Tuesday, 30 November 2010

The rap singers is taken the advantage of me

Courtesy of James Brown fanatic Brian Gorse, below are two intriguing handwritten letters from the late-Godfather of Soul. The first is a brief break-up letter written to a 'beautiful girl' named 'Princess D', in which Brown softens the blow of impending separation by offering her what I can only presume to be six thousand dollars. Rather less affectionate, however, is the second letter, in which Brown - one of the most sampled recording artists in history - reprimands an undisclosed recipient for not collecting all royalties owed to him by the record companies of various 'rap singers'.

Transcripts (edited slightly for readability) follow each image, both of which were supplied by Brian Gorse. Thanks Brian.

Image: Brian Gorse

Hi sport, Darling

I'm suggesting that we make this trip our last one, not that I don't care but it's not that you're not a beautiful girl. I hope our short relation— got you on the good foot. I'm going to give you another six thousand so you won't have to go work to quick but you'll be fine. I'll always be your friend.


To Princess D

Image: Brian Gorse

Dear Sir

To whom it may concern. I don’t know if you know God, but what you have done to me, you will not be successful very long and then you’ll know what it means to be taken the advantage of. I have more songs than any other, and the rap singers is taken the advantage of me. Not the singers but the record co. They owe me fortune and you are not collecting my money. You are big now you can be small (again).

James Brown

Some day?

Monday, 29 November 2010

Ezra Pound is obviously crazy

In addition to being one of the most influential figures in the world of modern poetry, highly-regarded American poet, editor and critic Ezra Pound also became one of the literary world's most controversial characters when, in 1945 - at which point he lived in Rome - he was arrested by the U.S. Army after recording hundreds of anti-American, anti-Semitic broadcasts for Italian radio. He was subsequently taken back to America where, following an insanity ruling, he spent 13 years in a psychiatric hospital in Washington, D.C.

Below: a letter written in 1943 by a shocked Ernest Hemingway - at one time a very close friend of Pound's and recipient of his invaluable support as a fledgling author - to Archibald MacLeish, in which he discusses the radio broadcasts, and other matters.

Transcript follows. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.


Aug I0

Dear Archie:

Thanks for sending the stats of Ezra's rantings. He is obviously crazy. I think you might prove he was crazy as far back as the latter Cantos. He deserves punishment and disgrace but what he really deserves most is ridicule. He should not be hanged and he should not be made a martyr of. He has a long history of generosity and unselfish aid to other artists and he is one of the greatest living poets. It is impossible to believe that anyone in his right mind could utter the vile, absolutely idiotic drivel he has broadcast. His friends who knew him and who watched the warpeing and twisting and decay of his mind and his judgement should defend him and explain him on that basis. It will be a completely unpopular but an absolutely necessary thing to do. I have had no correspondence with him for ten years and the last time I saw him was in 1933 when Joyce asked me to come to make it easier haveing Ezra at his house. Ezra was moderately whacky then. The broadcasts are absolutely balmy. I wish we could talk the whole damned thing over. But you can count on me for anything an honest man should do.

Was plenty worried about Kenny about three weeks ago. Is he okay? Give him my best.

Will be here about ten days more and then gone for two three months. If you come down you can use the house and catch yourself a good rest. Or you might come wherever we were and get a change of scenery and routine.

Whatever you do if you have time keep on writing me. Feel as though had an old friend back from the dead where, unfortunately, most of old friends now are. What the hell has become of John Peale Bishop by the way? He had such a good, disinterested love of letters and such a horrid wife.

I found the wire about Honoria's marriage when got back here. Where can I write her? Do you know? What is Sara's address?

Maybe I can get up to N.Y. by late November. Would like to take two months somewhere away from tropics and write something that would like to write. Haven't written a line now for just over a year.

Is there any chance that we might send guys to the war not to write govt. publications or propaganda but so as to have something good written afterwards? Do you think I have enough category to get any such assignment after finish work here? The British are useing both writers and painters that way. If we don't want such people maybe I could get a job with the British. I don't want to be a Lt.Col like Jimmy Sheean to whom I have always previously had to point out which end of a battlefield was which, and in the past year or so have discovered the great joy and vice of anonymity which is a fine good snotty vice, but it occurred to me that when finish up working it might be a good sound thing to do something like have outlined above. What do you think? Maybe I could be the accredited correspondent for the Library of Congress.

Write me about it seriously will you?

So long Archie. Love to the children and to Ada.


(Signed, 'Ernest Hemingway.')

Friday, 26 November 2010

To: My widow

On January 17th of 1912, following years of preparation, British explorer Capt. Robert Falcon Scott and his team reached the South Pole — an incredible feat that was quickly overshadowed upon arrival by the news that the race had already been won 33 days previous, by the Norwegians. Scott's team, demoralised and tired, soon began their ill-fated journey home. Below: a heartbreaking letter from Scott, written over the course of several days as conditions worsened on the return journey, in which, fearing the worst, he bids farewell to his wife and two-year-old son.

The bodies and possessions of Scott and his men were discovered on November 12th of 1912, eight months after their deaths. It is believed that the final three — Scott included — perished on March 29th.

Transcript follows.

(Source: Scott Polar Research Institute at Cambridge University; Image of Scott (centre) & his team, via Wikipedia.)

