Nov. 9, 2008

How To Be a Poet

by Wendell Berry

(to remind myself)

Make a place to sit down.
Sit down. Be quiet.
You must depend upon
affection, reading, knowledge,
skill—more of each
than you have—inspiration,
work, growing older, patience,
for patience joins time
to eternity. Any readers
who like your work,
doubt their judgment.

Breathe with unconditional breath
the unconditioned air.
Shun electric wire.
Communicate slowly. Live
a three-dimensioned life;
stay away from screens.
Stay away from anything
that obscures the place it is in.
There are no unsacred places;
there are only sacred places
and desecrated places.

Accept what comes from silence.
Make the best you can of it.
Of the little words that come
out of the silence, like prayers
prayed back to the one who prays,
make a poem that does not disturb
the silence from which it came.

"How to be a Poet" by Wendell Berry from Given. © Shoemaker Hoard, 2005. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of the poet Anne Sexton, (books by this author) born in Newton, Massachusetts (1928).

Today is the anniversary of Kristallnacht, the night in 1938 when German Nazis coordinated a nationwide attack on Jewish homes, businesses, and synagogues. More than 1,000 synagogues were burned or destroyed. Rioters looted about 7,500 Jewish businesses and vandalized Jewish hospitals, homes, schools, and cemeteries. Before that night, the Nazis had killed people secretly and individually. After Kristallnacht, the Nazis felt free to persecute the Jews openly, because they knew no one would stop them.

On this day in 1989, the leader of the East German Communist Party made a quiet announcement that the Berlin Wall would be opened for "private trips abroad." Within days, millions of East Germans flooded into West Berlin, and citizens began to pull the wall to pieces.

It's the birthday of Irish playwright Hugh Leonard, (books by this author) born John Keyes Byrne in Dublin (1926). He acted in plays with an amateur drama club and then tried writing a few, which the drama club performed. He sent one of his plays to the Abbey Theatre, but they rejected it. He decided to send in a second one, this time under the pen name "Hugh Leonard." The Abbey accepted it, and so he kept the pseudonym Hugh Leonard, even though he hated it. He told a reporter, "It's an awful Protestant name, really."

He wrote several plays for radio and television. He wrote Stephen D, an adaptation of James Joyce's Portrait of the Artist, which was staged in Dublin, London, and New York City. It was a big success, so he started to focus on adapting great works of literature to television. He wrote screenplays adaptations of books by Charles Dickens, Emily Brontė, Gustave Flaubert, and Dostoyevsky.

In 1970, the Irish legislature made a law that gave Irish writers and artists who lived and worked in Ireland an exemption from income tax. He returned home and focused on writing plays for the stage. The first work that he wrote after returning to Ireland was an autobiographical play called Da, which is an Irish version of the word "Dad." It was hugely successful, and it played on Broadway for years in the late 1970s.

He wrote a regular humor column for a Dublin newspaper and also two memoirs, Home Before Night (1979) and Out After Dark (1989).

He said, "There is only one immutable law in life — in a gentleman's toilet, incoming traffic has the right of way."

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
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