Mar. 22, 2014


by Wendell Berry

How much poison are you willing
to eat for the success of the free
market and global trade? Please
name your preferred poisons.

For the sake of goodness, how much
evil are you willing to do?
Fill in the following blanks
with the names of your favorite
evils and acts of hatred.

What sacrifices are you prepared
to make for culture and civilization?
Please list the monuments, shrines,
and works of art you would
most willingly destroy

In the name of patriotism and
the flag, how much of our beloved
land are you willing to desecrate?
List in the following spaces
the mountains, rivers, towns, farms
you could most readily do without.

State briefly the ideas, ideals, or hopes,
the energy sources, the kinds of security;
for which you would kill a child.
Name, please, the children whom
you would be willing to kill.

"Questionnaire" by Wendell Berry from Leavings. © Counterpoint, 2010. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of novelist Louis L'Amour (books by this author), born in Jamestown, North Dakota (1908). He was the author of many novels, including How the West Was Won (1963) and The Quick and the Dead (1973). L'Amour wrote: "I just pointed my rifle at him ... and let him have the big one right through the third button on his shirt. If he ever figured to sew that particular button on again he was going to have to scrape it off his backbone."

It's the birthday of the lyricist and composer Stephen Sondheim, born in New York City (1930). He wrote his first musical when he was 15. When he was 27, he was offered a job writing lyrics for a new musical that would be a modern retelling of Romeo and Juliet, set in New York City. Sondheim wasn't sure he wanted to write lyrics without music, but he decided to take the job anyway, and the result was West Side Story (1957), which got mixed reviews on Broadway, but became a huge hit as a movie.

It's the birthday of the best-selling novelist in the world, James Patterson (books by this author), born in Newburgh, New York (1947). He was an executive for J. Walter Thompson, one of the largest ad agencies in the world. But he decided to retire and devote himself to writing. He has published more than 70 novels, and according to recent data, he outsells Stephen King, Dan Brown, and John Grisham combined.

It's the birthday of the man who said, "My poetry is suburban, it's domestic, it's middle class, and it's sort of unashamedly that, but I hope there's enough imaginative play in there that it's not simply poems about barbecuing." That's the poet Billy Collins (books by this author), born in New York City (1941). He was an only child. Before he even knew how to read, he would page through books and pretend that he was reading whenever his parents had company. He said: "I would say it was a fairly happy childhood. But they say he who says that is just better at repressing things." He wrote his first poem at the age of seven when he was driving with his parents and looked out the window and saw a sailboat on the East River.

He hasn't stopped writing poems since then. He said: "I was a most impressionable teenager back in the days of beatnik glory, so I responded fully to Kerouac, Ginsberg, Ferlinghetti's 'Coney Island of the Mind' — still a good title — Gregory Corso, and others. I was in Paris for a summer in the early sixties and hung self-consciously around the corners of the scene on the Boul Mich, as they called it. I sat at the same table with Corso and others, and I even hung around with an American girl named Ann Campbell, whom Realities magazine had called 'The Queen of the Beatniks.' (Let's see ... what did that make me??) But mostly I was a Catholic high school boy in the suburbs who fantasized about stealing a car and driving nonstop to Denver. I probably would have done it, but I didn't have access to those special driving pills Neal Cassady had. Plus, there was always a test to study for, or band practice."

His books include The Art of Drowning (1995), Sailing Alone Around the Room: New and Selected Poems (2001), Horoscopes for the Dead (2011), and most recently, Aimless Love (2013).

The first private screening of a motion picture took place in Paris on this date in 1895. Auguste and Louis Lumière had heard about Thomas Edison's new invention, the Kinetoscope. It was a peephole machine that pulled a strip of film in front of a light source, and to the viewer, the images on the film seemed to move. The Lumière brothers, who had a business selling photographic plates, decided to come up with a device to project the images on a screen so that more than one person could view them at a time. Their very first footage was a group of workers leaving the Lumière factory in Lyon. It was 46 seconds long, and they shot it only three days before its big premiere. They shot three versions, all pretty much the same: a man opens the big wooden gates of the factory, and a crowd pours out. The workers are mostly women in long dresses, aprons, and big hats, and there's a large dog running to and fro, barking. Sometimes there is a horse, or two horses, pulling a big dray, and that's how the different films are distinguished from one another: the one-horse, the two-horse, or the no-horse version.

The private screening was held at a conference of the Society for the Development of the National Industry. About 200 people attended, including Léon Gaumont, director of a prestigious photographic supply company who would go on to become a movie pioneer in his own right. The purpose of the conference was to discuss the latest industry developments, and the Lumière brothers were there to present advances they had made in color photography. To the Lumières' great surprise, however, the audience was much more interested in the moving black-and-white images than they were in any color photographs. Word spread rapidly, and they held more screenings and shot more short films, which they debuted before a paying public audience for the first time the following December. But despite all the buzz around their short films, the Lumières viewed motion pictures as nothing more than a fad. They said, "The cinema is an invention without any future."

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