To: My widow

Dearest darling — we are in a very tight corner and I have doubts of pulling through — In our short lunch hours I take advantage of a very small measure of warmth to write letters preparatory to a possible end — the first is naturally to you on whom my thoughts mostly dwell waking or sleeping — If anything happens to me I shall like you to know how much you have meant to me and that pleasant recollections are with me as I depart —

I should like you to take what comfort you can from these facts also — I shall not have suffered any pain but leave the world fresh from harness and full of good health and vigour — this is dictated already, when provisions come to an end we simply stop where we are within easy distance of another depot. Therefore you must not imagine a great tragedy — we are very anxious of course and have been for weeks but on splendid physical condition and our appetites compensate for all discomfort. The cold is biting and sometimes angering but here again the hot food which drives it forth is so wonderfully enjoyable that we would scarcely be without it.

We have gone down hill a good deal since I wrote the above. Poor Titus Oates has gone — he was in a bad state — the rest of us keep going and imagine we have a chance to get through but the cold weather doesn't let up at all — we are now only 20 miles from a depot but we have very little food or fuel.

Well dear heart I want you to take the whole thing very sensibly as I am sure you will — the boy will be your comfort I had looked forward to helping you to bring him up but it is a satisfaction to feel that he is safe with you. I think both he and you ought to be specially looked after by the country for which after all we have given our lives with something of spirit which makes for example — I am writing letters on this point in the end of this book after this. Will you send them to their various destinations?

I must write a little letter for the boy if time can be found to be read when he grows up — dearest that you know cherish no sentimental rubbish about remarriage — when the right man comes to help you in life you ought to be your happy self again — I hope I shall be a good memory certainly the end is nothing for you to be ashamed of and I like to think that the boy will have a good start in parentage of which he may be proud.

Dear it is not easy to write because of the cold — 70 degrees below zero and nothing but the shelter of our tent — you know I have loved you, you know my thoughts must have constantly dwelt on you and oh dear me you must know that quite the worst aspect of this situation is the thought that I shall not see you again — The inevitable must be faced — you urged me to be leader of this party and I know you felt it would be dangerous — I've taken my place throughout, haven't I? God bless you my own darling I shall try and write more later — I go on across the back pages.

Since writing the above we have got to within 11 miles of our depot with one hot meal and two days cold food and we should have got through but have been held for four days by a frightful storm — I think the best chance has gone we have decided not to kill ourselves but to fight it to the last for that depot but in the fighting there is a painless end so don't worry. I have written letters on odd pages of this book — will you manage to get them sent? You see I am anxious for you and the boy's future — make the boy interested in natural history if you can, it is better than games — they encourage it at some schools — I know you will keep him out in the open air — try and make him believe in a God, it is comforting. Oh my dear my dear what dreams I have had of his future and yet oh my girl I know you will face it stoically — your portrait and the boy's will be found in my breast and the one in the little red Morocco case given by Lady Baxter — There is a piece of the Union flag I put up at the South Pole in my private kit bag together with Amundsen's black flag and other trifles — give a small piece of the Union flag to the King and a small piece to Queen Alexandra and keep the rest a poor trophy for you! — What lots and lots I could tell you of this journey. How much better it has been than lounging in comfort at home — what tales you would have for the boy but oh what a price to pay — to forfeit the sight of your dear dear face — Dear you will be good to the old mother. I write her a little line in this book. Also keep in with Ettie and the others— oh but you'll put on a strong face for the world — only don't be too proud to accept help for the boys sake — he ought to have a fine career and do something in the world. I haven't time to write to Sir Clements — tell him I thought much of him and never regretted him putting me in command of the Discovery.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Maybe it's just catharsis. But I think it's more.

On February 12th of 1965, having recently screened the show's pilot episode to NBC executives only to hear rumblings of negativity, Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry wrote the following letter to his agent in order to reiterate his vision for the show and make known his unwillingness to compromise its integrity just to make "a sale." Soon after, NBC did in fact reject that episode; however, having seen potential, they immediately ordered a second pilot. That episode — Where No Man Has Gone Before — was far more successful.

The first season of Star Trek premiered on September 8th, 1966.

Transcript follows.

(Source: P. Evans; Image: Gene Roddenberry, via.)

Desilu Productions Inc.

February 12, 1965

Mr. Alden Schwimmer
Ashley-Famous Agency
9255 Sunset Boulevard
Los Angeles 69, California

Dear Alden:

Have just talked to Oscar Katz in New York about present indefinite sales status of STAR TREK. I felt that all sides had been heard from but me and I owed it to Oscar that he understand my feelings clearly. And of course I want you to be in on any such conversation, so therefore am repeating it here in this letter and sending a copy to Ted in NYC.

First, about the STAR TREK pilot itself. Whether or not this was the right story for a sale, it was definitely a right one for ironing out successfully a thousand how, when and whats of television science fiction. It did that job superbly and has us firmly in position to be the first who has ever successfully made TV series science fiction a mass audience level and yet with a chance for quality and network prestige too.

We have an opportunity, like "Gulliver's Travels" of a century or more ago, to combine spectable-excitement for a mass group along with meaningful drama and something of substance and pride.

This particular story, whatever its other merits, was an ideal vehicle for proving this point to ourselves. And if the network wants to be partners in such ventures as these, they have to share some of the pain, responsibility and risk of this type of planning. Or they can have copies of other shows, or parallels, breaking no new ground, without any pain or risk at all. I'm quite willing, and I think capable, of giving it to them either way. In a sense, this has been sort of a test for me whether any brave statements I've heard are true.

