Oct. 25, 2010

Old Men

by Ken Hada

I make it a point now
to wave to old men I pass
old men standing in shade
of a yard, maybe
a daughter's place
where now he's just a tenant
trying to understand role reversal.

I raise my forefinger
As I steer country roads or pass
Through tired neighborhoods.
Most return a wave or nod Howdy.
Driving gives you some perspective,
shows you how you might end up.

We allow something
now, especially those of us sitting
on porch swings, those
who never got around to going
somewhere, those
who still feel like something
somehow is missing.

"Old Men" by Ken Hada from Spare Parts. © Mongrel Empire Press, 2010. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of the man who said, "Art is a lie that makes us realize truth." That's Pablo Picasso, born in Malaga, Spain (1881), who helped found the Cubist movement. His paintings include Guernica (1937), set amidst the Spanish Civil War, and Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, (The Young Ladies of Avignon) (1907), which features five naked ladies in a brothel in Barcelona. That painting now hangs at New York City's MOMA.

It's the birthday of poet and professor John Berryman, (books by this author) born in McAlester, Oklahoma (1914). He wrote a hundred sonnets based on an affair he had with one of his graduate students, and then he became famous for a book-length poem he wrote to a Puritan woman who'd been dead nearly three centuries.

That work, Homage to Mistress Bradstreet, took him five years to compose. He was very meticulous about how he worked on it. He would draft a stanza of the poem in the morning and then stick it under a sheet of translucent paper so that he could see the stanza but not touch it. Then he would sit and stare at it for hours, making notes. When he felt sure he was ready to make the changes, he took out the stanza manuscript, wrote in the corrections, stuck it back under the translucent paper, and stared at it some more. Then, when he was satisfied with the changes, he would type it up. He did one stanza each day like this. After a stanza was done for the day, it was never revised again. His second marriage fell apart during the time he spent composing Homage to Miss Bradstreet, which begins:

    "The Governor your husband lived so long
    moved you not, restless, waiting for him? Still,
    you were a patient woman. —
    I seem to see you pause here still."

He struggled with alcoholism and depression, and part of his therapy was to keep a journal of his dreams. Many of his dreams made their way into his poetry cycle "Dream Songs." A batch of these poems, published as 77 Dream Songs (1964), won the 1965 Pulitzer Prize. He wrote nearly 400 "Dream Songs," all narrated by a middle-aged man named Henry. He wrote, "These Songs are not meant to be understood, you understand. / They are only meant to terrify & comfort."

    The first of The Dream Songs begins:
"Huffy Henry hid the day,
unappeasable Henry sulked.
I see his point, — a trying to put things over.
It was the thought that they thought
they could do it made Henry wicked & away.
But he should have come out and talked."

Berryman was a Shakespearean scholar and a professor at the Iowa Writers' Workshop. His books include Love & Fame (1970) and Recovery (1973).

He wrote in "Dream Song 14":

        Life, friends, is boring. We must not say so.
   After all, the sky flashes, the great sea yearns,
we ourselves flash and yearn,
and moreover my mother told me as a boy
(repeatingly) 'Ever to confess you're bored
means you have no

Inner Resources.' I conclude now I have no
inner resources, because I am heavy bored.
Peoples bore me,
literature bores me, especially great literature,
Henry bores me, with his plights & gripes
as bad as achilles,

who loves people and valiant art, which bores me.
And the tranquil hills, & gin, look like a drag
and somehow a dog
has taken itself & its tail considerably away
into mountains or sea or sky, leaving
behind: me, wag.

From the archives:

It's the birthday of the novelist Anne Tyler, (books by this author) born in Minneapolis, Minnesota (1941), the author of The Accidental Tourist (1985), Back When We Were Grownups (2001), and Digging to America (2006). Early in her career, she decided she did not want to be a public person, so she stopped giving readings and only does occasional interviews in writing. She said: "Any time I talk in public about writing, I end up not able to do any writing. It's as if some capricious Writing Elf goes into a little sulk whenever I expose him." Ann Tyler also said: "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. It's lucky I do it on paper. Probably I would be schizophrenic — and six times divorced — if I weren't writing."

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
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  • “I think all writing is a disease. You can't stop it.” —William Carlos Williams
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  • “The less conscious one is of being ‘a writer,’ the better the writing.” —Pico Iyer
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  • “Writing is my dharma.” —Raja Rao
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