Jan. 27, 2011


by Debra Allbery

No mountains or ocean, but we had orchards
in northwestern Ohio, roadside stands
telling what time of summer: strawberries,
corn, apples---and festivals to parade
the crops, a Cherry Queen, a Sauerkraut Dance.
Somebody would block off a street in town,
put up beer tents and a tilt-a-whirl.

Our first jobs were picking berries.
We'd ride out early in the back of a pickup---
kids my age, and migrants, and old men
we called bums in sour flannel shirts
smash-stained with blueberries, blackberries,
raspberries. Every fall we'd see them
stumbling along the tracks, leaving town.

Vacationland, the signs said, from here to Lake Erie.
When relatives drove up we took them to see
The Blue Hole, a fenced-in bottomless pit
of water we paid to toss pennies into---

or Prehistoric Forest, where, issued machine guns,
we rode a toy train among life-sized replicas
of brontosaurus and triceratops.

In winter the beanfield behind our house
would freeze over, and I would skate across it
alone late evenings, sometimes tripping
over stubble frozen above the ice.
In spring the fields turned up arrowheads, bones.
Those slow-pacing glaciers left it clean and flat here,
scraping away or pushing underground what was before them.

"Produce" by Debra Allbery, from Walking Distance. © University of Pittsburgh Press, 1991. Reprinted with permission.

It's the birthday of writer Julius Lester, (books by this author) born in St. Louis, Missouri (1939), whose dozens of children's books have won dozens of major awards.

He grew up wanting to be a musician, not a writer, and the first thing he published was instructional book, once co-authored with Pete Seeger, on how to play the 12-string guitar. His more than 40 books include How Many Spots Does a Leopard Have? (1989), a retelling of African-American and Jewish folk tales, Let's Talk about Race (2004), Ackamarackus: Julius Lester's Sumptuously Silly Fantastically Funny Fables (2001), When Dad Killed Mom (2001), and On Writing for Children and Other People (2004). He has published several novels for adults as well as more than 200 essays and reviews over the past half century.

On this day 93 years ago, modernist fiction writer Katherine Mansfield (books by this author) wrote to editor and essayist John Middleton Murry, whom she'd been dating for more than seven years:
"It is ten minutes past eight. I must tell you how much I love you at ten minutes past eight on a Sunday evening, January 27th 1918.
I have been indoors all day (except for posting your letter) and I feel greatly rested. Juliette has come back from a new excursion into the country, with blue irises — do you remember how beautifully they grew in that little house with the trellis tower round by the rocks? — and all sort and kinds of sweet-smelling jonquils. The room is very warm. I have a handful of fire, and the few little flames dance on the log and can't make up their minds to attack it.
There goes a train. Now it is quiet again except for my watch. I look at the minute hand and think what a spectacle I shall make of myself when I am really coming home to you. How I shall sit in the railway carriage, and put the old watch in my lap and pretend to cover it with a book — but not read or see, but just whip it up with my longing gaze, and simply make it go faster.
My love for you tonight is so deep and tender that it seems to be outside myself as well. I am fast shut up like a little lake in the embrace of some big mountains. If you were to climb up the mountains, you would see me down below, deep and shining — and quite fathomless, my dear. You might drop your heart into me and you'd never hear it touch bottom.
I love you — I love you — Goodnight.
Oh Bogey, what it is to love like this!"

They got married that spring, in early May 1918 — but then split up two weeks after their wedding. They reunited shortly later and moved to a villa in Italy, since Katherine was ill with tuberculosis and they hoped the climate would help her health improve. They fought a lot, and less than a year after their wedding date they had taken to living separately.

But it was during that passionate and tumultuous period after their marriage that Katherine Mansfield Murry worked on her famous short story "The Man Without a Temperament," published in 1920. It's a modernist story about marriage, with not a lot of plot, and it features a woman named Jinnie Salesby, who suffers from chronic heart disease, and her long-suffering husband, Robert. It begins:
"He stood at the hall door turning the ring, turning the heavy signet ring upon his little finger while his glance travelled coolly, deliberately, over the round tables and basket chairs scattered about the glassed-in veranda. He pursed his lips — he might have been going to whistle — but he did not whistle — only turned the ring — turned the ring on his pink, freshly washed hands."

From the archives:

It's the birthday of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, born in Salzburg, Austria (1756). His whole life was devoted to music. He was a child prodigy: by the time he was five he could perform difficult pieces on both piano and violin. He made a name for himself as a composer when he was in his teens, and he went on to write some of the most popular operas of all time, including The Marriage of Figaro (1786), Don Giovanni (1787), and The Magic Flute (1791).

He died at the age of 35, while he was in the middle of composing his last piece, Requiem in D, which he wrote as his own funeral march.

It's the birthday of Lewis Carroll, (books by this author) born Charles Lutwidge Dodgson near Daresbury, Cheshire, England (1832). He is best known as the author of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1865) and its sequel, Through the Looking Glass (1872), and for the characters the Mad Hatter, the March Hare, the White Rabbit, and many others. Carroll was also a gifted mathematician and photographer. His photographs of children are still considered remarkable to this day.
Carroll always felt at ease around children. It has been rumored that his stammer would disappear while he talked with children. Nobody can say for certain if this is true, but Carroll was well known as a storyteller, and he liked telling his stories to children. He first came up with the idea for Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by telling stories to the children of the dean of Christ Church Oxford, who had a daughter named Alice.

Carroll enjoyed massive success from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, and his pseudonym grew into an alter ego that became famous in its own right. Even today, more people know the legends surrounding Lewis Carroll better than they know the biography of the real man, Charles Lutwidge Dodgson. The stories of Alice and her adventures in the strange wonderland have remained popular to this day. Many readers speculate on the underlying meaning of the tales, but Carroll himself said he only intended the tales as carefree fantasy and nothing more.

Lewis Carroll said, "If only I could manage, without annoyance to my family, to get imprisoned for 10 years, without hard labour, and with the use of books and writing materials, it would be simply delightful!" And, "If you set to work to believe everything, you will tire out the believing-muscles of your mind, and then you'll be so weak you won't be able to believe the simplest true things."

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