Now, about the length of the pilot, etc. I agree it should be shorter and should be paced differently. It's my fault that it wasn't since I let myself be swayed by an arbitrary delivery date and did not take a day off and then look freshly at the whole picture before it went to negative cutting. This will not happen again. In future, of the two risks, I will risk violating contract provisions rather than sending out product readied only through weeks of sixteen hour a day fatigue. Where the agency can help here is early in the planning of a pilot, leaning hard on the network in those primary stages where they waste three, four and five weeks getting back to you with approvals on this and that. This plays a very large part in ending up with production dates which are bound to create problems.

Let me say about the foregoing, I was under no undue pressure from either Katz or Solow. Unlike most studio executives, they stayed off my back, contented themselves with merely pointing out the obvious contract delivery dates. Solow, whom I worked with most directly and intimately, was enormously helpful. One of the most pleasant and talented men I have ever had the pleasure to work with in this business.

Now, summarizing attitude on the pilot, I think even as it now stands, certainly with many things I'd still like to do with it, it is a good quality product.

For those at NBC who honestly do not like it, do not understand or dig it, do not believe it has audience potential, no complaints from me if they turn thumbs down. I have learned to applaud people who make decisions. But I have no respect or tolerance for those who say things like "If it were just a couple minutes shorter...", or "Yes, but if it were not so cerebral...", and such garbage. And I respectfully suggest to you as sale representatives for this product that tolerating or compromising with this kind of thinking could only lead to us making a bad show out of what could have been good. In other words, am wide open to criticism and suggestions but not from those who think answers lie in things like giving somewhat aboard a dog, or adding a cute eleven-year-old boy to the crew.

I'm not saying anyone has suggested the above. Or that you would stand still for it. But having been around television for some time, I do know that shows sometimes reach frantic sales moments in which things like that have been known to happen. And it's only fair to let you know I'm not that anxious to sell the show.

Which, I guess, is my central point. There seems to be a popular delusion that networks do people a favor by buying shows. I happen to think the truth is somewhat nearer the other direction -- that a man who creates a format and offers integrity and a large hunk of his life in producing it, offers much more than networks or advertisers can give in return. Therefore, it logically follows, that side has a right to some terms too.

Mine have not changed. And no matter how difficult or tenuous any negotiation for sale may become, they will not change.

a. We must have an adequate budget to do a show of this type.

b. We must have a time slot which gives us a chance, otherwise the labor involved is foolish and meaningless.

c. Network must give early notification that they are buying the show, or at minimum an early story order so scripts can be put into work.

d. Network must agree that any notifications of pickup or cancellation must be made early, or additional story orders must be made early enough to permit proper continuation of schedules.

Without the above, a sale would be completely meaningless for me. Have no desire to risk heart attack or ulcers without at least a fighting chance to make entertainment I can be proud of. If terms should turn out different, I will cooperate with all involved to find a producer who feels otherwise.

Incidentally, I've told both Oscar and Herb Solow I've had it with the audience testing thing. The fact that there was this enormous twenty point different between the two STAR TREK tests so far certainly must indicate to any sensible man these people are capable of gross error. And since they are obviously capable of this, I insist that this final test be run in number one position so it is at least a fair comparison with the last test. And no amount of statistical rationalization will budge me from this position. It's make or break with me, Alden. If they are going to use these tests (and we both know they give great weight to them despite anything they say), then they've got to at least give us the benefit of an even chance.

Although I've been nervous about STAR TREK for this couple of weeks of decision, actually it's been a good thing for me. Like a fever reaching a crisis point and then breaking. For the first time I think I see our particular and peculiar medium exactly for what it is. It has been and can be very good -- and if someone proves to me they want me to try for that level, I gladly will. On the other hand, without that proof, I intend to aim for safe copies and parallels of existing successes -- settle for doing it just two or three percent better than the next guy so that job and profits are always there, and I eat dinner every night at 6:00 p.m. with the children and have two days at home out of every seven to play horseshoes and putter in the garden. And do everything possible to move on into another medium.

Sorry, didn't mean to make this an epic poem. Maybe it's just catharsis. But I think it's more.


(Signed, 'Gene R')

Gene Roddenberry


cc: T. Ashley-New York

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

I don't support Clay's decision to refuse induction

"Ain't no Vietcong ever called me Nigger." - Muhammad Ali, 1966.
In a frank letter to friend William Reinmuth in May of 1967, retired heavyweight champion Rocky Marciano weighs in on the debate surrounding fellow boxer Muhammad Ali's public refusal, in 1966, to serve in the U. S. Army during the Vietnam War. The situation had further intensified when, at his official induction on April 28th of 1967, Ali's repeated refusal to step forward following the calling of his name had resulted in his arrest and, later that day, the loss of both his boxing license and title. On June 20th of that year, he was found guilty of violating the Universal Military Training and Service Act; four years later that decision was reversed by the Supreme Court.

Transcript follows. Image courtesy of REA.

Image: REA

Rocky Marciano Enterprises, Inc.

May 16, 1967

William Reinmuth, Jr.
C/O Sports Quest
500 West 114 Street
New York, New York

Dear Bill,

You are right about the growing public disgust for Clay regarding his decision not to fought in the "white man's army." Yes, I did take offense at that and some of his other statements. I can tell you that Barbara and I have been getting swamped with calls from the press all over the world wanting to know what we thought about Clay's situation.

