Nov. 9, 2010

exactly right

by Charles Bukowski

the strays keep arriving: now we have 5
cats and they are smart, spontaneous, self-
absorbed, naturally poised and awesomely

one of the finest things about cats is
that when you're feeling down, very down,
if you just look at the cat at rest,
at the way they sit or lie and wait,
it's a grand lesson in persevering
if you watch 5 cats at once that's 5
times better.

no matter the extra demands they make
no matter the heavy sacks of food
no matter the dozens of cans of tuna
from the supermarket: it's all just fuel for their
amazing dignity and their
affirmation of a vital
we humans can
only envy and
admire from

"exactly right" by Charles Bukowski, from The Night Torn with Mad Footsteps: New Poems. © Black Sparrow Press, 2001. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of Irish writer Hugh Leonard, (books by this author) born John Joseph Byrne in Dublin (1926). He's the author of dozens of plays and screenplays; two novels, Parnell and the Englishwoman (1992) and The Offshore Island (1993); and two memoirs, Home Before Night (1979) and Out After Dark (1989). For 16 years, he wrote a humor column called "The Curmudgeon," which appeared in Ireland's biggest Sunday newspaper, Sunday Independent.

He grew up in a seaside Irish resort town and got a job as a clerical assistant for the Irish Land Commission. As it happened, this Irish federal government agency had an amateur drama club, so he ended up spending a lot of his time acting and playwriting. He pitched his first play, Italian Road,to the Abbey Theatre under his real name and they rejected it. The play featured a psychopathic character named Hughie Leonard. When he pitched a second play to the Abbey, he gave himself the pen name "Hugh Leonard," kind of as an inside joke. The Abbey accepted that second play and out of superstition he kept the pen name, even though he hated the sound of it. His friends called him Jack.

He wrote for Ireland's first radio soap opera, a show called The Kennedys of Castleross,and he got a job editing scripts for a Manchester television station. At night, he worked on his own projects. He wrote a stage adaptation of one of James Joyce's books, A Portrait of the Artist, which was called Stephen D. It was a huge hit in England, Ireland, and New York. So he started adapting other big literary works for stage and television, and made plays of books by Dostoyevsky, Brontë, and Flaubert. He made television screenplays out of Charles Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities and Great Expectations.

But finally he wanted to shake his reputation as an adapter and to write plays based on his own experiences. He wrote an autobiographical play called Da, and it was a smashing success, running to sold-out audiences in the late 1970s in Dublin, Chicago, London, Off-Broadway and on Broadway. Critics compared him Sean O'Casey, and Da wonfour Tony Awards, including for best play. It was made into a movie starring Martin Sheen.

Hugh Leonard never got out of bed before 11:15 a.m., and he wrote four hours every afternoon and another four hours in the early morning. He said, "I live to write and write to live." He died just last year, in 2009, at the age of 82.

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

He wrote a lot about Dalkey, the seaside town in Ireland where he grew up. He said: "The conversation in pubs, say the advertisements put out by the Tourist Board, is sparkling with epigrams. This is fiction: What you get is one monologuist waiting for another monologuist to pause for breath."

From the archives:

It was on this day in 1967 that the first issue of Rolling Stone was published. It was started by 21-year-old Jann Wenner, who dropped out of Berkeley and borrowed $7,500 from family members and from people on a mailing list that he stole from a local radio station, and with that money he managed to put together a magazine. The cover of the first issue featured John Lennon, and in it, Wenner wrote, "Rolling Stone is not just about music, but also about the things and attitudes that the music embraces." Today Rolling Stone has a circulation of about 1.4 million.

It's the birthday of poet Anne Sexton, (books by this author) born in Newton, Massachusetts (1928). She said: "As a young child I was locked in my room until the age of five. After that, at school, I did not understand the people who were my size or even the larger ones. At home, or away from it, people seemed out of reach. Thus I hid in fairy tales and read them daily like a prayer-book. Any book was closer than a person."

She got married, had two children, and became a housewife. But she had nervous breakdowns, and her therapist suggested that she try writing poetry. So in 1957, she went to a writing workshop. She became friends with Maxine Kumin, Sylvia Plath, Robert Lowell, W.D. Snodgrass. She published a few poems, then a collection, and soon she was publishing book after book — popular books — including All My Pretty Ones (1962) and Live or Die (1966), which won the Pulitzer. But her marriage was falling apart, she drank too much, and her depression took over. In 1974, she committed suicide at the age of 46. She had put together one last book, The Awful Rowing Toward God (1975), and it was published after her death.

She wrote:
My dear it was a moment
to clutch at for a moment
so that you may believe in it
and believing is the act of love, I think,
even in the telling, wherever it went.

It's the birthday of astronomer Carl Sagan, (books by this author) born in New York City in 1934. His father was a Ukrainian immigrant who worked in a coat factory, and his mother was a housewife. He went on to become a great scientist. He studied and taught at several prestigious universities and helped advance the study of astronomy and the U.S. space program. And he published a number of books that helped regular people understand ideas about the universe, including Dragons of Eden: Speculations of the Evolution of Human Intelligence (1977), which won the Pulitzer Prize, and Cosmos (1980), which is considered the best-selling science book ever published in English. He also wrote a science fiction novel, Contact (1985), which was made into a film in 1997.

He said, "Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known."

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
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