Jun. 20, 2004

Continuum: a Love Poem

by Maxine Kumin

SUNDAY, 20 JUNE, 2004
Listen (RealAudio) | How to listen

Poem: "Continuum: a Love Poem," by Maxine Kumin, from Selected Poems 1960-1990. © W.W. Norton and Co. Reprinted with permission.

Continuum: a Love Poem

going for grapes with
ladder and pail in
the first slashing rain
of September rain
steeping the dust
in a joyous squelch they sky
standing up like steam
from a kettle of grapes
at the boil wild fox grapes
wickedly high tangled in must
of cobweb and bug spit
going for grapes year
after year we two with
ladder and pail stained
with the rain of grapes
our private language

Literary and Historical Notes:

Today is Father's Day, a holiday which we celebrate because of a woman named Sonora Smart Dodd. One Sunday morning in May of 1909, Dodd was sitting in church in Spokane, Washington listening to a Mother's Day sermon. Mother's Day was still a fairly new idea at the time, but it was catching on quickly all across the United States. Dodd was a mother herself, so she liked the idea of Mother's Day, but she and all her siblings had been raised by her father after her mother died in childbirth. She thought fathers should get recognition too.

She decided to ask the minister at her church if he could deliver a sermon honoring fathers on her father's birthday, which was coming up in June. The minister agreed, and the tradition of observing Father's Day caught on, though not quite as quickly as the tradition of Mother's Day. Mother's Day became an official holiday in 1914, but Father's Day wasn't officially recognized until 1972.

Fathers in the United States often get the shorter end of the stick. Mother's Day is the busiest day of the year for florists, restaurants, and long distance phone companies. Father's day is the day on which the most collect phone calls are made.

Robert Frost said, "You don't have to deserve your mother's love. You have to deserve your father's. He's more particular."

It's the birthday of historian Peter Gay, born in Berlin (1923). His parents were non-religious Jewish members of the middle class. His father had fought on the German side during World War I, and had been decorated for his service. But in 1938 his father's business was shut down by the Nazis. Gay fled Germany with his parents, sailing on a ship to Cuba and then to the United States.

He went on to study at Columbia University, where he became a historian of ideas, writing about the way history shapes how people think. He's best known his books The Enlightenment: An Interpretation (1966) and The Bourgeois Experience: Victoria to Freud (1984). His most recent book is Savage Reprisals (2003), in which he argues that novelists make bad social historians because they are so often inspired to criticize society by their own desire for revenge.

It's the birthday of poet Paul Muldoon, born in Portadown, Ireland (1951). He's the author of many collections of poetry, including Moy Sand and Gravel (2002), which won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry last year. His father dug ditches for a living, and could barely read or write. The only book his family owned was The Junior World Encyclopaedia, so it became Muldoon's favorite book. He began to write poems in grade school as a way to get out of one of his teacher's weekly essay assignments.

After college Muldoon began publishing books of poetry and supporting himself by working as a television producer for the BBC. He says that his influences are John Donne, Robert Frost, William Butler Yeats, and rock 'n' roll. Since 1987, he has lived in the United States, and he now directs the creative writing program at Princeton University.

It's the birthday of Vikram Seth, born in Calcutta, India (1952). He's the author of the novels A Suitable Boy (1993) and An Equal Music (2000). He grew up in a wealthy Indian family, and his parents sent him to England for school. He planned to study economics in college, but he kept getting distracted by other interests, like Chinese language and poetry. In 1975, he moved to the United States to study at Stanford, where he took classes in economics and creative writing. He made a name for himself in 1986, when he published an epic rhymed poem about California yuppies called The Golden Gate.

It was on this day in 1893 that the verdict was announced in the trial of Lizzie Borden, who had been accused of murdering her father and step-mother with an ax. The murders took place in Fall River, Massachusetts on a Thursday morning, August 4, 1892, on one of the hottest days of the summer. Lizzie's father had come home from the bank to take a nap on his couch at around 10:00 AM. At about 11:15 AM, Lizzie began calling out to her neighbors saying that her father had been killed. When the police arrived, Lizzie's stepmother was found upstairs, also dead. In examining the bodies, the police determined that the murder weapon had been some kind of hatchet.

The first newspaper story about the Borden murders was published in the Fall River Daily Herald just three hours after the murders had been committed. The headline said, "SHOCKING CRIME: A VENERABLE CITIZEN AND HIS AGED WIFE HACKED TO PIECES AT THEIR HOME." The story received a lot of attention at first because Mr. Borden had been such a prominent man in his community. But when Lizzie was charged with the crime, the story became national news. It was the first nationally publicized murder trial in United States history.

The case against Lizzie was entirely circumstantial. No one had witnessed the murders, no weapon was found, and there was no physical evidence linking her to the crime. All the police could prove was that she had been in the house at the time of the murders, that she had a lot of money to gain, and that she had recently tried to buy poison at the local pharmacy.

The trial lasted for two weeks, and Lizzie was found innocent on this day in 1893. No one else was ever tried for the murder. She told the press on the day of her acquittal that it was the happiest day of her life, but she refused to say anything else. After the trial, she bought herself a three-story mansion, and she never spoke about the murders in public for the rest of her life.

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