Aug. 20, 2006

To a Friend Whose Work Has Come to Triumph

by Anne Sexton

Listen (RealAudio) | How to listen

Poem: "To a Friend Whose Work Has Come to Triumph" by Anne Sexton from The Complete Poems: Anne Sexton. © First Mariner Books. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

To a Friend Whose Work Has Come to Triumph

Consider Icarus, pasting those sticky wings on,
testing that strange little tug at his shoulder blade,
and think of that first flawless moment over the lawn
of the labyrinth. Think of the difference it made!
There below are the trees, as awkward as camels;
and here are the shocked starlings pumping past
and think of innocent Icarus who is doing quite well.
Larger than a sail, over the fog and the blast
of the plushy ocean, he goes. Admire his wings!
Feel the fire at his neck and see how casually
he glances up and is caught, wondrously tunneling
into that hot eye. Who cares that he fell back to the sea?
See him acclaiming the sun and come plunging down
while his sensible daddy goes straight into town.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of poet Heather McHugh, (books by this author) born in San Diego, California (1948). She's the author of many collections of poetry, including To the Quick (1987) and Eyeshot (2003).

She said, "I write poems to wake myself up, or to preserve a suddenly lit, awakened state. Of dreams, as of taste, too many sweets spoil the sense. It's not nice dreams I'm yearning for; it's true dreams."

It's the birthday of poet Edgar Guest, (books by this author) born in Birmingham, England (1881). He was one of the last poets who wrote primarily for newspapers. He started out as an editorial office boy, and worked his way up to reporter, and he eventually got a column contributing poems called "Edgar A. Guest's Breakfast Table Chat."

He published a poem a day, almost every day of his adult life, totaling more than eleven thousand poems. Many of those poems are collected in such books as When Day Is Done (1921), Harbor Lights of Home (1928), and Today and Tomorrow (1942). His Collected Verse appeared in 1934 and went into at least eleven editions.

It was on this day in 1977 that Voyager 2 was launched by NASA to explore the planets of our solar system. It was the first of two spacecraft to serve that purpose, though it's a mystery why Voyager 2 was launched before Voyager 1. Both Voyagers went on to take the first up-close photographs of the giant planets Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune.

Just before the Voyagers took off, a committee of scientists, led by Carl Sagan, decided to include a message from Earth on each Voyager in case extraterrestrials ever found them. At the time, the Cold War was at its height, and some members of the committee considered that these spacecraft and their contents might be the last traces of the human race left in the universe after a nuclear war.

So the Voyagers were each equipped with a gold-plated phonograph containing a variety of earthly sounds, including a heartbeat, a mother's kiss, wind, rain, surf, a chimpanzee, footsteps, laughter, the music of Bach, Mozart, and the Chuck Berry song "Johnny B. Goode." There were also images of humans, the sun, the planets, the Taj Mahal, the Sydney Opera House, and greetings in fifty-five languages, including ancient Sumerian. Carl Sagan said, "The launching of this bottle into the cosmic ocean says something very hopeful about life on this planet."

Today, the Voyagers have traveled farther from earth than any other human-made objects in history. Both have gone well beyond Pluto, the farthest planet from the sun. Voyager 2, which launched on this day in 1977, is currently headed toward Sirius, the brightest star in the sky.

It's the birthday of Jacqueline Susann, (books by this author) born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (1918). She was forty-four years old and a failed Broadway actress when she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1962. She wrote in her diary on Christmas Day of that year, "I can't die without leaving something. Something big." She went to a wishing hill in Central Park and made a deal with God. If he gave her ten more years, she would become a success.

Four years later, Susann published her novel Valley of the Dolls (1966). It's the story of a woman struggling to become an actress, and it describes the sex lives, drug abuse, and catfights of starlets.

Susann became the first modern celebrity author, promoting her books on talk shows and in bookstores. At each stop along her cross-country book tours, she signed every copy of the book that was available. She wrote down the name and address of every person she met and sent them all thank you cards. When her second novel, The Love Machine (1969), came out, she had the title of the book printed on the side of her chartered plane, and she personally delivered pastries to the bookstore workers who shipped and shelved her books.

She died in 1974, twelve years after she asked God for another decade.

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