Feb. 17, 2008

The Kiss

by Stephen Dunn

  She pressed her lips to mind.
                                —a typo

How many years I must have yearned
for someone's lips against mind.
Pheromones, newly born, were floating
between us. There was hardly any air.

She kissed me again, reaching that place
that sends messages to toes and fingertips,
then all the way to something like home.
Some music was playing on its own.

Nothing like a woman who knows
to kiss the right thing at the right time,
then kisses the things she's missed.
How had I ever settled for less?

I was thinking this is intelligence,
this is the wisest tongue
since the Oracle got into a Greek's ear,
speaking sense. It's the Good,

defining itself. I was out of my mind.
She was in. we married as soon as we could.

"The Kiss" by Stephen Dunn from Everything Else in the World. © W.W. Norton & Company, 2008. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of novelist and rabbi Chaim Potok, (books by this author) born in New York City in 1929, who is best known for his seminal work The Chosen (1967). Other well-known novels include The Promise (1969), My Name is Asher Lev (1972), and The Book of Lights (1981); like Potok himself, the protagonists of these works are all Orthodox Jews raised in New York City. As a teenager, Potok read Evelyn Waugh's Brideshead Revisited, followed by James Joyce's Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. The power of these two novels combined convinced Potok to become a writer himself — as he explained in an interview, he was amazed by "the realization that you could really create the world out of language." Potok graduated with honors from Yeshiva University, a private Jewish college, in 1950; in 1954 he was ordained as a rabbi from the Jewish Theological Seminary of America. The following year he left New York for South Korea, where he served for two years as an Army chaplain. When he returned to the United States, he wrote a novel about Korea, but it was rejected. A few years later, Potok moved to Jerusalem to work on his doctorate. It was there that he wrote The Chosen, which would become his first published novel.

It's the birthday
of the lyricist poet Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer,(books by this author) born Gustavo Adolfo Domínguez Bastida in Seville, Spain, in 1836. Bécquer's aptly named Rhymes (1871) and Legends (1857-64) — his most famous works of poetry and prose, respectively — are frequently published together as Rimas y leyendas. Rhymes and Legends is considered required reading in Spanish-speaking countries around the world. Like the Romantics, Bécquer's poetry invokes melancholy, introspective themes of love and loss; but his departure from the confined rhetorical structure of Spanish literature and his use of colloquial language have earned him the status of Spain's first Modern poet. After a failed position in the civil service, Bécquer made ends meet as a journalist and translator in Madrid, where he joined an active group of Bohemian artists and intellectuals. His now-canonical poetry, along with most of his writing, was published by his friends after he died a pauper at the age of 34. Bécquer's unrequited love for Julia, the daughter of one of his mentors, is believed to have fueled many of the Rimas, as in "Rhyme 85":

So that you read them with your grey eyes,
so that you sing them with your clear voice,
so that they fill your chest with emotion
I made my verses.
(Translation by H. Landman)

It's the birthday of Andrew Barton Paterson (Narrambla, New South Wales, 1864), (books by this author) the Australian poet, journalist, and songwriter known as "Barty" to his family and friends and "Banjo" to his readers. "The Banjo" was Paterson's pseudonym of choice for his early poems (he named himself after a racehorse rather than an affinity with the musical instrument). While The Banjo published poetry, Andrew Paterson became a partner in a law firm by age 22. Paterson is best known for writing the lyrics to "Waltzing Matlida," a wildly popular ballad heralded as Australia's national song and covered or adapted by countless musicians, from Tom Waits to Harry Belafonte to a Jamaican ska group called The Silvertones. In 1895 — the same year he wrote "Waltzing Matilda" — Paterson published his first book of poems, The Man from Snowy River and Other Verses, which sold out its first edition in one week and went through four editions in its first six months. For a time, Banjo Patterson was the second-most popular poet writing in English in the world, after Rudyard Kipling. His other books of poetry are Rio Grande's Last Race and Other Verses (1904) and The Animals Noah Forgot (1933). In The Man from Snowy River's final poem, "Daylight Is Dying," Patterson leaves his readers with the hope that

These tales, roughly wrought of
  The bush and its ways,
May call back a thought of
  The wandering days,

And, blending with each
  In the memories that throng,
There haply shall reach
  You some echo of song.

In 1933, the Blaine Act was passed in Congress, repealing the 18th Amendment and ending Prohibition, although it took almost 10 months for the repeal to be officially adopted as the 21st Amendment.

It's the birthday of crime novelist Ruth Rendell,(books by this author) born in 1930 in London, England, who also writes under the name Barbara Vine. She is a best-selling writer — dubbed the Queen of Crime — and author of more than 50 books. Her first novel, From Doon with Death (1964), began her popular Wexford series, named for its celebrated main character, Chief Inspector Reginald Wexford. She has since written 20 more Wexford novels, including the recent Not in the Flesh (2007).

Joining the Queen of Crime in birthdays today is the Grand Dame of Science Fiction and Fantasy, Andre Norton (born Alice Mary Norton in 1912 in Cleveland, Ohio) (books by this author). Norton adopted the pseudonym Andre in 1934 in an attempt to market her work in a male-dominated genre; 40 years later, Norton was the first woman to receive the Grand Master Award from the World Science Fiction Society. Norton wrote more than 130 novels in her 70 years as a writer, as well as nearly a hundred short stories. A month before her death in March 2005 at age 93, the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America created the Andre Norton Award for an outstanding work of science fiction or fantasy for young adults. Witch World (1963) is the first in more than 30 titles in Norton's popular series by the same name. "As for courage and will," wrote Norton, "we cannot measure how much of each lies within us, we can only trust there will be sufficient to carry through trials which may lie ahead."

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