Aug. 3, 2003

My Husband Discovers Poetry

by Diane Lockward

(RealAudio) | How to listen

Poem: "My Husband Discovered Poetry," by Diane Lockward from Eve's Red Dress (Wind Publications).

My Husband Discovers Poetry

Because my husband would not read my poems,
I wrote one about how I did not love him.
In lines of strict iambic pentameter,
I detailed his coldness, his lack of humor.
It felt good to do this.

Stanza by stanza, I grew bolder and bolder.
Towards the end, struck by inspiration,
I wrote about my old boyfriend,
a boy I had not loved enough to marry
but who could make me laugh and laugh.
I wrote about a night years after we parted
when my husband's coldness drove me from the house
and back to my old boyfriend.
I even included the name of a seedy motel
well-known for hosting quickies.
I have a talent for verisimilitude.

In sensuous images, I described
how my boyfriend and I stripped off our clothes,
got into bed, and kissed and kissed,
then spent half the night telling jokes,
many of them about my husband.
I left the ending deliberately ambiguous,
then hid the poem away
in an old trunk in the basement.

You know how this story ends,
how my husband one day loses something,
goes into the basement,
and rummages through the old trunk,
how he uncovers the hidden poem
and sits down to read it.

But do you hear the strange sounds
that floated up the stairs that day,
the sounds of an animal, its paw caught
in one of those traps with teeth of steel?
Do you see the wounded creature
at the bottom of the stairs,
his shoulders hunched over and shaking,
fist in his mouth and choking back sobs?
It was my husband paying tribute to my art.


Literary Notes:

It's the birthday of mystery author P(hyllis) D(orothy) James, born in Oxford, England (1920). Her first book was Cover Her Face, published in 1962. It was meant to be a practice run for a much more serious novel she wanted to write. But it was immediately successful and so she continued to write detective fiction. Her main detective is Adam Dalgleish. He's a dedicated, hard-working policeman who is also very sensitive and a successful poet.

It's the birthday of writer Leon Uris, born in Baltimore (1924). He's most famous for his book Exodus (1958), about the European Jewish experience from the turn of the century to the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948.

It's the birthday of Rupert Chawner Brooke, born in Warwickshire, England (1887). His father was a housemaster at the local school and his mother took care of the students' meals and welfare. Rupert went to King's College, Cambridge. He was smart and athletic and strikingly attractive, with long red-gold hair. W.B. Yeats called him "the handsomest young man in England." His charm made him lots of friends, like E. M. Forster, Maynard Keynes, Virginia Woolf and Edward Thomas, the people that would become the Bloomsbury group. Brooke became a socialist. He was a member of the Fabian Society, the group that eventually evolved into the Labour Party. He wrote a thesis, John Webster and the Elizabethan Drama, and won a Fellowship at King's. But first he traveled around to New York City, Canada, and San Francisco. He sent back poems and articles to the Westminster Gazette. He traveled in New Zealand and Tahiti, where he lived for awhile with a Tahitian woman. Then he ran out of money and got sick from coral poisoning and came back to England. His first volume of poetry was Poems 1911 (1911). It gave him a small profit within a few weeks and over the next 20 years sold around 100,000 copies. The day after his 27th birthday, Britain entered the war. And he signed up for the Royal Naval Division. He died on April 23, 1915, on a French hospital ship in the Aegean Sea, from blood poisoning he got from an infected mosquito bite on his lip. His fellow officers carried his coffin for two hours up a narrow and stony path to an olive grove on the island of Skyros. He wrote:

If I should die, think only this of me:
That there's some corner of a foreign field
That is for ever England. There shall be
In that rich earth a richer dust concealed;
A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware,
Gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam,
A body of England's, breathing English air,
Washed by the rivers, blest by suns of home…

And it's the birthday of one of America's first embedded reporters, Ernie Pyle, born Ernest Taylor Pyle in a little white farmhouse near Dana, Indiana (1900). He wrote for newspapers about World War II in the form of daily letters home from the war front. He became a journalist only because he thought it was easy. Pyle went to Canada, Flemington, Montana, the Dakotas, and Alaska. He sailed the Arctic with the Coast Guard. He went 1,000 miles down the Yukon. He spent five days with the lepers at Molokai and wrote, "I felt unrighteous at being whole and clean." He went to Devil's Island and South America. He covered about 150,000 miles of the Western Hemisphere, crossed the United States thirty-five times, and wore out three typewriters and three cars. In the fall of 1940, Pyle went to London to travel around with Yank troops, and they went to Africa, Italy, and France. When he covered the war, he never made it look glamorous. He hated it, and described all the horror and agony around him. He included the names and hometown addresses of all the soldiers he wrote about. Pyle died on April 18, 1945, on Ie Island, just west of Okinawa. He was killed instantly by Japanese machine-gun fire.

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