Oct. 29, 2008

A day in bed with Aunt Maud

by Elizabeth Smither

My dear high-foreheaded aunt, good
at sums and attentive to all that love
demands, loved a day in bed.

No illness drove her there, or fever
no drenched nightgown, twisted
but the bliss of a day in bed.

She lay, she slept, she reached out
a hand towards an improving book
she closed its covers on her day in bed.

She contemplated the plaster ceiling rose
and all the world that swam around it
a spider web from her day in bed.

She lay like someone in a shroud, proud
of her stretched toes, her spine
bearing not this day on her day in bed.

She took some rations, delicate things
and a jug of fresh-made squash
she dined daintily on her day in bed.

What did you get? the others asked.
A firmer view of the world, she said
through lying down on my day in bed

and love and anything you care to ask.
They never did. Away they sped
She contemplated them from her day in bed.

"A day in bed with Aunt Maud" by Elizabeth Smither from The Year of Adverbs. © Auckland University Press, 2007. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the anniversary of Black Tuesday, which happened in 1929 — the worst stock market crash in the history of the United States. The economy had been so good during the 1920s that people kept speculating in the markets, so stock prices were too high, much higher than the stocks themselves were worth. When they suddenly fell, it was a snowball effect. People had borrowed money to buy stocks, thinking that they could turn around and sell the stocks at a profit, and now they went bankrupt. On Black Tuesday, stock prices fell so fast that by the end of the day many companies couldn't sell their shares at any price.

Black Tuesday was the beginning of the Great Depression. By 1932, more than 100,000 businesses had failed and 13 million people had lost their jobs.

It's the birthday of the biographer James Boswell, (books by this author) born in 1740 in Edinburgh, Scotland. Boswell's father was a judge who insisted that his son study law. So James Boswell passed his bar exams in Scotland, but he didn't really like law and he didn't really like Scotland. Boswell loved gossip, drinking, and traveling, and he wanted to be in London, in the company of the rich and famous. So he went to London, and when he was 22 years old, he met his hero, the 53-year-old Samuel Johnson, in the back of a bookshop. They became good friends. Over the next 20 years, Boswell followed Johnson around, constantly taking notes. After Johnson died, Boswell spent years writing a biography of his friend. Finally, in 1791, The Life of Samuel Johnson was published. There had never been a biography like it before. Boswell filled his book with personal anecdotes and vivid descriptions, and a lot of quotes. It's still considered one of the greatest biographies ever written.

It's the birthday of the British novelist Henry Green, (books by this author) born Henry Yorke in Tewkesbury, England (1905). He went to Oxford, but he spent most of his time drinking, playing billiards, and going to movies. So he dropped out and went to work as a laborer in an iron foundry, and he used that experience to write his second novel, Living (1929). He kept writing, and 16 years later, he published his most famous novel, Loving (1945). It's an upstairs-downstairs story, about a fancy country home in Ireland, the stories of the people who live there, and the servants who work there.

It's the birthday of the children's poet and novelist Valerie Worth, (books by this author) born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 1933. She's most famous for her "small poems," poems for children about everyday objects. She wrote many books in this vein, including Small Poems (1972). She said, "As a child, I was greatly attracted to 'smallness,' perhaps because throughout grade school I myself was the smallest in my class."

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