I tell them what I've told you and everyone else up to now and that is I don't support Clay's decision to refuse induction. I understand that he is out Five thousand dollars bail and cannot get a passport to leave the country. I have heard that he will have plenty of grief if he tries to get licensed to fight in the states as well.

I spoke with Joe Louis again the other day and he told me that he reminded Clay that he wound up as better and prouder American as a result of his hitch in the Army. He said that Clay just went on about not being treated equal in his own country and that he wouldn't take part in killing on foreign soil and that he would fight on this soil so that his people would be recognized as equals here.

Sounds to me like he has been talking with his lawyers a hell of a lot, doesn't it? Will be in touch. Take care and "Keep Punching!"


(Signed, 'Rocky Marciano')

Rocky Marciano

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

The War is officially ended

On August 15th of 1945 - following six years of conflict, two atomic bombs, and the deaths of over 50 million people - Hirohito announced the surrender of Japan to the Japanese population, effectively bringing World War II to an end, and as word soon spread through various channels a sigh of relief slowly swept across the globe. Below is just one of many stirring letters sent to active troops in which the War's conclusion was officially announced. This particular example was received by Jack Hendricks, an officer in the 1st Marine Division of the U. S. Marine Corps.

Transcript follows. Image kindly - and very proudly - supplied by Jack Hendricks' great-granddaughter, Becky. Special thanks to reddit's fantastic history community for bringing the letter to my attention.

Image: Becky

Headquarters, First Marine Division,
Fleet Marine Force,
C/o Fleet Post Office, San Francisco, Calif.

20 August 1945.

To the Officers and Men of the First Marine Division:

The President of the United States, our Commander-in-Chief, has just announced the final and complete surrender of the Japanese people, government, and armed forces. The War is officially ended. This is an hour of triumph, of pride in the great accomplishments of our arms, and of joy that the bloody war which has taken so many of our comrades can claim no more.

You of the First Marine Division may well know an especial triumph, feel a particular pride, for yours was the force which first turned the tide against the Japanese. Many units have fought the Japanese in the past year, but it has been over three years since this Division struck the first offensive blow of the war on land, when it landed in the lower Solomon Islands. That historic campaign, fought under the greatest hardships, attracted the attention of the whole world -- and the name "Guadalcanal" came to be synonymous with Marine heroism, perseverance, and military achievement.

You have many memories. You have left your dead at Tenaru and Wana Draw, Bloody Nose Ridge and Target Hill, Matanikau and Dakeshi. You have fought through dense jungles, mighty swamps, and coral ridges, honeycombed with caves. You have endured much -- extreme heat, thirst, hunger, ceaseless exposure to wind and rain. You have borne the pain of long separation from home and family. Your life has been so Spartan that ordinary comforts have become as luxuries.

And now it is over. The enemy is vanquished, the field is won. And now, to you who have borne the flag of your country and the standard of your corps from Lunga Ridge to Shuri Castle, WELL DONE, and may God bless you.


Major General, U. S. Marine Corps,

Monday, 22 November 2010

A true Lovers Knot to thee my Dear I send

Popular amongst a small section of Pennsylvania Quakers in the late-18th and early 19th century, the 'True Lover's Knot' is both an undeniably romantic form of love letter and an impressively intricate, labyrinthian work of art of which very few examples still exist. Handcrafted using quill, brush and compass, the stunning knot seen below was written in 1801 by an itinerant Quaker schoolmaster named Hugh Pugh - then aged 54, approximately - and sent to one of his pupils, 20-year-old Mary Fisher. Its various geometric shapes are filled and surrounded by poetic messages in Pugh's copperplate script, and can be read fully, in any order, by rotating the paper.

Click image to enlarge. Image and subsequent transcript supplied by Meg Schultz, great-great-great granddaughter to the letter's recipient, Mary Fisher. Visit her blog for more background information. Enormous thanks, Meg.

Image: Meg Schultz


A true Lovers Knot to thee my Dear I send, An Emblem of true Love without an end, Crossing turning, winding in and out, Never ceasing turning round about. And as thee sees its Linkes and Crosses here, so hath thy Beauty prov'd to me a Snare, By observation of true Love I find I am bereaved of both ♥ and mind.

Most lovely fair one look with pity down, And do not on thy faithful Lover frown, But pardon him who ever doth thy Love desire, And ever will thy Beauteous form admire.

Therefore thou Lovely fair one let thy Beauty shine, With Beams of Comfort ravishing and divine, That so my raving Soul may by thy Love, Pass into Bliss if we both constant prove, Then shall these Crosses in this Knot of Love, Be all disdain'd if thou consenting prove.

Here is an Impression of my ♥ thee may see, Within this Knot that I present, to thee, Therefore thee may imagine that I am in grief, And none but thee can yield to me Relief, My ravished Soul doth ever long to see, The Marriage Knot so firmly ty'd between thee and me.


