Alan Bennett

The Best Moments in Reading

July 30, 2014

“The best moments in reading are when you come across something—a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things—which you had thought special and particular to you. And now, here it is, set down by someone else, a person you have never met, someone even who is long dead. And it is as if a hand has come out, and taken yours
—Alan Bennett, The History Boys

Are there any writers you feel this way about?

Everyday adventures

Visitors, Both Welcome and Unwelcome

July 28, 2014

Last week my friend Kerri came to stay with me, a most welcome visitor. Kerri and I have been friends since college, and now have the misfortune to live at opposite ends of the country—me in Florida, and Kerri in Washington. We haven’t seen each other in more than a year, and there was much talking (an understatement), eating, puzzling and general merry-making. We crisscrossed the state meeting other friends, both mutual and new to me (hi, Deb!). Despite our late hours and our busy schedule, I feel refreshed and energized by her visit. There’s nothing like the tonic of time spent with a good friend.

I’ll share a few highlights of our simple pleasures and everyday adventures.

Beautiful St. Augustine:

Castillo de San Marcos

Aviles Street--purported to be the oldest in America

St. Augustine Lighthouse

View from the top of the lighthouse

Our 1000-piece puzzle. It was tough!

The beautiful Rainbow River (we floated down it on inner tubes with our friend LuAnne):

On the morning Kerri left, we had a most unwelcome visitor—a coral snake:

Prudy was stalking it (!!). We quickly got her and it out of there. 

My life would be barren without friends—they are essential for my happiness. I’m incredibly lucky to have the ones I have. I need to make sure that time with friends stays at the top of the priority list.

What have you done with your friends lately?

I miss her already

Catharine Savage Brosman

Knee-deep in Green

July 23, 2014

Photo courtesy Bill Davenport

Introduction by Ted Kooser: The Impressionists, on both sides of the Atlantic, gave us a number of handsome paintings of  rural scenes, and here’s a poem by the distinguished American poet, Catharine Savage Brosman, that offers us just such a picture, not in pigments but in words.

Cattle Fording Tarryall Creek

With measured pace, they move in single file,
dark hides, white faces, plodding through low grass,
then walk into the water, cattle-style,
indifferent to the matter where they pass.

The stream is high, the current swift—good rain,
late snow-melt, cold. Immerging to the flank,
the beasts proceed, a queue, a bovine chain,
impassive, stepping to the farther bank—

continuing their march, as if by word,
down valley to fresh pasture. The elect,
and stragglers, join, and recompose the herd,
both multiple and single, to perfect

impressions of an animated scene,
the creek’s meanders, milling cows, and sun.
Well cooled, the cattle graze knee-deep in green.
We leave them to their feed, this painting done.

American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation, publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of  Nebraska, Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2014 by Catharine Savage Brosman, whose most recent book of poems is On the North Slope, Mercer University Press, 2012. Poem reprinted by permission of Catharine Savage Brosman. Introduction copyright 2014 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction’s author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006.


Summer Rerun--Attention: Your Peppers Are Shriveled

July 21, 2014

Note: I'm taking a more relaxed approach to blogging this summer, so occasionally I'm going to rerun a previous post. I hope you enjoy this one, from 2010. 

This is what happens when 95 degrees meets inattentive gardener:

Here’s the same plant after a drink of water and a good night’s rest:

This little ornamental pepper is amazingly resilient—I’m sorry to say this is not the first time she’s wilted in the heat. Still, she survives, even after freezing temperatures in the winter and practically dying of thirst in the summer.

If you look closely, you’ll see a few peppers still a bit wizened from their lack of water. Just like the peppers, we often wear the battle scars of what we’ve been through—in our faces, in our eyes, in our hearts. Yet still we come back for more, still we reach upwards toward the light—even though sometimes that light scorches us. For us, a drink of water and a good night’s sleep may be only the beginning of what we need to recover. We may need a box of assorted chocolates, an hour of solitude, a friend’s ear, or even professional help.

If you’re struggling right now, wilting in the sun, reflect on what you really need to get through today, and the day after, and the day after that. Be an attentive gardener—don’t wait until your leaves are drooping and your peppers are shriveled before you give yourself that cool drink of water that makes all the difference. I promise you’ll feel better in the morning.


