Feb. 6, 2010


by Deborah Digges

See how the first dark takes the city in its arms
and carries it into what yesterday we called the future.

O, the dying are such acrobats.
Here you must take a boat from one day to the next,

or clutch the girders of the bridge, hand over hand.
But they are sailing like a pendulum between eternity and evening,

diving, recovering, balancing the air.
Who can tell at this hour seabirds from starlings,

wind from revolving doors or currents off the river.
Some are as children on swings pumping higher and higher.

Don't call them back, don't call them in for supper.
See, they leave scuff marks like jet trails on the sky.

"Trapeze" by Deborah Digges, from Trapeze. © Alfred A. Knopf, 2005. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of the man who wrote, "Come live with me and be my love / And we will all the pleasures prove" — Christopher Marlowe, (books by this author) born in Canterbury, England (1564). He's the author of plays such as The Jew of Malta (c. 1590) and Dr. Faustus (c. 1594), and he was one of the most prominent playwrights of his lifetime.

He was a child prodigy and managed to get in to Corpus Christi College in Cambridge, even though he was the son of a shoemaker. His school records show that he was frequently absent from class because he was working for Queen Elizabeth's secret service. There is some evidence that he continued to work as a secret agent for the Queen for the rest of his life. In the 1590s, while he was producing his plays, church officials began to accuse him of espousing atheism, a charge that was punishable by torture. On May 18, 1593, a warrant was issued for his arrest, but he died in a fight over a bar bill before the police could find him.

Today is the 70th birthday of television journalist Tom Brokaw, (books by this author) who anchored the NBC Nightly News for more than two decades — from 1982 to 2004 — born in Webster, South Dakota (1940).

He wrote a book called The Greatest Generation (1998) — a term that he coined — about the men and women who "came of age in the Great Depression," served in World War II, and laid the foundation to re-build the economy.

It's the birthday of journalist Michael Pollan, (books by this author) born in Long Island, New York (1955), author of the popular books The Omnivore's Dilemma (2006) and In Defense of Food (2008), in which he elaborates upon his guiding principle: "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants."

A couple of months ago, he published Food Rules: An Eater's Manual, a list of 64 personal policies about food in a distilled, digestible short pamphlet format. They include rules like "Eat food cooked by humans, not corporations" and "Spend as much time enjoying the meal as it took to prepare it." Pollan studied English literature in grad school and now teaches journalism at Berkeley.

It's the birthday of poet Deborah Digges, (books by this author) born in Jefferson City, Missouri (1950), one of 10 children of a doctor and a nurse.

She studied art in college, got married at the age of 19 to an Air Force pilot who went to Vietnam, and had a child when she was 20. It was then that she first began to write poetry. She said, "Kids keep you very close to experiences. You're kind of constantly thrown off track and that's good for a poet."

She went back and finished college, and then went on to the Iowa Writers' Workshop. She taught at several universities and published four poetry collections: Vesper Sparrows (1986), Late in the Millennium (1989), Rough Music (1995), and Trapeze (2004) — all of them winning major prizes. She wrote two memoirs, Fugitive Spring (1989) and The Stardust Lounge: Stories from a Boy's Adolescence (2000).

She died this past year, in April 2009, after falling from bleachers at a stadium. Police ruled it a suicide.

Once, she and her husband had been out driving and saw a cow on the side of the road struggling to give birth. The calf was coming out the wrong way — and probably wouldn't have survived, so she and her husband jumped out of the car to help deliver the calf. She wrote a poem about it, "The Birthing," which appeared in The New Yorker magazine in October 2006. She wrote:

"With his whole weight he pushed the calf back in the mother
and grasped the other leg tucked up like a closed wing
against the new one's shoulder.

And found a way in the warm dark to bring both legs out
into the world together.

Then heaved and pulled, the cow arching her back,
until a bull calf, in a whoosh of blood and water,
came falling whole and still onto the meadow."

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