Why do I Love, go ask
the Alerious Sun
Why every Day he around the World doth run
Ask Thames and Tiber why they Ebb and flow
Ask Damask Roses why in June the grow.
They shew to us how everything doth move
Thus teaching them to that, and me
to Love.
Mary Fisher
Bedford County Decem'r 9th


There is but one
And only one
And I am only he
That loves but one
And only one
And thou art the only she
Requite me with like love again
And say thus unto me —
There is but one, And only one
And thou art the only he.
Mary Fisher


Accept lovely fair Maid
From thy neighbor and friend
Each wish that can friendship endear
May the bounty of Heaven propitiously endear
Long Life and Happy each Year.
May every enjoyment which prudence allow
Thy Life Long continue to Bless —
May Love and Esteem
Weave a Wreath for thy Brow
And thy Beauty be crown'd with Success.
Mary Fisher


As soon grief shall
sink into my ♥
2CUX my Love without desert (?)
You have a ♥, a double ♥, I fear.
2 great a X of ♥ oh ♥ forbear
A double XU are to me.

H Pugh [Monogram]

This Ring is round
And hath no end
So is my Love
To thee my Friend
Mary Fisher


Here I dare venture with my Love a lot (?)
In Half an Hour she does not read my Knot


And if she wins I'll freely pay my Debt,
But if she loses the I'll claim my Bett.


As for description, A begins thee will find,
E Ends the same, be constant in thy mind.


Lovers well know what it is to part,
When between 2 Lovers there is but one ♥

H Pugh [Monogram]


My ♥ you have
Your ♥ I crave

My ♥ you have

And leaves all other
Hearts behind.


If thou refuse me

I must say
thou art

An unconstant

With a double ♥

Friday, 19 November 2010

Together we can "BEAT IT"!

I'm suffering miserably from a bout of man-flu at the moment. As a tribute to its seemingly monstrous grip - and due in no small part to the fact that very little research is required when writing the introduction - I bring you a brief but endearing 'get well soon' letter, written by Michael Jackson in 1986 to a friend named Albert who at the time was in ill-health.

Notable if only for the perfect letterhead.

Transcript follows. Image courtesy of RR Auctions.

3 October 1986

Dear Albert,

I am sorry to hear that you are not feeling well. I know this must be a very difficult time for you. Whenever I am sick, I like to get a note from someone who cares. I hope you start feeling better soon. Sometimes it is hard to be strong, but I know that if you hang in there, together we can "BEAT IT"!

I love you,


Michael Jackson

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Bob Dylan: "Let John and Yoko stay!"

Having greatly agitated the powers-that-be as vocal and influential critics of the Vietnam War, in 1972 the Nixon administration, citing a 1968 conviction of cannabis possession as a previously-overlooked violation of immigration law, began deportation proceedings against John Lennon and his partner-in-peace, Yoko Ono. Naturally, an organised campaign to quash the attempt soon gathered speed, and before long a barrage of supportive letters - written by a plethora of people, famous or otherwise - landed at the doorstep of the U. S. Immigration and Naturalization Service.

Below: a handwritten plea, from Bob Dylan.

Transcript follows. Image courtesy of historian Jon Wiener, author of the utterly fascinating book, Gimme Some Truth: The John Lennon FBI Files.

Image: Jon Wiener

JUSTICE for John & Yoko!

John and Yoko add a great voice and drive to this country's so called ART INSTITUTION / They inspire and transcend and stimulate and by doing so, only can help others to see pure light and in doing that, put an end to this mild dull taste of petty commercialism which is being passed off as Artist Art by the overpowering mass-media. Hurray for John & Yoko. Let them stay and live here and breathe. The country's got plenty of room and space. Let John and Yoko stay!

Bob Dylan

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Don't try

In a letter to good friend, fellow poet, and founder of New York Quarterly magazine William Packard in 1990, then-70yr-old Charles Bukowski discusses the art of writing, reiterating his belief that a writer's words and ideas should come naturally, and not be forced. Four years later, Bukowski passed away. Carved into his headstone are the words, "DON'T TRY".

Transcript follows. Image courtesy of Bukowski.net.

Dec. 23, I990

Hello Wm Packard:

No, you're not down, maybe I'm down, sometimes I feel like my skivvies are down around my ankles and my butt is a target for hyena turds.

Listen, your Pincus is awful hard on the poets. I thought I was hard on the poets. Well, I'm glad I get by him. And he's right on WAITING. Only if the octipus has you in its tentacals you can't wait too long.

On WAITING I know what he means. Too many writers write for the wrong reasons. They want to get famous or they want to get rich or they want to get laid by the girls with bluebells in their hair. (Maybe that last ain't a bad idea).

When everything works best it's not because you chose writing but because writing chose you. It's when you're mad with it, it's when it's stuffed in your ears, your nostrils, under your fingernails. It's when there's no hope but that.

Once in Atlanta, starving in a tar paper shack, freezing. There were only newspapers for a floor. And I found a pencil stub and I wrote on the white margins of the edges of those newspapers with the pencil stub, knowing that nobody would ever see it. It was a cancer madness. And it was never work or planned or part of a school. It was. That's all.

And why do we fail? It's the age, something about the age, our Age. For half a century there has been nothing., No real breakthrough, no newness, no blazing energy, no gamble.

What? Who? Lowell? That grasshopper? Don't sing me crap songs.

We do what we can and we don't do very well.

Strictured. Locked. We pose at it.

We work too hard. We try too hard.

Don't try. Don't work. It's there. It's been looking right at us, aching to kick out of the closed womb.

There's been too much direction. It's all free, we needn't be told.

Classes? Classes are for asses.

