Feb. 18, 2005


by David Budbill

In the Ancient Tradition

by David Budbill

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Poems: "In the Ancient Tradition" and "Dilemma" by David Budbill, from Moment To Moment (Copper Canyon Press).

In the Ancient Tradition

I live within the ancient tradition:
the poet as mountain recluse,
withdrawn and hidden,
a life of genteel poverty,
a quiet life of meditation,

which gives me lots of time
to gnash my teeth and worry over
how I want to be known and read
by everyone and have admirers
everywhere and lots of money!


I want to be
so I can be
about being

What good is my
when I am
in this

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of novelist Toni Morrison, born Chloe Anthony Wofford, in Lorain, Ohio (1931), who won the Nobel Prize for Literature (1993). Her first novel, The Bluest Eye (1970), was about a black teenage girl who's obsessed with white standards and longs to have blue eyes. Beloved, winner of the Pulitzer Prize (1987), was based on a true story of a runaway slave who, just as she is recaptured, kills her baby daughter to spare her from slavery. Toni Morrison, who said: "I always get up and make a cup of coffee while it is still dark-it must be dark—and then I drink the coffee and watch the light come... Writers all devise ways to approach that place where they expect to make the contact, where they become the conduit, or where they engage in this mysterious process. For me, light is the signal in the transition. It's not being in the light, it's being there before it arrives. It enables me, in some sense."

It's the birthday of editor and writer Helen Gurley Brown, born in Green Forest, Arkansas (1922). Her first book, Sex and the Single Girl (1962), was an immediate hit. In brief, her advice to single women was, "Be smart, be charming, and be good in bed." Three years later (1965), Brown was named editor of the languishing women's magazine Cosmopolitan, which she quickly revamped into a slick, extended advice column for young, single, urban working women.

It's the birthday of novelist Wallace Stegner, born in Lake Mills, Iowa (1909). His novels were mostly set in the American West: Angle of Repose (1971-Pulitzer Prize); Big Rock Candy Mountain (1943); The Spectator Bird (1976-National Book Award); and Crossing to Safety (1987). He also wrote several works of historical nonfiction set in the Western United States, including Mormon Country (1942) and Beyond the Hundredth Meridian (1954). He died in Santa Fe in 1993. He said, "I may not know who I am, but I know where I'm from."

It's the birthday of Surrealist writer André Breton, born in Tinchebray, France (1896). In his novel Nadja (1928), Breton defined Surrealist thought as "Pure psychic automatism, by which it is intended to express, whether verbally or in writing, or in any other way, the real process of thought."

It's the birthday of Yiddish humorist and writer Sholem Aleichem, born Sholem Yakov Rabinowitz, in Pereyaslav, Ukraine (1859). At 24 he published his first book in Yiddish, and would produce more than 40 such volumes during the remaining 33 years of his life. He was a great supporter of all things Yiddish including other Yiddish writers and a newspaper he edited. He also wrote Yiddish stories for children, and helped found the Yiddish Art Theater in New York, two years before he died. A collection of his short stories was adapted as the libretto for the musical comedy The Fiddler on the Roof (1964).

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