Fearing a Poet’s Power

Ricky Greenfield died last month. He was an accomplished businessman who, steadfast in his intolerance, became my literary benefactor. And for that I remain grateful. Many years ago, Greenfield bought the Connecticut Jewish Ledger, a weekly that circulated around the state and once — in the golden age when people actually read newspapers — hadContinue Reading

Make Lunch, Write a Book

How do books come about? The most common way is when a writer gets an idea and then slaves over that idea for anywhere from ninety days (the remarkable achievement of memoirist Carlos Eire, in “Waiting for Snow in Havana”) to a decade (Chad Harbach’s “The Art of Fielding”) or more. Another method of creation:Continue Reading

The John McPhee Reader

John McPhee’s work appears in nearly every writing class I teach. I offer it as a prime example of the carefully constructed and compelling narrative, though I have little interest in the subjects he writes about. I was never curious, for example, about the geology of the Grand Tetons or the intricacies of cattle brandingContinue Reading

Writing, Italian Style

They’ve gone. They’ve packed their laptops, narratives and memories of a week together on the Amalfi Coast. Here, they read and critiqued (with love) each other’s work. They laughed and cried and hugged and, when parting, swore to stay in touch. We all ate meals so irresistible it seemed we could raise funds for theContinue Reading

Writing LBJ

An hour before the curtain of “All the Way” at the Neil Simon Theater, two middle-aged women walked past the marquee and saw the oversized photograph of Bryan Cranston as Lyndon Baines Johnson. “Look,” said one. “It’s Mr. White. I didn’t know he was on Broadway.” Referring, of course, to Cranston’s breakout role in “Breaking Bad”Continue Reading

Amalfi Calls Wally Again

That’s Wally Lamb and yours truly looking at something in Praiano. Our gazes are upwards, obviously, so it’s not likely we’re peering at the unrepentant goat that ate Suzanne’s silk scarf. It may just be that we’re admiring the hillside town itself where Wally, Suzanne and I spent  a week last March with the firstContinue Reading

A Toast to Billy Collins

About thirty minutes before the reading by Billy Collins on Wednesday evening, the gates closed at Hill-Stead Museum.  No more cars could be accommodated. It was another poetry traffic jam in Farmington, Ct. By then 1,600 people filled Hill-Stead’s sunken garden. As they awaited the former U.S. Poet Laureate, another 96, many in party attire,Continue Reading

Carolyn Forche and Col. Gaddafi

The subject of the nefarious Colonel did not come up right away. First, there was more digestible dinner conversation in the hour before Carolyn Forche’s recent reading at the Sunken Garden Poetry Festival. Though she is known  especially for exposing human rights violations, Carolyn recounted a very different phenomenon –a new form of, well, ghostContinue Reading

Not Writing Excuses

Usually, the excuses are along the lines of: I don’t have time to write. (Translated: I’d rather watch the George Zimmerman trial.) I’m not sure I can do it. (Translated:I have a thin skin.) I’ll get around to it someday. (Reality: Someday never comes.) But here is something different, a humanitarian excuse. It is fromContinue Reading

Writing Eulogies: ‘Infidelity’ Version

Jerry Price’s daughter, Heather, called recently with news about her dad, my only close friend from the Vietnam War. He had suffered a severe stroke, and then, as the days passed, his condition deteriorated. He died last Monday at a hospice in rural Missouri. Heather asked if I would write a eulogy. I complied, ofContinue Reading