Feb. 10, 2006

Funny Books

by Robert Morgan

Listen (RealAudio) | How to listen

Poem: "Funny Books" by Robert Morgan from The Strange Attractor: New and Selected Poems. © Louisiana State University Press. Reprinted with permission.

Funny Books

Because my parents had denied
me comic books as sordid and
salacious, I would sneak a look
at those of friends, the bold and bright
slick covers, pages rough as news
and inked in pinks and greens and blues
as cowboys shouted in balloons
and Indian yells were printed on
the clouds. I borrowed books and hid
them in the crib and under shoes
and under bed. The glories of
those hyperbolic zaps and screams
were my illuminated texts,
the chapbook prophets of forbidden
and secret art, the narratives
of quest and conquest in the West,
of Superman and Lash Larue.
The print and pictures cruder than
the catalog were sweeter than
the cake at Bible School. I crouched
in almost dark and swilled the words
that soared in their balloons and bulbs
of grainy breath into my pulse,
into the stratosphere of my
imagination, reaching Mach
and orbit speed, escape velocity
just at the edge of Sputnik's age,
in stained glass windows of the page.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It was on this day in 1861 that Jefferson Davis learned that he had been selected as the president of the new Confederate States of America. Before the outbreak of the Civil War, Davis had been a senator for the state of Mississippi and in the lead up to the war he had traveled widely in the North and South urging compromise. Though he believed the constitution did give states the right to withdraw from the Union, he personally opposed secession and spoke out against it. But when Abraham Lincoln was elected president Davis knew that the Southern states would secede.

He didn't attend the Confederate Convention in Montgomery, Alabama, and so he was at home, pruning rose bushes with his wife on this day in 1861 when a messenger arrived to give him the news that he had been selected as the president of the new confederate states. His wife, Varina, later wrote that as he read the message his face grew pale. She said, "Reading that telegram he looked so grieved that I feared some evil had befallen our family. After a few minutes he told me like a man might speak of a sentence of death."

It's the birthday of the man who wrote Doctor Zhivago (1957), Boris Pasternak, born in Moscow (1890). His father was a painter and his mother was a famous pianist and they encouraged his love of literature from a young age. His first two books were collections of poetry, A Twin in the Clouds (1914) and Over the Barriers (1917).

At first, he supported the revolutions of 1917 until he began to witness the political persecution and censorship under the government of Stalin. From 1934 to 1943 he published no original work because of his fears of censorship. Instead, he made money by translating writers like Shakespeare, Keats, Shelley, Schiller and Goethe since he knew that he wouldn't be punished for publishing translations.

Then, around 1945, Pasternak began to work in secret on his masterpiece, Doctor Zhivago, an epic novel that follows the lives of over sixty characters through the first half of twentieth century Russia. He finally finished it in 1955 and smuggled it out of the Soviet Union to a publisher in Italy.

The novel came out in 1957. It was immediately banned in the Soviet Union but it became an international best-seller, selling seven million copies worldwide. The next year Pasternak was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature but he was forced to refuse it. He spent the last two years of his life living in a writer's colony satisfied with the knowledge that his novel had been published, even if he couldn't see a printed copy. He died in 1960.

Doctor Zhivago was finally published in the Soviet Union in 1987.

Pasternak said, "It is in our power to do but one thing, and that is not to distort the living voice of life."

It's the birthday of playwright and poet Bertolt Brecht, born in Augsburg, Germany (1898). Brecht was an outspoken enemy of Hitler and in 1933 he was forced to go into exile. First he went to Denmark where he wrote an anti-fascist play called Fear and Misery of the Third Reich (1938). Then he came to the United States and settled in Hollywood to write plays and movies. He wrote more than fifty screenplays during his six years in Hollywood but only one of them was accepted: Hangmen Also Die (1943), an anti-Nazi film that came out in the middle of World War II. He later said, "The intellectual isolation [in Hollywood] is enormous. Compared to Hollywood, Svendborg is a world center."

But it was while he was in Hollywood that he wrote his best-known plays, The Life of Galileo (1938), Mother Courage and Her Children (1939), and The Caucasian Chalk Circle (1945).

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