Nov. 16, 2005

Ten Degrees

by Tom Chandler

Listen (RealAudio) | How to listen

Poem: "Ten Degrees" by Tom Chandler from Sad Jazz.© Table Rock Books 2003. Lincoln, Rhode Island. Reprinted with permission.

Ten Degrees

How beautiful the sun as it skims
across the air in the hush of ten degrees,
disc of palest yellow hope along a sky

of circumstance; how beautifully we watch it fall,
the random tern, forgotten mole,
the infant tree inside rough winter bark.

How beautiful this frost, female fingers
tracing down the glass, how beautiful
this world too cold to criticize itself;

how beautiful Earth's creatures are, happy
and forever safe from the only perfect tragedy,
which is of course to never have been born.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of the playwright George S. Kaufman, born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (1889). He was known as "the hitmaker" in his lifetime, he co-wrote more hit plays than almost anyone else in the history of Broadway, including Animal Crackers (1928), Strike Up the Band (1930) and You Can't Take It With You (1938).

Of the dozens of plays Kaufman wrote in his lifetime, he only wrote one by himself. He said, "Collaboration is marriage without sex, and subject to many vexations. But pay no attention to them, because in one respect at least it is wonderful. The total result is frequently far more than the combined abilities of two people might give you." His various partners through the years all said that he was a meticulous rewriter and polisher, that he was never satisfied with a script even up till the last minute. Even on the most triumphant of opening nights, he could always be found backstage, pale and terrified that the play would be a flop.

It's the birthday of the novelist Andrea Barrett, born in Boston, Massachusetts (1954). She is known for writing about botanists, oceanographers and geologists in novels such as The Forms of Water (1993) and The Voyage of the Narwhal (1998).

She grew up on Cape Cod, and spent most of her time near the ocean, fascinated by sea life. She decided to study biology in college and went on to study zoology in graduate school, but she eventually began writing a novel called Lucid Stars that came out in 1988.

Because so many of Barrett's books deal with scientists, she constantly has to do research before she writes. She said, "I love research. I love... lurching from subject area to subject area. When you're lit by your own purposes, it's astonishing how easily you can leap into a new field and get to that center of passion."

In order to finish her book The Voyage of the Narwhal, about a group of British scientists exploring the Arctic, Barrett traveled to Antarctica herself. Her most recent book is Servants of the Map (2002).

Andrea Barrett said, "I think science and writing are utterly the same thing. They are completely rooted in passion and desire, if they're any good at all."

It's the birthday of the novelist Chinua Achebe, born in Ogidi, Nigeria (1930). He's the author of the novel Things Fall Apart (1958), one of the first novels ever written about European colonization from the point of view of the colonized native people. It became an international best-seller, and sparked a worldwide interest in African literature. His success helped inspire a whole generation of Africans to believe that they could be writers. He has been called the forefather of African literature in English.

It's the birthday of the novelist José Saramago, born in the small village northeast of Lisbon, Portugal (1922). He published his first novel Land of Sin (1947) when he was twenty-four, but after writing two more novels which he considered failures, he stopped writing fiction for the next thirty years. He said, "That was maybe one of the wisest decisions of my life... I had nothing worthwhile to say."

Saramago was in his mid-fifties, unemployed, and blacklisted by the government, when he decided he had no choice but to go back to writing fiction. He went to live in one of the poorest villages in his country and wrote a novel Raised from the Ground (1980) about three generations of a peasant family.

José Saramago said, "If you don't write your books, nobody else will do it for you. No one else has lived your 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