Mar. 29, 2012

Where Am I?

by Richard Cecil

Beyond the waves that lap the sandy beaches
my balcony looks down on, there must be
no distant shoreline, only open sea
that stretches toward the west until it reaches
the sky to make an infinite horizon,
which the sun sinks into with a hiss
of surf as afternoon and evening kiss
good night and sky turns on its constellations.

The only sounds allowed besides the surf
are cries of gulls and very distant swimmers
and snapping flags so twisted by the wind
it's impossible to say who rules this turf,
the Kingdom of the Endless Perfect Summers,
which I move to every winter in my mind.

"Where Am I?" by Richard Cecil, from Twenty First Century Blues. © Southern University Press, 2004. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Today is the birthday of the poet R.S. Thomas (books by this author), born Ronald Stuart Thomas in Cardiff, Wales (1913). Most of his poems were about the Welsh landscape and its people. He was an Anglican clergyman, as well as a poet, until 1978, when he retired and devoted himself to the cause of Welsh nationalism. He often grew frustrated with his fellow countrymen, though, blaming them for letting their culture fade away into history. In his poem "Welsh Landscape," he called them "an impotent people, sick with inbreeding / worrying the carcass of an old song." He didn't learn the Welsh language until he was 30, and though he wrote his poetry in English, he wrote his autobiography in Welsh. He called it Neb (1985), meaning "nobody."

He was a Luddite, viewing modern conveniences as distractions that cause us to neglect our spiritual health. He and his wife Elsi lived in a small and almost primitive stone cottage for much of their marriage, and their son, Gwydion, remembered his father preaching against the evils of the refrigerator and the washing machine from his pulpit. His poems were as austere as his lifestyle, and he once wrote: "A recurring ideal, I find, is that of simplicity. At times there comes the desire to write with great precision and clarity, words so simple and moving that they bring tears to the eyes."

It's the birthday of author, actor, and comedian Amy Sedaris (books by this author). She was born in Endicott, New York, in 1961, and she grew up in Raleigh, North Carolina. She's written two satirical homemaking books, I Like You: Hospitality Under the Influence (2006) and Simple Times: Crafts for Poor People (2010).

In an interview with The Believer magazine, she revealed that the whole Sedaris clan is fascinated by anything morbid. "We read everything we can about diseases and physical deformity...We were so protected in North Carolina. In New York, you see it all. But growing up in Carolina, we were never exposed to much fringe culture. ... David and I still collect anything we can about physical abnormalities. There's a place here in New York where you can get antique skin-disorder books in color. They're really beautiful photographs. But they put black tape over people's eyes so you couldn't ... recognize them. Like they needed the anonymity, because who else is going to have that growth coming out of their neck, right?"

It's the birthday of Alexandra Fuller (1969) (books by this author). She was born in Glossop, England, but grew up in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). In 2002, she published her memoir, Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight, the story of her life as the child of white settlers caught up in Rhodesia's civil war. By the time she was seven, Fuller knew how to strip, clean, load, and fire a machine gun; she also knew never to sneak into her parents' bedroom at night, in case they mistook her for an intruder and shot her. She published another memoir called Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness (2011), and in it she tells the story of her mother, born in Scotland and raised in Kenya.

It's the birthday of the politician and author Eugene McCarthy (books by this author), born in Watkins, Minnesota (1916). When he retired from Congress, he became a writer, penning several books about politics, and many poetry collections, including Ground Fog and Night (1979) and Other Things and the Aardvark (1970).

Today is the birthday of novelist and screenwriter Judith Guest (books by this author), born in Detroit (1936). She started writing when she was 10, but never got past starting, and had the beginnings of several projects crammed in her desk drawers for many years. In the early 1970s, she read a how-to book on writing by Richard Perry, called One Way to Write Your Novel. She promised herself that, this time, she would start and finish a story. Three years later, she published her best-selling first novel, Ordinary People (1976), the story of a teenage boy, Conrad, and his family in the aftermath of his suicide attempt after his brother Buck dies in a sailing accident. The film adaptation won the Academy Award for Best Picture in 1980.

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