Writing a poem is as easy as beating your meat or drinking a bottle of beer. Look. Here's one:


mother saw the racoon,
my wife told me.

ah, I said.

and that was
just about
the shape of things



Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Ghosts in the White House

On June 12th, 1945, then-U. S. President Harry Truman wrote the following letter to his wife, Bess. She had recently taken their daughter to visit relatives over the summer, and Truman's subsequent attempts to work had been somewhat hampered by the endless noises and draughts emitted by the White House; a building which at the time was desperately in need of repair. Truman's explanation for the "unbearable din", however, was slightly more imaginative.

Transcript follows. Image courtesy of The National Archives.


June 12, 1945

Dear Bess:- Just two months ago today, I was a reasonably happy and contented Vice-President. Maybe you can remember that far back too. But things have changed so much it hardly seems real.

I sit here in this old house and work on foreign affairs, read reports, and work on speeches — all the while listening to the ghosts walk up and down the hallway and even right in here in the study. The floors pop and the drapes move back and forth — I can just imagine old Andy and Teddy having an argument over Franklin. Or James Buchanan and Franklin Pierce deciding which was the more useless to the country. And when Millard Fillmore and Chester Arthur join in for place and show, the din is almost unbearable. But I still get some work done.

Hope the weather lets up and you will be able to do some work on the house. The Gibson boy should have been taken care of long ago. I'll see what's happened. I'm not able to do as many things for my friends now as I did when I was just a dirty organisation Democrat and a County Judge.

Guess you and Helen will have a grand time. Hope you do. We are working on Dr. Wallace. Glad everybody was in his right mind at the family party. Undoubtedly they were walking the straight and narrow for your mother. But I'm sure you had a nice time anyway.

That address mixed up is causing me some embarrassment (if that's the way you spell that blushing word.) I addressed a letter to you at 4701 Conn. Ave. Independence Mo., and another one 219 North Delaware, Washington, D. C. Now it seems I sent one to the Rolands. The boys in the House here didn't catch that one but they did the other two.

I'll have Reathal attend to the chores you suggest. I haven't seen her but twice since you left. She comes in after I go over to the office, usually goes out to lunch and doesn't come back until I am gone again and then goes home before I get over here.

Had Charlie Ross and Rosenman to lunch yesterday. We worked on my San Francisco speech. ,that date is postponed until next week now on account of the slow wind-up and Gen. Eisenhower's visit.

Write me when you can - I hope every day.

Lots of love.


Monday, 15 November 2010

A drunken evening with Groucho Marx

On December 17th of 1957, having recently attended the world premiere of Peyton Place, the ever-witty Groucho Marx sent the following brief letter to the movie's producer, Jerry Wald. Essentially a congratulatory note of thanks, Groucho's unflagging sense of humour shines through as, after first mentioning the ongoing Leonard Ewing Scott murder case, he proceeds to amusingly recount the film's drunken after-party at Romanoff's.

Transcript follows. Image courtesy of Walt McCord.

Image: Walt McCord

Groucho Marx

December 17, 1957

Mr. Jerry Wald
20th Century Fox Studios
P. O. Box 900
Beverly Hills, Calif.

Dear Jerry:

I can't tell you how much I enjoyed "Peyton Place." As a matter of fact, I CAN tell you. I enjoyed it very much.

I thought the courtroom scene could have been a little shorter, but the courtroom scene with L. Ewing Scott could also be shorter -- so who am I to cavil?

In addition to enjoying the picture, it seemed that the whole evening had been planned by a master hand. My De Soto was whisked away from the front of the theatre so swiftly that I arrived at Romanoff's in a Buick. There I rapidly got drunk, danced with Audrey Hepburn, looked down (and up) Jayne Mansfield's knockers, had a fine lobster dinner and spent a good half hour rubbing someone's legs under the table .... which, on investigation, turned out to be my wife's.

It was a bang-up evening .... and that's how I wound up.

Best to Connie.


(Signed, 'Groucho')

Groucho Marx


Thursday, 11 November 2010

There will be seven Harry Potter books altogether

On April 11th, 1998, having recently failed to scoop the Guardian Children's Fiction Prize for her debut novel, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, author J. K. Rowling responded to a young fan's good luck wish with the following handwritten letter. A few months later, in July, the second installment of her phenomenally successful Harry Potter heptalogy was released to much acclaim.

Sadly, the author who did win of the Guardian award - Henrietta Branford - passed away the next year.

Transcript follows. Image supplied by James Roach.

Image: James Roach

11th April 1998

Dear Thomas,

Thank you very much indeed for your card wishing me luck in the Guardian Children's Fiction competition. Unfortunately, I didn't win — a writer called Henrietta Branford did. But she's very nice, so I smiled bravely and said "Congratulations" and tried to look as though I didn't mind at all.

I am very flattered indeed to hear that "Harry Potter" is the best book you have ever read. There will be seven Harry Potter books altogether, and the second one ("Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets") will be in the shops at the start of July.,

Thank you again for writing. (Your handwriting is excellent, by the way).

Yours sincerely,

J. K. Rowling (Jo)

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Its true beauty, however, was that it worked

As he exited the Apollo Lunar Module on July 20th of 1969, ready to set foot on the Moon, Neil Armstrong's immediate safety was in the hands of an incredible feat of engineering that is often overlooked: his A7L Spacesuit and backpack. Built at Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center by ILC Dover and Hamilton Standard, respectively, this early Extravehicular Mobility Unit (EMU) was required to provide, amongst other things, the following: a safe internal pressure; breathable oxygen; a regulated temperature; shielding from radiation; protection from micrometeorites, and a communications system. In addition, the suit's eleven layers needed to provide ample levels of comfort and mobility so as to make it usable.

