Monday, January 2, 2012

The Writer's Almanac for January 2, 2012

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Jan. 2, 2012

The Writer's Almanac with Garrison Keillor

Joyce Sutphen - Visit the Writer's Almanac Bookshelf to read an interview with Minnesota's new Poet Laureate


Winter Thanks

by Marcus Jackson

To the furnace—tall, steel rectangle
containing a flawless flame.
                     To heat

gliding through ducts, our babies
asleep like bundled opal.

every furry grain of every
warm hour, praise each
                     deflection of frost,

praise the fluent veins, praise
the repair person, trudging
                     in a Carhartt coat

to dig for leaky lines, praise
the equator, where snow
                     is a stranger,

praise the eminent sun
for letting us orbs buzz around it
                     like younger brothers,

praise the shooter's pistol
for silencing its fire by
                     reason of a chilly chamber

praise our ancestors who shuddered
through winters, bunched
                     on stark bunks,

praise the owed money
becoming postponed by a lender
                     who won't wait

much longer in the icy wind,
praise the neon antifreeze
                     in our Chevrolet radiator,

and praise the kettle whistle,
imitating an important train,
                     delivering us

these steam-brimmed sips of tea.

"Winter Thanks" by Marcus Jackson, from Neighborhood Register. © Cavan Kerry Press, 2011. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Today is the birthday of Isaac Asimov (1920) (books by this author). He was born in Petrovichi, Russia, and his family immigrated to the United States when he was three years old. He grew up in Brooklyn, where his family ran a candy store. He wrote or edited more than 500 books, many of them works of popular science, and he was on of the major science fiction authors of the 20th century.

Asimov said, "Writing, to me, is simply thinking through my fingers."

It's the birthday of playwright Christopher Durang (1949) (books by this author), born in Montclair, New Jersey. His father was an architect, and an alcoholic; after Durang was born, his mother had three stillborn babies, so he remained an only child. His parents divorced when he was 19, which he has said he was grateful for. "My father knew the charming side of my mother," he said, "and my mother thought that he was attentive and pleasant and was an architect, which was a respectable profession, but I don't think that they actually got to know one another deeply."

He was raised Roman Catholic, went to a high school where he was taught by monks, and thought he might become a monk himself. Instead, he became a playwright, and when he was 28 years old, he had his first big success with the play Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All for You (1979), which The New York Times described as "a satire about a demonic Catholic school nun." He went on to write Beyond Therapy (1981), Baby with the Bathwater (1983), and most recently, Why Torture is Wrong, and the People Who Love Them (2009).

On this date in 1974, President Nixon signed a law setting the national speed limit at 55 miles per hour. The Emergency Highway Energy Conservation Act was a response to an oil embargo put in place by the Arab members of OPEC — the Organization for Petroleum Exporting Countries — in protest of the United States' support of Israel. Gas prices went up 40 percent, block-long lines at the pumps were an everyday occurrence, and it wasn't uncommon to see signs reading "Sorry, no gas today" in front of your local filling station.

The western states, with their wide-open spaces and straight highways, complained bitterly about the new national law, but they complied. Gas prices continued to be high even after the embargo was lifted a couple of months later, and Americans began to look overseas, to Japanese cars that were smaller and more fuel-efficient.

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®

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