Aug. 27, 2007

Flash Cards

by Rita Dove

Listen (RealAudio) | How to listen

Poem: "Flash Cards" by Rita Dove, from Grace Notes. © W. W. Norton & Company, 1989. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Flash Cards

In math I was the whiz kid, keeper
of oranges and apples. What you don't understand,
, my father said; the faster
I answered, the faster they came.

I could see one bud on the teacher's geranium,
one clear bee sputtering at the wet pane.
The tulip trees always dragged after heavy rain
so I tucked my head as my boots slapped home.

My father put up his feet after work
and relaxed with a highball and The Life of Lincoln.
After supper we drilled and I climbed the dark

before sleep, before a thin voice hissed
numbers as I spun on a wheel. I had to guess.
Ten, I kept saying, I'm only ten.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of the philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, (books by this author) born in Stuttgart, Germany (1770). He started out studying Christianity, and he was particularly interested in how Christianity is a religion based on opposites: sin and salvation, earth and heaven, church and state, finite and infinite. He believed that Jesus had emphasized love as the chief virtue because love can bring about the marriage of opposites.

He eventually came up with was the concept of dialectic, which is the idea that all human progress is driven by the conflict between opposites. He argued that each political movement is imperfect and therefore gives rise to a counter-movement, which, if it takes control, is also imperfect and therefore gives rise to yet another counter-movement, and so on to infinity. Friedrich Engels and Karl Marx argued that the most important dialectic of history was between worker and master, rich and poor, and their ideas lead to the birth of Communism.

It's the birthday of novelist who wrote under the name C. S. Forester, (books by this author) born Cecil Smith in Cairo, Egypt (1899). His first really successful novel was The African Queen (1935), about an evangelical English spinster and a grizzled boat captain who fall in love while navigating a river through Central Africa. The book was made into a movie starring Katharine Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart.

Forester went on to create the character Horatio Hornblower, one of the most popular characters in English literature, a Royal Navy man who suffers from seasickness, is full of self-doubt, is class-conscious, is a fanatic about discipline and efficiency, and is a hater of the poetry of Wordsworth. The first novel featuring the new character was The Happy Return [called Beat to Quarters in the U.S.] (1937). Forester went on to publish many successful sequels. Not one of the Hornblower novels has ever been out of print.

It's the birthday of novelist Theodore Dreiser, (books by this author) born in Terre Haute, Indiana (1871). He moved to Chicago in the 1880s and became a newspaper reporter, covering labor issues, murder trials, lynchings, and politics. He wrote his first novel, Sister Carrie (1900), about a chorus girl who becomes a success by sleeping around.

The book was accepted for publication by Doubleday, on the recommendation of the novelist Frank Norris. But when Frank Doubleday and his wife read the manuscript, they found it shocking and amoral, and they refused to give the book any advertising or marketing. Only 456 copies were sold, and Dreiser made only $68 from the book. But Dreiser's brother, a successful songwriter, helped him get a job as an editor, and in 1907, he used his influence to republish Sister Carrie and it became a great success. Dreiser went on to write his novel An American Tragedy (1925), based on a true story about a man who had murdered his pregnant girlfriend to keep their relationship a secret. Though he lived another 20 years, Dreiser never published another novel in his lifetime.

It's the birthday of the religious activist and missionary Mother Teresa, (books by this author) born in the city of Skopje, Macedonia (1910). Her father was murdered when she was seven years old, and her family fell into poverty. She was educated by Irish missionary nuns, and she decided to follow in their footsteps. She went to Dublin to train for missionary work when she was 18, and for her first missionary assignment she was sent to Calcutta, India. She taught high school for several years and worked her way up to school principal. Then, one day, she found a woman dying in the street and sat with the woman, stroking her head until she died. That experience inspired her to found a new religious order, called the Order of the Missionaries of Charity, devoted to anyone "unwanted, unloved, and uncared for." When she began her project, Mother Teresa's Order of the Missionaries of Charity members included a dozen nuns. By the time she died, the order consisted of more than 5,000 nuns and brothers, operating more than 2,500 orphanages, schools, clinics, and hospices in 120 countries, including the United States.

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