Jul. 13, 2001


by David R. Slavitt

FRIDAY, 13 JULY 2001
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Poem: "Titanic," by David R. Slavitt from New and Selected Poems (Doubleday).


Who does not love the Titanic?
If they sold passage tomorrow for that same crossing,
who would not buy?

To go down... We all go down, mostly
alone. But with crowds of people, friends, servants,
well fed, with music, with lights! Ah!

And the world, shocked, mourns, as it ought to do
and almost never does. There will be the books and movies
to remind our grandchildren who we were
and how we died, and give them a good cry.

Not so bad, after all. The cold
water is anaesthetic and very quick.
The cries on all sides must be a comfort.

We all go: only a few, first-class.

Today is Friday the 13th, a day that has a reputation for being unlucky, except in Scandinavian countries, where it's considered very lucky.

It's the birthday of inventor Ernõ Rubik, born in Budapest, Hungary, in 1944. In 1974, he was earning $150 a month as a professor of design, when he constructed a cube made of 27 rotating wooden blocks. Each side of the cube was a different color. When the blocks were turned, the colors mingled. The hard part was getting them back together so that each side was uniform again. 4.5 million of Rubik's Cubes were sold in 1980, and twenty million in 1981.

It's the birthday of writer Wole Soyinka, born near Abeokuta, Nigeria, in 1934, a member of the Yoruba people. His first novel was The Interpreters, which was published in 1965. He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1986, the first black writer to do so.

It's the birthday of playwright and novelist David Storey, born in Wakefield, England, in 1933, who writes about the tension between working-class parents and their educated children. His first novel was This Sporting Life, which came out in 1960, and his most recent is A Serious Man, published in 1998.

On this day in 1832, geologist Henry Rowe Schoolcraft discovered the source of the Mississippi River. He had been part of an earlier, failed expedition, but this time Schoolcraft thought to ask the local Indians. According to his published account, an Ojibwa named Oza Windib pulled out a map his tribe had used for years, and pointed to a small lake, which they called Omushkos, or Elk Lake. After his guide took him there, Schoolcraft named it Lake Itasca, from the Latin veritas, or "truth," and caput, or "head."

On this day in 1798, William Wordsworth began his famous poem "Lines Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey...." Five years earlier, in a state of emotional turmoil, he went on a walking tour, eventually coming across Tintern Abbey, an old ruin. He visited the place later in his life in a much different frame of mind. "No poem of mine was composed under circumstances more pleasant for me to remember than this," he wrote. "I began it upon leaving Tintern ... and concluded it just as I was entering Bristol in the evening, after a ramble of 4 or 5 days, with my sister. Not a line of it was altered, and not any part of it written down till I reached Bristol."

It's the birthday of poet John Clare, born in Helpston, England, in 1793, the son of a poor farmer who could barely read. In his first book of poems, Poems Descriptive of Rural Life and Scenery, he described himself as a "rural peasant," and caused a stir. He was known as the "ploughboy" poet. He was later placed in an insane asylum and remained there, writing some of his best poetry under the delusion that he was Robert Burns or Lord Byron. John Clare once said, "If life had a second edition, how I would correct the proofs."

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®




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