More Like the Movies?

July 16, 2014

Photo courtesy mconnors

“They say the movies should be more like life—I think life should be more like the movies.”
—Myrna Loy

Which movie(s) would you like your life to be more like?


The Afternoon Nap

July 14, 2014

When I was a child visiting my grandparents for the summer, my grandmother often insisted that I take an afternoon nap. I detested this practice because I didn’t need a nap: I was far too busy running through the cow pasture or swimming in the irrigation ditch or lying under a tree reading to take a nap. Plus I was far to old to be taking naps! What was wrong with her?! (I realize now she likely needed a break from me and the nap was her tactful way of corralling me for at least an hour. And yes, much to my chagrin, I often fell asleep while lying on my bed, staring at the ceiling.)

Naps are wasted on the young. I don’t know about you, but there are many days I’d love to have the simple pleasure of an afternoon nap! Occasionally, I do take one, but I live with pets who have no compunction about sleeping whenever and wherever they want to. Need proof?

Perhaps we should follow their example and indulge ourselves in an afternoon nap now and then this summer!

How do you feel about naps?

4th of July

Writing Our Names

July 09, 2014

Photo courtesy Ryan McGuire

Introduction by Ted Kooser: I’m especially fond of sparklers because they were among the very few fireworks we could obtain in Iowa when I was a boy. And also because in 2004 we set off the fire alarm system at the Willard Hotel in Washington by lighting a few to celebrate my inauguration as poet laureate. Here’s Barbara Crooker, of Pennsylvania, also looking back.


We’re writing our names with sizzles of light
to celebrate the fourth. I use the loops of cursive,
make a big B like the sloping hills on the west side
of the lake. The rest, little a, r, one small b,
spit and fizz as they scratch the night. On the side
of the shack where we bought them, a handmade sign:
Trailer Full of Sparkles Ahead, and I imagine crazy
chrysanthemums, wheels of fire, glitter bouncing
off metal walls. Here, we keep tracing in tiny
pyrotechnics the letters we were given at birth,
branding them on the air. And though my mother’s
name has been erased now, I write it, too:
a big swooping I, a hissing s, an a that sighs
like her last breath, and then I ring
belle, belle, belle in the sulphuric smoky dark.

American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation  (, publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2013 by Barbara Crooker from her most recent book of poems, Gold, Cascade Books, 2013. Poem reprinted by permission of Barbara Crooker and the publisher. Introduction copyright ©2014 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction’s author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006.


This Week's Words to Live By

July 07, 2014

Do you ever have words or phrases pop into your head, seemingly from nowhere? I do—I had it happen to me this weekend, in fact. I’ve been working really hard the past couple of weeks, on both writing projects and around the house, and even though I was happy with what I’d accomplished, I was feeling a bit tired out. My mother-in-law was coming to spend the night with us, and I was looking forward to a three-day weekend. But sometimes it’s hard to switch from all-out work mode to relaxation mode. Fortunately, my subconscious kicked in with these words:

“This is your one, beautiful life. Enjoy it.”

So instead of fussing and over-working this weekend, I relaxed with my family. We sat on the lanai and floated in the pool. I made cinnamon waffles for breakfast and we ate ice cream while watching Independence Day on TV. Yesterday I slept in until 8 a.m.—almost unheard of because usually my pets wake me up long before that. Before I did anything, I asked myself, “What do you feel like doing now?” (Not “What should you be doing now?” “Should” was banished, at least for the weekend.)

Even though it’s Monday and time to get back to work, I’m going to continue to hold those words in my heart: “This is your one, beautiful life. Enjoy it.” Even while I’m cleaning bathrooms, or feeding the dog, or writing an article. This is my one, beautiful life.

What words will you live by this week?


The Way to a Joyful Life

July 02, 2014

“Experience has taught me that the way to a joyful life is always fraught with fear, that to find it you must follow your heart’s desires right through the inevitable terrors that arise to hold you back. If you don’t do this, your life will be shaped by fear, rather than love, and I guarantee, the shape will be narrow and tiny compared with your best destiny.”
—Martha Beck, The Joy Diet