Below: a letter from Armstrong to the "EMU gang," written in 1994 to mark the 25th anniversary of the Moon landing, in which he thanks them sincerely for their highly important work on what he calls his "spacecraft."

Transcript follows.

(Source: Heritage Auctions; Image: Buzz Aldrin on the Moon, wearing the A7L Spacesuit, via.)

P.O. BOX 436

July 14, 1994

The EMU gang at
Johnson Space Center
Houston, TX 77058

To the EMU gang:

I remember noting a quarter century or so ago that an emu was a 6 foot Australian flightless bird. I thought that got most of it right.

It turned out to be one of the most widely photographed spacecraft in history. That was no doubt due to the fact that it was so photogenic. Equally responsible for its success was its characteristic of hiding from view its ugly occupant.

Its true beauty, however, was that it worked. It was tough, reliable and almost cuddly.

To all of you who made it all that it was, I send a quarter century's worth of thanks and congratulations.



Neil A. Armstrong


Tuesday, 9 November 2010

i'm still listening, it's fun

Below, from the pen of Iggy Pop, is a charming handwritten knock-back to a young Austrian fan named Heinz Riegler. Many years ago Riegler had, on the off-chance, sent Iggy a cassette tape containing his band's latest album, along with a letter in which he asked the Stooges frontman to feature on one of their songs. To Iggy's credit - and Riegler's surprise - a friendly response, albeit negative, soon materialised.

Transcript follows. Image courtesy of Heinz Riegler.


first, i wanna tell you i enjoy austria a lot and i think the culture from there is really important, also the countryside is beautiful. i'm from rural U. S. A, who gives a fuck?

anyway i appreciated the letter, i'm hoping to grow as a musician in future and i think the input from this correspondence can help me, if it doesn't completely fuck me up, hahaha!!! anyway i think the music (on the tape you sent) has some kind of good feeling to it, it's playing & i haven't wanted to turn it off yet, i'm on the third song now, i don't wanna sing on it, but—oh, that's pretty cool, the beginning of the 3RD song, i like that—or maybe that was the third song, anyway, good fucking luck & thanks, i'm still listening, it's fun,


(Signed, 'Iggy Pop')

Monday, 8 November 2010


Mid-1978, 18 months prior to the character eventually debuting in Uncanny X-Men #129, Marvel Comics artist John Byrne unveiled his new creation - Katherine "Kitty" Pryde - in an illustrated letter to writer Chris Claremont. Fans approved, and Kitty Pryde/Shadowcat has since become an integral part of the X-Men. Also of note in the letter: the introduction of a new '"modernized" costume, plus talk of a new team of "X-Men-in-training", an idea which would come to fruition in 1982 in the form of the New Mutants.

Transcript follows. Image courtesy of Jonathan Mueller, who bought the letter at auction in 2004 for $1625. Click here for larger version.

AGE: ABOUT 14·15
HEIGHT: 5'5"
WEIGHT:97 lbs



POWERS that spring to mind for the last two names:

She's an Intangible, able to make herself transparent, in a visual and physical sense, floating on air currents, walking thru walls.


(Signed, 'JOHN')

Friday, 5 November 2010


On July 18 of 1969, as the world waited anxiously for Apollo 11 to land safely on the surface of the Moon, speechwriter William Safire imagined the worst case scenario as he expertly wrote the following sombre memo to President Nixon's Chief of Staff, H. R. Haldeman. Its contents: a contingency plan, in the form of a speech to be read out by Nixon should astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin become stranded on the Moon, never to return, followed by some brief instructions relating to its broadcast. Luckily for all those involved, the memo was never needed.

Transcript follows.

(Source: The National Archives; Image: Armstrong & Aldrin on the Moon, via.)

To: H. R. Haldeman
From: Bill Safire

July 18, 1969.



Fate has ordained that the men who went to the moon to explore in peace will stay on the moon to rest in peace.

These brave men, Neil Armstrong and Edwin Aldrin, know that there is no hope for their recovery. But they also know that there is hope for mankind in their sacrifice.

These two men are laying down their lives in mankind's most noble goal: the search for truth and understanding.

They will be mourned by their families and friends; they will be mourned by the nation; they will be mourned by the people of the world; they will be mourned by a Mother Earth that dared send two of her sons into the unknown.

In their exploration, they stirred the people of the world to feel as one; in their sacrifice, they bind more tightly the brotherhood of man.

In ancient days, men looked at the stars and saw their heroes in the constellations. In modern times, we do much the same, but our heroes are epic men of flesh and blood.

Others will follow, and surely find their way home. Man's search will not be denied. But these men were the first, and they will remain the foremost in our hearts.

For every human being who looks up at the moon in the nights to come will know that there is some corner of another world that is forever mankind.


The President should telephone each of the widows-to-be.


A clergyman should adopt the same procedure as a burial at sea, commending their souls to "the deepest of the deep," concluding with the Lord's Prayer.

Thursday, 4 November 2010

I hope you will be a great and successful actress some day

Mid-1916, in response to a piece of fan mail from an aspiring young actress from London, England, Charlie Chaplin somehow found the time to write her the following letter of thanks. At this point in his career, although still aged just 27, Chaplin was already directing and producing the majority of his many films; the letterhead seen below also serving to remind that, in addition, Chaplin even managed to compose their soundtracks. Less than three years later, in 1919, he co-founded United Artists.

