Mar. 27, 2006

The Persistent Accent

by Patricia Dobler

MONDAY, 27 MARCH, 2006
Listen (RealAudio) | How to listen

Poem: "The Persistent Accent" by Patricia Dobler from Collected Poems. © Autumn House Press. Reprinted with permission.

The Persistent Accent

                            Until the grave covers me, on foreign soil
                            I shall remain Hungarian

                                                                 Hungarian folk song

Because this fat old lady
has exactly the voice
of my dead grandma,
I find myself
trailing her through the supermarket
as she complains to her friend
about the Blacks, the kids, the prices,
age, disease, and certain death,
and I'm seduced
by that Hungarian accent
decades in this country can't diminish,
and I see the smoky fires
of the harvesters, a golden-braided girl
fetching their dinners of peppers and lamb,
and I follow her
through the aisles,
wanting to lay my face
between her hands,
to ask her for a song.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of the filmmaker Quentin Tarantino, born in Knoxville, Tennessee (1963). He grew up with a single mother in the diverse neighborhood of South Bay, near the Los Angeles Airport. He was diagnosed as hyperactive as a kid, and didn't get along with his classmates or his teachers. The only things that calmed him down were comic books and movies. From the time he was a toddler, his mother let him go to the theater whenever he wanted. He watched everything from Kung Fu movies to French art house films.

He once scored above 150 on an IQ test in high school, but he hated school so much that he dropped out after ninth grade. He got a job as an usher at a pornographic movie theater and started taking acting classes. He taught himself screenwriting by writing from memory screenplays of movies he'd already seen. Whatever he couldn't remember he just made up. These screenplays eventually turned into his own original work, and he realized that he'd rather be a filmmaker than an actor.

Instead of going to film school, Tarantino got a job at a video rental store that had one of the largest video collections in Southern California. Several other aspiring filmmakers worked there and they would watch movies all day at work, discussing camera angles and dialogue. He spent five years working at the video store writing screenplays, but he wasn't getting anywhere in his career. He finally decided he had to move to Hollywood, and on the same day he'd made that decision he got a thirteen hundred dollar tax refund in the mail.

Tarantino got a few acting jobs in Hollywood, including a part as an Elvis impersonator on the TV show Golden Girls. He sold two of his screenplays. But what he wanted more than anything was to direct his own movie. And then he met an actor who knew another actor who knew Harvey Keitel, and Keitel agreed to look at one of his scripts. Keitel was impressed enough to volunteer to help Tarantino produce the film, and to act in it himself.

The result was Reservoir Dogs (1992) about a group of bank robbers trying to figure out who set them up after a botched robbery. It became a cult hit and made Tarantino internationally famous. His next film, Pulp Fiction, won the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival in 1994 and it went on to win an Academy Award for best screenplay.

Quentin Tarantino said, "I steal from every movie ever made."

It's the birthday of Louis Simpson, born in Jamaica, the British West Indies (1923). He's written seventeen volumes of poetry, including At the End of the Open Road (1963), which won a Pulitzer that year. His mother died when he was a teenager and his stepmother kicked him out of the house. He arrived in New York City when he was seventeen and didn't go back to Jamaica for fifty years. None of his colleagues realized he had been born there until several years ago, when someone threw a big party at the Jamaican consulate in New York and invited every Jamaican they could find.

It's the birthday of T.R. Pearson, born in Winston-Salem, North Carolina (1956). He's the author of eight novels, including Cry Me a River (1993) and Polar (2002); he published his first novel, A Short History of a Small Place (1985), when he was painting houses for a living. An interviewer asked him about the plots in his novels, and he said: "[A]s a reader I don't care a thing in the world about what happens next. I don't buy books to find out what happens next. I never read thrillers. I never read detective stories. I just do not care and that's just my personal preference. ... Cry Me a River is my version of a detective story and in it, the detective solves absolutely nothing. I mean, he tries and tries; he wanders around; he pokes his nose in everything, but the crime undoes itself and he's just standing around."

It's the birthday of the novelist Julia Alvarez, born in New York City (1950). Though she was born in New York, she grew up in the Dominican Republic. Her parents sent her to the local American school so she could learn English. But she preferred to spend her time with the old women who cooked and cleaned in the backyard of their housing complex. She said, "Those women were my first muses ... wearing their spirit kerchiefs, smoking their [cigarettes], always good for a neat story for a curious girl who much preferred their 'true' stories to my American Dick and Jane books."

When Alvarez was ten years old, her family moved back to New York, the place of her birth, which she'd heard was a magic city. She said, "I would get to see the miracle of the snow, buildings that pricked the sky with their tops, and a host of other things which heretofore had only been the province of stories."

But when she got to America, she found that she didn't speak English as well as she thought she did. The other children made fun of her and called her names that she couldn't even understand. She felt utterly lost, until one day her teacher gave her a writing assignment. She later said, "And then, magic happened in my life." She said, "That was where I landed when we left the Dominican Republic, not in the United States but in the English language." She went on to write the novel How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents (1991) and the novel In the Time of the Butterflies (1994) and the poetry collection The Woman I Kept to Myself (2004).

On this day in 1912, President Taft's wife and the wife of the ambassador from Japan planted the first of Washington D.C.'s cherry trees. The cuttings were scions from the most famous trees in Tokyo, the ones that grow along the banks of the Arakawa River. Workers took over, and thousands of cherry trees—all gifts from the Japanese government—were planted around the Tidal Basin. During the Second World War, Tokyo lost scores of cherry trees in the allied bombing raids; after the surrender, horticulturists took cuttings from the trees in Washington and sent them back to Tokyo. Years later, some of the Washington trees died, and Tokyo sent cuttings back across the Pacific.

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