Mar. 9, 2012

Saying It

by Philip Booth

Saying it. Trying
to say it. Not
to answer to

logic, but leaving
our very lives open
to how we have

to hear ourselves
say what we mean.
Not merely to

know, all told,
our far neighbors;
or here, beside

us now, the stranger
we sleep next to.
Not to get it said

and be done, but to
say the feeling, its
present shape, to

let words lend it
dimension: to name
the pain to confirm

how it may be borne:
through what in
ourselves we dream

to give voice to,
to find some word for
how we bear our lives.

Daily, as we are daily
wed, we say the world
is a wedding for which,

as we are constantly
finding, the ceremony
has not yet been found.

What wine? What bread?
What language sung?
We wake, at night, to

imagine, and again wake
at dawn to begin: to let
the intervals speak

for themselves, to
listen to how they
feel, to give pause

to what we're about:
to relate ourselves,
over and over; in

time beyond time
to speak some measure
of how we hear the music:

today if ever to
say the joy of trying
to say the joy.

"Saying It" by Philip Booth, from Lifelines. © Viking, 1999. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of a writer who called his books "the chewing gum of American literature." That's crime novelist Mickey Spillane (books by this author), born Frank Morrison Spillane in Brooklyn (1918). His Irish father was a bartender, and Spillane grew up in a tough neighborhood in Elizabeth, New Jersey. He worked odd jobs, including as a lifeguard, circus performer, and salesman. He was selling ties at a department store when he met a coworker whose brother produced comic books, and he was convinced to try writing some himself. Spillane worked writing comic prose for a year, then left to join up with the Army Air Forces after Pearl Harbor. After the war, he returned to comics. He said, "I wanted to get away from the flying heroes and I had the prototype cop," so he invented a private eye hero named Mike Danger. Danger was a flop, so Spillane renamed him Mike Hammer and wrote a novel instead.

I, the Jury (1947) took him just three weeks to write, and it was an instant hit. He turned out more than 30 novels, most of them featuring Mike Hammer, including Kiss Me, Deadly (1952), The Girl Hunters (1962), Body Lovers (1967), and The Killing Man (1989). His novels were incredibly violent, usually ending with Hammer executing people. The critics panned Spillane, but he didn't care. He said, "Those big-shot writers could never dig the fact that there are more salted peanuts consumed than caviar." He said he never had a character who drank cognac or had a mustache, because he didn't know how to spell those words. He said, "I have no fans. You know what I got? Customers. And customers are your friends." Spillane was incredibly popular — his books have sold more than 225 million copies.

It's the birthday of writer Vita Sackville-West (books by this author), born near Sevenoaks, England (1892). Her father was a baron, and she grew up at the family estate, Knole House, a Tudor mansion in Kent with a long history. The Archbishop of Canterbury had lived there until King Henry VIII took it away because he wanted it for himself. Knole House has 365 rooms, one for each day of the year.

She was educated at home by a governess, then went to an all-girls school. She started writing poetry at an early age, and by the time she was 18, she had written eight novels and several plays, some of them in French or Italian. She was beautiful, more than six feet tall, with dark, heavy-lidded eyes. She fell in love with several women, some of them her classmates. When she was 21, she married a diplomat, Harold Nicholson, even while she was in a passionate affair with another woman. She said of Nicholson: "Our relationship was so fresh, so intellectual, so unphysical, that I never thought of him in that aspect at all [...] Some men seem to be born to be lovers, others to be husbands; he belongs to the latter category." For his part, Nicholson had his own share of lovers. Despite their unconventional marriage, Sackville-West and Nicholson remained devoted to each other for the rest of their lives, writing each other daily when they were apart, and raising a son together.

In December of 1922, when Sackville-West was 30 years old, she met Virginia Woolf at a dinner party. Eventually they became friends, and then lovers. Sackville-West was the inspiration for the main character in Woolf's novel Orlando (1928). In 1927, busily working on her novel and jealous of Sackville-West's affair with a woman named Mary Campbell, Woolf wrote her a letter: "Suppose Orlando turns out to be about Vita; and its all about you and the lusts of your flesh and the lure of your mind (heart you have none, who go gallivanting down the lanes with Campbell) — suppose there's the kind of shimmer of reality which sometimes attaches to my people ... Shall you mind?"

Although she is best remembered as the inspiration for Orlando, Sackville-West was a successful writer in her own right. She wrote more than 15 novels and 10 books of poetry, including The Edwardians (1930) and All Passion Spent (1931). For the last 15 years of her life, she contributed a weekly gardening column called "In Your Garden" to the Observer. She wrote the columns just to make money, and even called them "beastly," but they are considered classics of garden writing, and still widely read today.

She wrote: "It is necessary to write, if the days are not to slip emptily by. How else, indeed, to clap the net over the butterfly of the moment?"

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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