Jul. 19, 2003

Gray Rain

by John Engman

(RealAudio) | How to listen

Poem: "Gray Rain," by John Engman from Temporary Help (Holy Cow! Press).

Gray Rain

The rain falls with you in mind.
But when the rain stops and the clouds break,
letting in a little sunshine
dedicated to the memory of Vladimir Mayakovsky,
bluebirds in the trees begin singing,
"Who is Vladimir Mayakovsky?"

You want to run out and yell into the trees
that he was a famous Russian poet who was persecuted
for harmless ideas, like poetry and peace,
but somebody would complain,
somebody call the police.

You are no Vladimir Mayakovsky!
You are a man who works downtown,
who wears a dark tie and white shirt.
Are there too many ideas like you in the universe?
Are all these tall buildings
obsessed with the same thought-
man in dark tie and white shirt,
man in dark tie and white shirt,
man in dark tie and white shirt?
Are all these tall buildings no smarter
than trees which keep repeating-
sway in the breeze, drop leaves, grow them back,
sway in the breeze, drop leaves, grow them back?

You are no Vladimir Mayakovsky
but you have been fruitful and multiplied
and made a general mess of things
although you believe that Earth will survive:
you hope to save mountains,
hope to save prairies,
hope to save seas.

You hope bluebirds will not be persecuted for their beliefs:
they should be allowed to live and keep singing.

You sit quietly at a small desk
in a dark tie and white shirt.
Vladimir Mayakovsky wore a blue beret
and in 1930 he blew his brains out,
leaving behind an unfinished poem
and the blue beret.
When the rain begins to fall again
it falls with you in mind but bluebirds
keep singing to no one in particular,
"Who is Vladimir Mayakovsky?"

Literary Notes:

On this day in 1799, Napoleon's soldiers discovered the Rosetta Stone. They were knocking down a wall in the town of Rosetta, near Alexandria, Egypt, and they found the tablet inscribed with a proclamation honoring Ptolomy V. It is written in three languages: hieroglyphic, demotic, and Greek. It was the key to cracking the code of Egyptian hieroglyphics. It's now on display at the British Museum in London.

It's the birthday of the French novelist and playwright Robert Pinget, born in Switzerland (1919). He is best known to Americans for his novel The Inquisitory (1962), a book made up entirely of the interrogation of an old deaf man who has witnessed a crime.

It's the birthday of the painter Edgar Degas, born in Paris, France (1834). He became part of the French Impressionist crowd, which included Claude Monet, Pissarro, Morisot, and Renoir, and they all discussed art, helped each other set up shows, and took painting excursions. But Edgar only liked to paint in his studio, where he worked very slowly and with detailed practice sketches. He once said, "Art was never less spontaneous than mine."

It's the birthday of the Russian poet Vladimir Mayakovsky, born in Bagdadi, Georgia, Russia (1893). He wanted to become an artist, but when he was thrown in jail for reading Marxist literature he started writing poetry. He became the poetic voice of the 1917 Russian Revolution. When he lost a love and couldn't handle his critics any longer, he shot himself at the age of thirty-seven.

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