William Zinsser: On Writing Well

Journalist and writing teacher William Zinsser says in his book, On Writing Well: “I’m occasionally asked if I can recall a moment when I knew I wanted to be a writer. No such blinding flash occurred. I only knew that I thought I would like to work for a newspaper.”

Zinsser, who was born on this day 92 years ago, on October 7, 1922, got his wish. He worked for the newspaper of his dreams – the New York Herald Tribune – before teaching writing at Yale, at the New School and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. His book, On Writing Well, is a classic guide for non-fiction writing. First published in 1976, it’s still relevant today. [Read more…]

TS Eliot, ‘mixing memory and desire’

TS Eliot
TS Eliot

Today is the birthday of TS Eliot (September 26, 1888 – January 4, 1965). I still remember how strange and romantic it felt when I first read The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock in my last or penultimate year in high school.

Let us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherised upon a table…

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The metrical foot: Foot and meter in poetry

I just came across this poem by Coleridge explaining metrical feet, the unit of measurement in poetry. He wrote it for his son, Derwent.

 A metrical foot is a set of syllables, usually two or three, only one of which is normally stressed, as in the words, po´-em and po´-et-ry. The first syllable is stressed in both these words when we say them. Poetry was meant to be recited, read aloud, so syllables count. A set of two syllables is called a trochee when the first syllable is stressed, as in po´-em. A set of three syllables is called a dactyl when the first syllable is stressed, as in po´-et-ry. The words come from Latin and Greek, like poem and poetry.

Here is Coleridge’s poem.

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The Autobiography of an Unknown Indian

Nirad C Chaudhuri
Nirad C Chaudhuri

He was more than 50 years old when his first book was published; he moved from Delhi to Oxford when he was 73 and died there in 1999 at the ripe old age of 101.

Nirad C Chaudhuri was an extraordinary man. His first book, The Autobiography of an Unknown Indian, was hailed by VS Naipaul as perhaps “the one great book to have come out of the Indo-British encounter”.

Chaudhuri was “possibly the finest Indian writer of English in the whole of the 20th century,” says Ian Jack in his foreword to the autobiography, “and certainly the finest in the first three quarters of it before the burst of Indian writing in English that followed the publication of Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children.” [Read more…]

Poetry Please: The 10 most popular poems

Here are the top 10 on Poetry Please, the 10 most popular poems on the longest running poetry programme broadcast anywhere in the world, according to the BBC. Started in 1979, the BBC 4 programme presents poems requested by listeners. It reaches two million listeners a week. The top 10 list is from the book, Poetry Please. The poet Roger McGough, who presents the weekly programme, says in his foreword to the book: “The 350 poems here have all been asked for more than once in the programme’s history…” The top 10 includes some of my own favourites. (See also Selected Poems)



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