Oct. 30, 2008

On Catalpa Street

by Jo McDougall

At dusk, when kitchen-window light
settles on the grass like a picnic cloth,
he thinks of the town he lived in
when he was twelve,
the year his father died.
He remembers an evening after his father's funeral,
crossing the yards wide with dogs and mowers
toward the yellow light of the living room,
toward a baseball game on the radio,
a back porch that smelled like sour mops.
He remembers a man he had never seen before
sitting with his mother at the kitchen table,
his mother looking, turning toward him
as though he might have been the Perkins boy
come to paint the shed.

"On Catalpa Street" by Jo McDougall from Towns Facing Railroads. © University of Arkansas Press, 1991. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It was on this day in 1938 that a radio broadcast based on a science fiction novel caused mass hysteria across New England: Orson Welles's adaptation of War of the Worlds. The first part of the broadcast imitated news bulletins and announced that Martians had invaded New Jersey. There was a disclaimer at the beginning of the program explaining that it was fictional, but many people tuned in late and missed the explanation. So they panicked; some people fled their homes and many were terrified.

War of the Worlds (1898) was a novel by H.G. Wells set in 19th-century England. Orson Welles kept the same plot but updated it and set it in Grover's Mill, New Jersey.

It's the birthday of the woman who wrote one of the most popular cookbooks in history, Irma Rombauer, (books by this author) born in St. Louis, Missouri (1877). The author of The Joy of Cooking actually wasn't a good cook at all, but she was a famous hostess in St. Louis, and she wrote a cookbook for people like her, people who needed straightforward directions and simple ingredients.

It's the birthday of the novelist Rudolfo Anaya, (books by this author) born in Pastura, New Mexico, in 1937. He grew up in the village of Santa Rosa, and he grew up speaking only Spanish, listening to folktales while he helped his family harvest. He went to college, then he taught middle school and high school. And in the evenings, he started to write a book, a fictionalized account of life in Santa Rosa, New Mexico. He couldn't get it published, but finally, in 1972, he found a small press in California, and it became a classic: Bless Me, Última.

It's the birthday of the poet and critic Ezra Pound, (books by this author) born in 1885 in Hailey, Idaho. Pound is famous for championing the Modernist movement, and he did this by celebrating and encouraging other writers like W.B. Yeats, Robert Frost, William Carlos Williams, Marianne Moore, H. D., James Joyce, Ernest Hemingway, and T.S. Eliot. He is most famous for editing T.S. Eliot's huge poem The Waste Land and eventually cutting out half of it.

Ezra Pound said, "Man reading should be man intensely alive. The book should be a ball of light in one's hand."

It's the birthday of the second president of the United States, John Adams, born in Quincy, Massachusetts, in 1735. He was a lawyer, a writer, and a philosopher, famous for the articles he wrote in opposition to the British Stamp Act. But even though John Adams supported the American patriot cause, he agreed to defend the British soldiers who killed civilians during the Boston Massacre, and he managed to get most of them acquitted. He did it because the soldiers couldn't find another lawyer and he felt that it was his duty to humanity.

He represented Massachusetts at the Continental Congress. He served on the committee to draft the Declaration of Independence, and even though Thomas Jefferson wrote most of it, John Adams edited it, and he defended it to the rest of the Congress and helped get it passed.

Adams was vice president for George Washington, but he didn't like it much. In 1796, he was elected the second president of the United States. But his party, the Federalist Party, ended up divided, and the next time around he lost to Jefferson. Eventually, the two Founding Fathers made up, and they began a long correspondence, more than 150 letters.

On July 4, 1826, the 50th anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence, Adams and Jefferson died on the same day, in two different places.

John Adams said, "Democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There was never a democracy that did not commit suicide."

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