May 15, 2010

What a mouth will do

by Betsy Johnson-Miller

the impossible hope that love
will last. An end to looking
as if for one glove.

Swallow the sweet
lust of fruit—one way a body

can be pleased.

Tell others why.

Tell others nothing.

Feel the tongue and how
and mercy can flow
like a river from the north

or how it can rage as only rage can

and know there isn't much to say
after that.

"What a mouth will do" by Betsy Johnson-Miller, from Rain When You Want Rain. © Mayapple Press, 2010 . Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It was on this day in 1942 that William Faulkner's (books by this author) book Go Down, Moses was published. It's a collection of seven linked short stories that all take place in his fictional Yoknapatawpha County, and all concern members of the racially mixed McCaslin family.

It's the birthday of the man who wrote one of the best-known tales in America, The Wizard of Oz. L. Frank Baum (books by this author) was born in Chittenango, New York, on this day in 1856. The tale, which he wrote as a children's novel, was first published in 1900. He dedicated it: "To my good friend & comrade, My Wife," Maud Gage Baum.

L. Frank Baum was a socialist. And he wrote: "There were no poor people in the land of Oz, because there was no such thing as money, and all property of every sort belonged to the Ruler. Each person was given freely by his neighbours whatever he required for his use, which is as much as anyone may reasonably desire. Every one worked half the time and played half the time, and the people enjoyed the work as much as they did the play, because it is good to be occupied and to have something to do."

It was on this day in 1891 that Pope Leo XIII issued an official Roman Catholic Church encyclical addressing 19th-century labor issues. It's called Rerum Novarum, Latin for "Of New Things," and it is considered the original foundation of Catholic social teaching.

He said in the open letter that while the Church defends certain aspects of capitalism, including rights to private property, the free market cannot go unrestricted — that there is a moral obligation to pay laborers a fair and living wage.

He had much more to say to employers; first, he told them "not to look upon their work people as their bondsmen." He told them it was never OK to cut workers' wages. And he told them to "be mindful of this — that to exercise pressure upon the indigent and the destitute for the sake of gain, and to gather one's profit out of the need of another, is condemned by all laws, human and divine. To defraud any one of wages that are his due is a great crime which cries to the avenging anger of Heaven."

With these words Leo began a new chapter in the Catholic Church, one where social justice issues became incorporated into official Church doctrine, an essential part of faith, where the Church would stake out official positions and be vocal on issues like labor, war and peace, and the duties of governments to protect human rights.

It was on this day in 1886 that poet Emily Dickinson (books by this author) died at the age of 55. She had made her sister promise to burn all of her letters when she died, but didn't say what to do with her notebooks. There were 40 of them, and they contained nearly 1,800 poems that she'd written. Only a handful had been published while she was alive.

Relatives and friends fought over publishing her poems, and it wasn't until 1955 that a complete volume appeared that contained Dickinson's poems just as she herself had written them — with punctuation, capitalization, and obscure diction intact.

Emily Dickinson wrote:

Because I could not stop for Death,
He kindly stopped for me;
The carriage held but just ourselves
And Immortality.

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