Aug. 26, 2002


by R. S. Thomas

Listen (RealAudio) | How to listen

Poem: "Because," by R..S. Thomas from Collected Poems 1945-1990 (Orion Publishing Group).


I praise you because
I envy your ability to
See these things: the blind hands
Of the aged combing sunlight
For pity; the starved fox and
The obese pet; the way the world
Digests itself and the thin flame
Scours. The youth enters
The brothel, and the girl enters
The nunnery, and a bell tolls.
Viruses invade the blood.
On the smudged empires the dust
Lies and in the libraries
Of the poets. The flowers whither
On love's grave. This is what
Life is, and on it your eye
Sets tearless, and the dark
Is dear to you as the light.

It's the birthday of Barbara Ehrenreich, born in Butte, Montana (1941). Ehrenreich's most recent book, Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America, was published last year. It's a first-person account of trying to get by on jobs that pay minimum wage. Ehrenreich wondered how single mothers earning seven dollars an hour could possibly make ends meet. She worked as a waitress, a house cleaner and a Wal-mart employee, and found that there was no way she could both pay her rent and eat on the salary she made in any of the three places. She said that she kept waiting for her bosses to say, "Hey, there's something different about you. Aren't you a little well-bred for this place? Aren't you cut out for something better than this?" Not one of them ever did.

On this day in 1939, the first baseball game was broadcast on television. It was the Cincinnati Reds in a double-header against the Brooklyn Dodgers at Ebbett's Field, and it was broadcast on the experimental station W2XBS, in Queens. The Reds took the first game, and the Dodgers took the second.

It's the birthday of Julio Cortazar, born in Brussels (1914). He grew up in Argentina, but moved to Paris after he got his degree to protest the dictatorship of Peron. His first success was a collection of short stories called Bestiary (1951); the novel Hopscotch, written in 1963, made him an international celebrity. Hopscotch has three sections; the first is set in Paris, the second in Buenos Aires, and the third, all essays, is called "Expendable Chapters." The reader can start at Chapter One and stop at Chapter Fifty-Five "with a clear conscience," Cortazar says, or else start with Chapter Seventy-Three and jump back and forth through the book according to a Table of Instructions. It is also possible to read the book backwards. Pablo Neruda said, "Anyone who doesn't read Cortázar is doomed. Not to read him is a serious, invisible disease, which, in time, can have terrible consequences. Something similar to a man who has never tasted peaches. He would quietly become sadder...and, probably, little by little, he would lose his hair."

It's the birthday of Christopher Isherwood, born in Cheshire, England (1904). He spent the years between the world wars in Berlin, where he wrote the short stories that were made, later, into the musical Cabaret. Then he moved to southern California, where he wrote screenplays and became a disciple to an Indian guru. He was one of the first public figures to declare openly that he was homosexual.

On this day in 1893, Jack London returned to San Francisco after an eight-month expedition hunting seals on the Sophia Sutherland. He was seventeen. The ship had traveled to Hawaii, some of the remoter islands off Japan, the Bering Straits, and Alaska. When he got home, he got a job in a jute mill working ten hours a day, making ten cents an hour. That fall he entered a contest run by the San Francisco Morning Call. His entry was "The Story of a Typhoon off the Coast of Japan," and he won twenty-five dollars for it. It was all failure after that, though. He sent manuscripts off to publishers, but everything was rejected. He pawned his only good suit, his bicycle and his typewriter to get more money for postage. He wrote his fiancée, "…before I give in, I will go naked and hungry." Within a year he was writing for the Atlantic Monthly, and had a signed a book contract with Houghton Mifflin.

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