Jan. 22, 2011


by Howard Moss

Now are we saying goodbye?
I think so but can't be sure.
The last phone call but one
Left everything up in the air.
When you called last, did you mean
What you said when you said you meant
To say that this call would be
The last if I didn't call?
In fact, I'm not sure at all
If you called or I called you back.
And did you say "goodbye,"
Or I say "good night" and you
Say "Do you mean ‘good night'
Or ‘goodbye'?" I think it was you.
And what were you trying to do
When you said, "You said we're through?"
How could that be since you
Were the first to bring it up?
I don't think it's what I said,
Though you keep saying I did.
In any case, now that you know
That you know what I meant to say,
Why don't you say what you mean?
I mean if you mean to say
That the last call was the last.
I think that that would be best.
If something is finished, it's just
As well to get up and go.
If you're interested still to know,
I like a slate wiped clean,
And if you would pick up the phone,
I'd tell you what I mean.

"Circle" by Howard Moss, from New Selected Poems. © Atheneum, 1985. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of Aryn Kyle, (books by this author) born in Peoria, Illinois, in 1978. Her first novel, The God of Animals (2007), was an award-winning international best-seller.

She always wanted to be a writer. And in the fourth grade she really, really wanted a puppy. But she couldn't have one, so she spent most of that year working on a novel about a magic puppy. In fifth grade, her parents got her a puppy, and when they did she abandoned the novel. But she kept writing fiction, and even years later sometimes still wrote stories about young girls who like animals. One of those stories, "The Foaling Season," was published in The Atlantic Monthly, and it won the National Magazine Award for Fiction. "The Foaling Season" became the first chapter of her first novel, The God of Animals (2007). Four days after she finished the draft, the novel sold. When it was published, critics called her one of the best young novelists in America.

She's not a daily writer or a rigidly disciplined one. In fact, she said, "I tend to have two speeds when it comes to writing: All The Time; and Not At All." She said: "Months pass in which I don't work at all. But when I am writing, that's all I do. I hardly sleep, hardly eat, hardly have any contact with the outside world. I stop answering my phone, I don't respond to emails, I forget to pay my bills. This is neither terribly healthy nor terribly good for my social life, but I try to remind myself that Emily Dickinson lived in an attic, which makes me feel well adjusted by comparison."

She said that as she gets older, she trusts this process more. "I can only loaf around for so long before I start to feel pent-up and anxious, before I feel a skittish energy begin to build inside of me, and then I know it's time to get back to work."

She loves the thrill of beginning a new story and she loves the glory of finishing a first draft. But all of that time writing in between can be difficult and discouraging, she said, like "digging through concrete with a salad fork" or being "adrift in threads that don't tie together and arcs that go nowhere." At that point, she says, there's nothing to do but "clench your jaw and power through."

She said: "Finishing a story is truly the most amazing experience in the world. ... It's like being on the most fantastic, perfect drugs. I feel like I can fly. Literally. Everything I've ever written has been finished around 3:00 in the morning — probably because I write at night — and when I'm done, I'm filled with so much adrenaline, I can hardly contain myself. I want to go running or dancing or find a trampoline."

Her most recent book, which was published last spring, is a short-story collection called Boys and Girls Like You and Me (2010). In it, she writes:
"She wasn't bored, not exactly. There were a lot of things she liked about Mark. His jawline smelled like crayons and freshly cut grass. His hands were always clean. At night, he curled his body around her in bed, one arm beneath her neck, the other looped across her waist. She would press herself into the warm weight of him and feel his breath, damp and hot on her throat. And in that foggy place between sleep and waking, he could have been anyone. That was what she liked most about him: In the darkness, he became whomever she wanted."

From the archives:

It's the birthday of the poet Howard Moss, born in New York City (1922). A quiet, unassuming man, he served as poetry editor of The New Yorker magazine for almost four decades. When he was asked his definition of a good poem, Howard Moss said: "One I like."

It's the birthday of the philosopher, essayist, and statesman Francis Bacon, (books by this author) born in London (1561). His main contribution to philosophy was his application of the inductive method of modern science. He supported full investigation and rejected any rational theories based upon incomplete or insufficient data. Francis Bacon said, "Prosperity is not without many fears and distastes; and adversity is not without comforts and hopes."

It's the birthday of the Romantic poet Lord Byron, (books by this author) born George Gordon Noel in London, England (1788). His father was nicknamed "Mad Jack," was deeply in debt, made his living by seducing rich women, and may have killed his first wife.

Byron was the product of his father's second marriage. He was a poorly behaved child. After college, he went off to travel in the eastern Mediterranean and kept a diary of his adventures there. He turned it into a book-length poem, Child Harold's Pilgrimage. It was published between 1812 and 1818, and it made Byron one of the most popular poets of his time.

Byron wrote many more books of poetry, including Don Juan (1819). He lived a life of controversy and excess, so when he died at age 36, his friend burned Byron's unpublished memoirs before he had even been buried.

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®




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