May 7, 2012


by Lynne Sharon Schwartz

The healthy plant outgrows its pot
the way a healthy child outgrows its clothes.
Don't let it suffer constriction. Spread the Sports
or Business section of the New York Times
on the dining room table. Find a clay pot
big enough for fresh growth. In the bottom
place pebbles and shards from a broken pot for drainage.
Add handfuls of moist black potting soil,
digging your hands deep in the bag, rooting
so the soil gets under your fingernails.
Using a small spade or butter knife,
ease the plant out of its old pot with extreme
care so as not to disturb its wiry roots.

The plant is naked, suspended from your hand
like a newborn, roots and clinging soil
exposed. Treat it gently. Settle it
into the center of the new pot, adding soil
on the sides for support—who isn't shaky,
moving into a new home ?
Pack more soil around the plant,
tapping it down till you almost reach the rim.
Flounce the leaves as you would a skirt. Then water.
Place the pot back on the shelf in the sunlight.
Gather the Sports section around the spilled soil
and discard. Watch your plant flourish.
You have done a good and necessary deed.

"Repotting" by Lynne Sharon Schwartz, from See You in the Dark. © Curbstone Books, 2012. (buy now)

It's the birthday of Archibald MacLeish (books by this author), born in Glencoe, Illinois (1892), whose most famous poem is "Ars Poetica" (1926). In it, he writes, "A poem should not mean / But be."

It's the 80th birthday of the poet Jenny Joseph (books by this author), born in Birmingham, England (1932). She's the author of the popular poem called "Warning," which begins, "When I am an old woman, I shall wear purple / With a red hat which doesn't go, and doesn't suit me." The poem won a 1996 BBC poll for "most popular post-war poem in the United Kingdom," and it inspired the Red Hat Society, whose members defiantly dress in purple and wear red hats, even if it doesn't suit them.

Today is the birthday of Australian novelist Peter Carey (books by this author), born in Bacchus Marsh, Victoria (1943). He worked in advertising during the 1960s, and took up writing at night. In the next 13 years he produced four novels—all of them rejected, until in 1974 his short-story collection, The Fat Man in History, made it to print and critical acclaim.

In America, his characters have been called "losers," but he calls them "battlers": "A battler," he explains, "is someone who struggles forever and will never, ever, really get anywhere. And in Australia that's a really honorable position." He's one of only two authors — the other being J.M. Coetzee — to win the Booker Prize twice, which he did for Oscar and Lucinda (1988) and True History of the Kelly Gang (2001).

His latest novel, The Chemistry of Tears, just came out this year (2012). He started off wanting to write about cars and engines, and ended up with a story about a 19th-century mechanical swan, and a 21st-century museum curator, whose task it is to reassemble it.

It's is the birthday of playwright, activist, and feminist Olympe de Gouges (books by this author), born in Montauban, France (1748) who said that if "Woman has the right to mount the scaffold; she must equally have the right to mount the rostrum." In the 1770s, de Gouges moved to Paris and became interested in politics. She wrote several pamphlets supporting the French Revolution, although she soon became disillusioned when the plights of women were ignored.

In 1791, in response to the new French constitution, she wrote Declaration of the Rights of Woman and the Female Citizen, which made the argument that the sexes were equal in nature, deserved equal sharing of property, and if both genders were treated as such, French society would be more stable.

Two years after its publication, de Gouges was arrested for sedition and sent to the guillotine.

It's the 200th birthday of Robert Browning (books by this author), born in the London suburb of Camberwell (1812). He was a voracious reader who amassed huge amounts of obscure information that he later used in poems. When he was 32, Browning wrote a fan letter to the popular but reclusive poet Elizabeth Barrett, igniting a lengthy correspondence that eventually resulted in their elopement to Italy.

It was there in 1860 that Robert came across what he described as an "old, square, yellow book," a collection of documents stemming from a tragic 1698 murder trial in Rome. He held onto the book for several years, believing it had dramatic potential, but didn't give it regular attention until 1864, when he began to spend "three quiet early morning hours" writing what became The Ring and the Book (1868), a four-volume novel in verse. Browning, who had spent most of his professional life overshadowed by his wife, was hailed as a genius. One previously hostile critic called it "the most precious and profound spiritual treasure that England has produced since the days of Shakespeare."

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