Sep. 4, 2005

I Stop Writing the Poem

by Tess Gallagher

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Poem: "I Stop Writing the Poem," by Tess Gallagher, from They Say This © Poetry East #47, 48, De Paul University. Reprinted with permission.

I Stop Writing the Poem

to fold the clothes. No matter who lives
or who dies, I'm still a woman.
I'll always have plenty to do.
I bring the arms of his shirt
together. Nothing can stop
our tenderness. I'll get back
to the poem. I'll get back to being
a woman. But for now
there's a shirt, a giant shirt
in my hands, and somewhere a small girl
standing next to her mother
watching to see how it's done.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It was on this day in 1957 that Arkansas governor Orval Faubus called out the National Guard to bar nine black students from entering Central High School in Little Rock. In response, President Dwight D. Eisenhower sent in the 101st Airborne Division to make sure they could enroll. A few days later, Eisenhower made a prime-time, live televised speech to the nation in which he said, "Mob rule cannot be allowed to override the decisions of our courts."

It's the birthday of the historical novelist Mary Challans, born in 1905, London, who wrote under the pen name Mary Renault. She's best known for The King Must Die (1958), set in ancient Greece.

It's the birthday outside of Natchez, Mississippi, 1904, of novelist, poet, and essayist Richard Wright. His family moved around the South a lot when he was a boy, and Wright was largely self-taught and never attended any school after 15. He spent his free time at libraries, particularly in Memphis, where he began reading H. L. Mencken. Since in the library there was a "whites only" library, he forged a note from a white patron that said: "Dear Madam: Will you please let this nigger boy have some books by H. L. Mencken?" Wright made his way up to Chicago, became an activist in the Communist Party in the '30s, and started writing short stories as a part of the Depression-era Federal Writer's Project. His best-known work is Native Son, the story of Bigger Thomas, a petty thief who is hired as a chauffeur by a rich white man. He kills the man's daughter, then his own girlfriend, then is finally arrested, tried, and condemned. The novel was controversial because, in the book, Bigger's lawyer argues that Bigger can't be held responsible for his crimes, that the real guilt lies with a society that won't accept him as a full human being, which drove him to kill. Wright left America, not long after Native Son came out, and settled in Paris where he published novels, short stories, plays, essays, poems, and memoirs before his death in 1960.

It was on this day in 1888, in Rochester, New York, that George Eastman received a patent for his new, easy-to-use camera, the Kodak.

It's the birthday of architect and city planner Daniel H. Burnham, born in Henderson, New York, in 1846, founder of the influential "White City" style of architecture around the turn of the century. He was just 27 when he and architect John Wellborn Root went to work together to find new ways to build taller fireproof buildings. Theirs were the first skyscrapers, and Burnham went on to design the Flatiron Building in New York and Union Station in Washington, D.C. From there he turned to urban planning. He was the chief architect of Chicago's 1893 World's Colombian Exposition, and he built an elaborate fairground of grand boulevards, classical building façades, and lush gardens. This was the "White City" model, and the style spread around the nation. His greatest claim to fame, though, was the city of Chicago itself, for which he laid a plan out in 1909.

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  • “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
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