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Inch by Inch

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...

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