Aug. 22, 2005


by Ned Balbo

Listen (RealAudio) | How to listen

Poem: "Chesterfield" by Ned Balbo, from Galileo's Banquet. © Washington Writers' Publishing House. Reprinted with permission.


The brand my mother smoked was Chesterfield
While talking to my father or the phone.
A flared match to the tip, clouds broke apart,
Or puffed out when she spoke. It was an art,
Like any skill, once mastered. When she held
Her prop, imagined elegance infused
Her every gesture lifted from old films
That mesmerized her during the Depression,
Shot "in glorious black-and-white," sleek realms
Of men tragically distant, yet amused
By their own irony; pale heroines
Who wept or else leaned backward to be kissed;
Families with secret griefs, or public sins
Good wives endure... A slow dissolve, to mist.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It was on this day in 1942 that the Battle of Stalingrad began, which many historians think of as the turning point of World War II. Hitler had already conquered all of Europe except for England, and he began the invasion of Russia in the summer of 1941 with an army of four million men. The Germans reached Stalingrad on this day in 1942 and flew more than 2,000 bombing raids in just the first day of the battle. They hit oil storage tanks that flowed into the river and caught fire and laid siege to the city. It went on for months.

It's been called the most terrible battle the world has ever known, and in the end the Russians won, thanks to the approach of winter. The German troops were not prepared for fighting in below zero weather. By February of 1943, all the German soldiers had surrendered or been killed, the first defeat of Hitler's army.

It's the birthday of Annie Proulx, born in Norwich, Connecticut (1935). She burst on to the literary scene with her novel Postcards in 1992 and The Shipping News in 1993. She was in her late 50s by that time. She said she didn't regret becoming a writer later than most people, because she knew more about life than she had when she was younger, and because her freelance writing jobs had taught her how to research almost anything. To write Postcards, she traveled back and forth across the country, stopping in all the places where her main character, a homeless person, lived and worked.

She finished that novel and then came upon a map of Newfoundland. She explored the island, looked at maps, and the end result was her novel The Shipping News, which won the Pulitzer Prize.

For her book Accordion Crimes, she studied a whole stack of court cases involving accordions. She discovered that it was possible to hide money in an accordion, and that fact became a centerpiece of the novel.

She now lives in Wyoming and writes about ranchers. Her book That Old Ace in the Hole came out a few years ago.

It's the birthday of science fiction writer Ray Bradbury, born in Waukegan, Illinois (1920). He's the author of The Martian Chronicles, Fahrenheit 451 and other books.

As a boy, he read Edgar Allen Poe and The Wizard of Oz. And when he was 12, a traveling carnival came to town, and he met a magician named Mr. Electrico who talked to him about reincarnation and immortality. Bradbury said, "I don't know if I believe in previous lives, I'm not sure I can live forever. But that young boy believed in both, and I have let him have his way. He has written all my stories and books for me."

And it's the birthday of Dorothy Parker, born Dorothy Rothschild in West End, New Jersey (1893). She wrote only a few books of poetry and short stories, much of it collected in The Portable Dorothy Parker, which has been in print since 1944.

Dorothy Parker said, "I don't care what is written about me so long as it isn't true."

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