A text, or an epigraph, for what I am going to say: some lines from John Ciardi's poem about the Birdman of Alcatraz who was, among other things, a trickster of sorts. These words are from Ciardi's poem "Snickering in Solitary":
In every life sentence
some days are better than
others; even, sometimes,
better than being free.
And one other, the basic ethical and aesthetic principle I have tried to live by and act on all my life as a writer and find firmly stated in these lines by W.H. Auden, from his poem "The Cave of Making." Which is an elegy for another good poet—Louis MacNeice:
Even a limerick
ought to be something a man of
honor, awaiting death from cancer or a firing squad,
could read without contempt: (at
that frontier I wouldn't dare speak to anyone
in either a prophet's bellow
or a diplomat's whisper).
In the fall of 1940, a dark and dangerous year for our civilization. General Sir Archibald Wavell, commanding an ill-equipped, ragtag-and-bobtail...