Jul. 15, 2006

Listen (RealAudio) | How to listen

Poem: "Lucky" by Michael Blumenthal from Against Romance. © Pleasure Boat Studio. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)


Off to the market to buy a lottery ticket,
I consider the possibilities of luck: good luck.
bad luck, beginner's luck, hard luck, the luck
of the draw, and I realize I am lucky, in fact,
to be here at all, on this benignly lit street
on a night in October, as luck would have it,
and I know that it's not just the luck of
the Irish, but any man's, to walk the streets
of his town, beneath the shapely moon,
and ponder the dumb luck that brought him here,
against all odds, into the vast lottery of minnow
and ovum, and to know he has once again lucked out,
this very night, spent as it has been without
accident or incident, a small testimonial
to the quietudes that are still possible,
the only half-felt wish for some grand stroke
of luck that will change everything, that will
change, really, nothing at all, our lives being,
in some sense, beyond the vicissitudes
of luck and yearning, the night being lovely,
the day finite, many of those we know whose luck
has already run out, and we not yet among them,
thank the beneficence of Lady Luck, our stars
just now flickering into flame
as the night lucks in.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of the painter and engraver who signed his works with just his first name Rembrandt, born Rembrandt van Rijn in Leiden, Netherlands (1606). He was one of the greatest portrait artists of all time, because he was so good at capturing facial expressions. His most famous painting is known as The Night Watch (1642), and it shows a group of men getting ready to go on a patrol of the city. All of the men in the painting paid to be in it.

It's the birthday of the novelist and short-story writer Richard Russo, (books by this author) born in Johnstown, New York (1949). He's the author of many novels about small-town life in New England, including Nobody's Fool (1993) and Empire Falls (2001). He grew up in Gloversville, New York, a small town that Russo found suffocating and depressing, and he wanted to get as far away from it as possible. So he went away to college in Arizona.

Russo started a novel about a woman who had moved to Arizona from a small town in New York state. He wrote five hundred pages, but it was a mess. He showed his novel to a friend, who pointed out that the only good parts were the flashbacks to the woman's hometown in New York. So Russo started over and rewrote his novel about that town in New York state, and the result was his first novel Mohawk (1986).

Russo said, "The thing about small towns is that ... in cities you can escape. In small towns you have to deal with everybody. ... You can't simply walk past the poster in the restaurant that announces the auction for the family with the house that burned down. In New York City you habitually walk past people in far more desperate straits than that. You're more your brother's keeper in a small town."

It's the birthday of novelist Iris Murdoch, (books by this author) born to Anglo-Irish parents in Dublin (1919). Her novels include A Severed Head (1961), The Sea, The Sea (1978), and Jackson's Dilemma (1995). She wrote twenty-six novels, all of them in longhand, copied them out, sealed the two handwritten manuscripts in plastic bags, and carried them down to her publisher herself. She was a perfectionist, and she never let publishers change a word of what she had written.

Murdoch said, "Writing is like getting married. One should never commit oneself until one is amazed at one's luck."

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