Dec. 19, 2001


by Kenneth Rexroth

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Poem: "Quietly," by Kenneth Rexroth from Sacramental Acts (Copper Canyon Press).


Lying here quietly beside you,
My cheek against your firm, quiet thighs,
The calm music of Boccherini
Washing over us in the quiet,
As the sun leaves the housetops and goes
Out over the Pacific, quiet-
So quiet the sun moves beyond us,
So quiet as the sun always goes,
So quiet, our bodies, worn with the
Times and the penances of love, our
Brains curled, quiet in their shells, dormant,
Our hearts slow, quiet, reliable
In their interlocked rhythms, the pulse
In your thigh caressing my cheek. Quiet.

It's the birthday of poet David Smith, born in Portsmouth, Virginia (1942).

It's the birthday of playwright Howard Sackler, born in New York City (1929). He started writing plays himself in the 1960s, and turned his fascination with the black heavyweight boxer Jack Johnson into the drama The Great White Hope.

It's the birthday of singer Edith Piaf, born Edith Giovanna Gassion in Paris, France (1915). She was abandoned by her mother, a cafe singer, at birth, and raised by her grandmother. She started touring with her father, a circus acrobat, and left him at 15 to pursue a career. Her debut was in a high-toned Paris cabaret whose owner dressed her in a costume like the shabby clothes she had worn singing in the streets, and changed her last name to "Piaf," or "sparrow," to go with her birdlike appearance. She sang about factory girls, faithless lovers, lost dreams and small hopes, in a throaty voice that never failed to move audiences. Her signature songs were "La Vie en Rose," which she wrote, and "Non, Je Regrette Rien," "No, I regret nothing." She died in 1963 at the age of 47.

It's the birthday of novelist and playwright Jean Genet, born in Paris, France (1910). Of his four novels, Our Lady of the Flowers (1949), written in prison, is probably his best-known. With his play The Maids (1947), he established himself as a leading figure in the Theatre of the Absurd. His other plays include The Balcony (1956) and The Blacks (1958).

It's the birthday of historian Carter G. Woodson, born in New Canton, Virginia (1875). He almost single-handedly made black studies a respectable academic discipline, rescuing black Americans' history from the prejudices of white historians. He founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life, whose house organ, The Journal of Negro History, was an important historical forum for decades, and also founded Associated Publishers, providing a venue for books on black history that had been scorned by white publishing houses.

It's the birthday of writer Italo Svevo, born in Trieste, Italy (1861). He traveled frequently to England on business, and in 1907 hired as an English tutor a struggling young writer named James Joyce, who was living in Trieste at the time. After Joyce let him read parts of Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Svevo timidly showed him his novels. Joyce admired them and encouraged him to do more, but it wasn't until the paint factory closed during World War One that Svevo started writing seriously again. Confessions of Zeno (1925), also published at his expense and now considered his masterpiece, failed as badly as the first two novels, until Joyce, now well-respected, got it reviewed by several prominent European critics. Their enthusiasm turned Svevo into a literary celebrity. After years of public neglect, he enjoyed his recognition tremendously. He is widely considered to be a model for Leopold Bloom, the protagonist of Joyce's novel, Ulysses.

It's the birthday of writer Eleanor Hodgman Porter, born in Littleton, New Hampshire (1868). She turned out stories for popular magazines and published several novels, but her claim to fame came from Pollyanna (1913), the story of an orphan girl who overcomes all obstacles with her "glad game," her determination to see the good in any situation. It quickly sold more than a million copies and was on the bestseller lists for two years.

It's the birthday of translator Constance Garnett, born in Brighton, England (1862). Her sister and son were novelists, and her husband was D.H. Lawrence's editor. She started translating Russian literature soon after meeting Tolstoy in 1893. Her efforts eventually included the complete works of Dostoevsky, Turgenev and Gogol, nearly all of Chekhov, and Tolstoy's major novels.

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