Jun. 1, 2008

The Best Slow Dancer

by David Wagoner

Under the sagging clotheslines of crepe paper
By the second string of teachers and wallflowers
In the school gym across the key through the glitter
Of mirrored light three-second rule forever
Suspended you danced with her the best slow dancer
Who stood on tiptoe who almost wasn't there
In your arms like music she knew just how to answer
The question mark of your spine your hand in hers
The other touching that place between her shoulders
Trembling your countless feet lightfooted sure
To move as they wished wherever you might stagger
Without her she turned in time she knew where you were
In time she turned her body into yours
As you moved from thigh to secrets to breast yet never
Where you could be for all time never closer
Than your cheek against her temple her ear just under
Your lips that tried all evening long to tell her
You weren't the worst one not the boy whose mother
Had taught him to count to murmur over and over
One slide two slide three slide now no longer
The one in the hallway after class the scuffler
The double clubfoot gawker the mouth breather
With the wrong haircut who would never kiss her
But see her dancing off with someone or other
Older more clever smoother dreamier
Not waving a sister somebody else's partner
Lover while you went floating home through the air
To lie down lighter than air in a moonlit shimmer
Alone to whisper yourself to sleep remember.

"The Best Slow Dancer" by David Wagoner from Traveling Light.© University of Illinois Press. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of novelist Colleen McCullough, (books by this author) born in Wellington, Australia (1937). She came from a rural, working-class family that wandered around Australia until finally settling in Sydney when Colleen was 12 years old. She wanted to be a doctor, but she wasn't allowed to go to medical school because of a skin condition, and so she went into neurophysiology, the study of the nervous system.

She got a job at a hospital in London, and while she was there she met an American professor who was so impressed with her ability that he invited her to manage his laboratories back at Yale. She did all kinds of work in the laboratories, but because she was a woman, she was paid about half as much as her co-workers. So, to try to make a little extra money, she decided to write a novel.

Her first novel, Tim, was published in 1974. That book sold well, but her first great success was The Thorn Birds (1977), an epic novel that tells the story of an Australian family across three generations. It became an international best seller and enabled McCullough to quit her job and devote all of her time to writing.

It's the birthday of poet John Masefield, (books by this author) born in Ledbury, England (1878). When he was 13 years old, he left home to work on a merchant navy ship, the HMS Conway. After a few years of sailing, he settled in New York City. After two years he went back to England, fell in love with the poetry of W.B. Yeats, and became a poet himself. His first book of poems, Salt-Water Ballads, came out in 1902.

It's the birthday of Brigham Young, born in Wittingham, Vermont (1801). He grew up in a strict, religious household in upstate New York. His parents made him read the Bible every day. He got married in 1824, when he was 23, and he and his wife joined the Methodist Church.

In April of 1830, Samuel Smith, the brother of the Mormon leader Joseph Smith, passed through Young's town to distribute copies of the Book of Mormon. Young was skeptical at first, but two years later, he was baptized as a Latter-day Saint


In the summer of 1832, Brigham Young and his brother decided to make the 325-mile journey from New York to Kirtland, Ohio, to meet the leader of Mormonism, Joseph Smith. On the evening of their arrival, Smith invited them to pray with him. During their prayer session, Brigham Young spoke in incomprehensible tongues, and Smith declared that it was a gift of God.

A couple of years later, Smith appointed Young to be the leader of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles, a sort of traveling council whose job it was to spread the message of Mormonism. He traveled all across the country, in Canada, and in England, trying to win converts. When Smith was killed in 1844, Young was made president of the Mormon Church. Two years later, he led a group on a trek to the West, to Salt Lake City, Utah.

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