Dec. 30, 2004

My Brother

by Denver Butson

Listen (RealAudio) | How to listen

Poem: "My Brother" by Denver Butson, from Triptych. © The Commoner Press, NY, 1999. Reprinted with permission.

My Brother

To escape headaches and fears of an unfaithful wife
my brother perpetually reforming drug user
machinist scrapper arrested at 14 for arson
and incarcerated for a few weeks
father of one son and one aborted fetus
occasional bowler heavy metal fan
connoisseur of ketchup potato chips stromboli
and cheesesteak wearer of faded jeans
faded flannel shirts pocket-tee shirts
unlaced hightops or workboots
concert tee shirts painters' hats and
army coat sufferer of aloneness
of paranoia and fear insomniac and talker
of another language in his sleep
expert belcher and marksman constant but lousy liar
moderate drinker of cheap beer violent rampager
demolisher of lamps electric fans telephones
blue-eyed ladies' man father brother and son
shy blushing ladies' man skinny-legged blue-eyed
ladies' man stuck the open end of a .357 Magnum
in his right nostril with the other end
in his calloused and stained hands
and blew his headaches and his head
from this world into the next
one night just like that.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of entrepreneur Asa Griggs Candler, born in Villa Rica, Georgia (1851). He grew up poor during the Civil War and Reconstruction Era, and he had only an elementary school education. He had always wanted to be a doctor, but when that proved to be financially impossible for his family, he became a pharmacist's apprentice. By 1888 he had the largest drug company in Atlanta, and in 1886 he bought sole rights to John Pemberton's original formula for Coca-Cola. He formed the Coca-Cola Company in 1890.

Candler was a leader in advertising. He used calendars, billboards, point-of-sale posters, and other novelties to keep the Coca-Cola trademark seen in public. In 1909 the Associated Advertising Clubs of America claimed Coca-Cola to be "the best advertised article in America." Candler made the soft drink until 1919. He sold the company after a long federal lawsuit about Coca-Cola, caffeine, and health concerns. He went on to serve as Atlanta's mayor and also funded a teaching hospital for Emory University's Medical School.

It's the birthday of novelist Douglas Coupland, born on a Canadian military base in Baden-Solingen, Germany (1961). He is best known for his controversial novel Generation X: Tales For An Accelerated Culture (1991). He popularized the term "Generation X," which was later attached to a whole generation of people and he continues to write about pop-culture.

Coupland started off as a sculptor, working with wood and fiberglass, earning his degree in studio sculpture in 1984. He did all kinds of jobs to make money, working as a gas station attendant, making copies of blue prints, and even designing baby cribs. Coupland's writing career began mostly from luck, when an editor at Vancouver Magazine read a postcard he had written to a friend. He liked Coupland's style and hired him to write for the magazine.

Douglas Coupland said, "Adventure without risk is Disneyland." He also said, "You wait for fate to bring about the changes in life which you should be bringing about yourself."

It's the birthday of novelist, composer, and poet Paul Bowles, born in New York City, New York (1910). He did not devote himself to writing until after World War II. His first and most famous novel was The Sheltering Sky (1949), and it was set in Morocco. It helped cause a U.S. literary migration to Tangier, and he became a resident there in 1952.

Bowles was an only child, and his father was a dentist who played golf constantly. He was much closer to his mother, who started reading him Edgar Allen Poe's stories at bedtime when he was only two years old. In sixth grade, he wrote mystery stories and read daily chapters to his classmates. He began studying music when he was eight and tried to write his first opera when he was nine. The family home had a phonograph, and Bowles bought a new record each week, but he was not allowed to listen to it if his father was home.

Bowles studied briefly at the University of Virginia, choosing the school because Poe had gone there, but he left to study music in Paris. He became a composer, music critic and poet, writing musical scores for more than thirty plays, many of them on Broadway, and for movies as well.

In 1931 Bowles met Gertrude Stein. She told him he was definitely not a poet and suggested he go to Tangier, Morocco. He did, and he also decided never to write again. He didn't stick to this decision and later sent her a short story. Stein wrote to him and said, "I take back all the harsh things I said about your writing. It makes a picture and that is always good. But it is alright to learn to play Bach in writing too."

Bowles said, "We get to think of life as an inexhaustible well. Yet everything happens only a certain number of times, and a very small number, really. How many more times will you remember a certain afternoon of your childhood, some afternoon that's so deeply a part of your being that you can't even conceive of your life without it? Perhaps four or five times more. Perhaps not even that. How many more times will you watch the full moon rise? Perhaps twenty. And yet it all seems limitless."

It's the birthday of short-story writer, poet, and novelist (Joseph) Rudyard Kipling, born in Bombay, India (1865). The son of British parents, he is best known for his book Kim (1901), and The Jungle Book (1894), and he was the first British writer to win the Nobel Prize for Literature, which he received in 1907.

Kipling was raised by Indian nannies and he spoke "kitchen Hindi" as well as he spoke English. When he was six, he and his younger sister, Beatrice, were sent to England to begin their educations while their parents stayed in India. The children were not warned about this plan, and as a child Kipling had thought he had been abandoned.

Kipling returned to India at the age of seventeen and worked as a journalist. He published his first collection of poems, Departmental Ditties and Other Verses, in 1886 and his first collection of stories, Plain Tales from the Hills, in 1888. He said, "If history were taught in the form of stories, it would never be forgotten."

In 1892 Kipling married Caroline Starr Balestier, the sister of an American publisher and writer, and they moved to Vermont. They didn't stay there long because Kipling fought with his neighbor and brother-in-law, Beatty Balestier. They left Vermont after Kipling failed to appear in court in a case he had brought up against his brother-in-law for threatening him. Kipling said, "Borrow trouble for yourself, if that's your nature, but don't lend it to your neighbors."

The family moved back to England, and later in life Kipling became politically active, speaking for the Conservative party. He wrote about the danger of war with Germany, and opposed both women's suffrage and home rule for Ireland. Kipling developed a morbid fear of cancer, from which he never suffered.

Kipling was mainly considered a poet in his own lifetime, and he was offered both a knighthood and the post of British Poet Laureate. He turned both offers down. He said, "Take everything you like seriously, except yourselves."

He died on January 18, 1936 in London, and was buried in Poet's Corner at Westminster Abbey. Before he died, Kipling did his best to get a hold of and destroy all the letters he had ever sent to protect his private life. His widow continued to do this after he died, but several letters survived and have been published. He said, "I always prefer to believe the best of everybody, it saves so much trouble."

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