Transcript follows. Image courtesy of B. Pinnock.

Image: B. Pinnock


May I2th, I9I6.

Gwynneth Nesta McCleary,
I4 Ardwich Rd.,
London, England.

My dear little Friend:-

Your very interesting Letter and very clever Newspaper Story received with many thanks, and was very pleased to have you think of and write to me. That was great news you told me that you are going to be an Actress and I hope you will be a great and successful one some Day.

I am very happy to have all my little Screen friends think of and write to me and I wish to thank you very much and your Mamma and Daddy also for their keen interest and generous support to my Screen work,

With best wishes,
I remain,
Very sincerely Yours,

(Signed, 'Chas Chaplin')

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

I am the servant of the king, my lord, the dirt at his feet

The following remarkable letter was written on clay tablet between the years of 1350 and 1335, BC, by Ayyab - king of the city of A┼ítartu in the Canaan region - and sent to Amenhotep IV, then-Pharaoh of the Eighteenth dynasty of ancient Egypt. It was discovered in the 1880s in Amarna, and is just one of 382 such Cuneiform tablets known collectively as the Amarna letters. The image below shows the first 14 of this particular letter's 28 lines of text, all written in the ancient language of Akkadian.

Translated transcript follows. Image courtesy of Wikimedia.

Recommended reading: The Amarna Letters.

Image: Wikimedia

Translated transcript
Justified War

To the king, my lord.

Message of Ayyab, your servant.

I fall at the feet of my lord 7 times and 7 times. I am the servant of the king, my lord, the dirt at his feet. I have heard what the king, my lord, wrote to me through Atahmaya. Truly, I have guarded very carefully, the cities of the king, my lord. Moreover, note that it is the ruler of Hasura who has taken 3 cities from me. From the time I heard and verified this, there has been waging of war against him. Truly, may the king, my lord, take cognizance, and may the king, my lord, give thought to his servant.

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Dear Princely person

In a bid to drum up support for the soon-to-open Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts in 1996, its lead patron, Paul McCartney, wrote to a variety of high profile 'friends and good people'. Below is his letter to fellow musician, Prince. The Fame-inspired institute was successfully opened by McCartney and friend of George Martin, Mark Featherstone-Witty, in June of that year; it still runs to this day.

Transcript follows. Image courtesy of Heritage Auctions.

Paul McCartney
1 Soho Square,
London W.1.

Dear Princely person,

Hi there! I know how hard it is to always be getting letters that ask for some favour or another, so it was not easy for me to accept the job of Lead Patron for a Performing Arts School to be located in my home town, Liverpool.

But, you guessed it! I did agree to do it, so now I'm writing to "friends and all good people" to try and interest them in the scheme.

The story started just after the inner-city riots in Liverpool a few years ago. A friend suggested that "what the city needs is a "Fame" School."

I liked the idea as a possible positive focus for local and overseas kids, but it was only later when I went back to my own old school that was in ruins, that I thought by locating a Performing Arts Centre there we could save the 1825 building in the process.

So..... (phew!)

We're now well on our way, as the enclosed info shows, but there's still a lot to be done.

Now the hard part. A donation from you would be a great boost to the project, and I know your involvement in some way, would be a thrill for everyone concerned.

Hope you didn't mind me writing this, it's so long since I've written letters I feel like I'm back at school myself.

Anyway, one of these days you'll have to come and teach a class some moves!!

Who knows, it may turn out to be something special for thousands of future kids.

Thanks for looking at this.

Cheers, & love

Paul (McCartney)

Monday, 1 November 2010

To the Boy Scouts

According to his wife, Olave, an envelope marked 'In the event of my death' was carried by Robert Baden-Powell whilst on his travels in later life. Inside, along with various other important documents, was the following undated letter; written by Baden-Powell, founder of the Scout Movement, and addressed 'To the Boy Scouts'. It was read for the first time after he passed away in 1941.

Transcript follows. Image courtesy of David Horowitz.

Image: David Horowitz

Dear Scouts,

If you have ever seen the play 'Peter Pan' you will remember how the pirate chief was always making his dying speech because he was afraid that possibly when the time came for him to die he might not have time to get it off his chest. It is much the same with me, and so, although I am not at this moment dying, I shall be doing so one of these days and I want to send you a parting word of good-bye.

Remember, it is the last time you will ever hear from me, so think it over.

I have had a most happy life and I want each one of you to have as happy a life too.

I believe that God put us in this jolly world to be happy and enjoy life. Happiness doesn't come from being rich, nor merely from being successful in your career, nor by self-indulgence. One step towards happiness is to make yourself healthy and strong while you are a boy, so that you can be useful and so you can enjoy life when you are a man.

Nature study will show you how full of beautiful and wonderful things God has made the world for you to enjoy. Be contented with what you have got and make the best of it. Look on the bright side of things instead of the gloomy one.

But the real way to get happiness is by giving out happiness to other people. Try and leave this world a little better than you found it and when your turn comes to die, you can die happy in feeling that at any rate you have not wasted your time but have done your best. 'Be Prepared' in this way, to live happy and to die happy - stick to your Scout promise always - even after you have ceased to be a boy - and God help you to do it.

Your Friend,

(Signed, 'Robert Baden-Powell')