knowing what you're doing the whole time.” —Shelby Foote
  • “I think all writing is a disease. You can't stop it.” —William Carlos Williams
  • “Writing is like getting married. One should never commit oneself until one is amazed at one's luck.” —Iris Murdoch
  • “The less conscious one is of being ‘a writer,’ the better the writing.” —Pico Iyer
  • “Writing is…that oddest of anomalies: an intimate letter to a stranger.” —Pico Iyer
  • “Writing is my dharma.” —Raja Rao
  • “Writing is a combination of intangible creative fantasy and appallingly hard work.” —Anthony Powell
  • “I think writing is, by definition, an optimistic act.” —Michael Cunningham
Current Faves - Learn more about poets featured frequently on the show