Oct. 7, 2007

Reconsidering the Seven

by Peter Pereira

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Poem: "Reconsidering the Seven" by Peter Pereira from What's Written on the Body. © Copper Canyon Press, 2007. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Reconsidering the Seven

Deadly Sins? Please — let's replace Pride
with Modesty, especially when it's false.

And thank goodness for Lust, without it
I wouldn't be here. Would you?

Envy, Greed — why not? If they lead us
to better ourselves, to Ambition.

And Gluttony, like a healthy belch, is a guest's
best response to being served a good meal.

I'll take Sloth over those busybodies
who can't sit still, watch a sunset

without yammering, or snapping a picture.
Now that makes me Wrathful.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of the novelist Thomas M. Keneally, (books by this author) born in Sydney, Australia (1935), who was a successful novelist in Australia when he traveled to Hollywood to talk to some movie people, and while he we was there he happened to buy a briefcase in Beverly Hills from a Holocaust survivor. He got to talking to the man, and it turned out he had been saved from the concentration camps by a Polish factory owner named Oskar Schindler. Keneally thought that was interesting, so he began to research Schindler, who'd been a wealthy playboy with no apparent interest in human rights until the Nazis invaded Poland, and then suddenly decided to use his factory as a refuge for Jews, employing them so that they would not be sent to concentration camps. Keneally interviewed 50 of the people saved by Schindler in order to write his book Schindler's Ark (1982), which helped popularize the story of Oskar Schindler and became the basis of the Steven Spielberg movie Schindler's List in 1993.

It's the birthday of the poet and essayist Diane Ackerman, (books by this author) born Diane Fink in Waukegan, Illinois (1948), who has always been more interested in the outside world than her own life. She wrote her first book of poetry, The Planets: A Cosmic Pastoral (1976), entirely about astronomy. Her book A Natural History of the Senses (1990) is a collection of essays about her own thoughts and experiences of sight, sound, smell, touch, and taste. It begins, "Nothing is more memorable than a smell. One scent can be unexpected, momentary, and fleeting, yet conjure up a childhood summer beside a lake in the Poconos, when wild blueberry bushes teemed with succulent fruit and the opposite sex was as mysterious as space travel." Her most recent book is The Zookeeper's Wife, which came out last month (2007).

On this day in 1955, poet Allen Ginsberg read his poem "Howl" for the first time at a poetry reading at Six Gallery in San Francisco. He had never given a public reading before, but he wanted to read the poem out loud before people read it in a book, so he organized a reading with five other poets at a converted auto-repair shop in downtown San Francisco called the Six Gallery. Ginsberg was the second-to-last reader. He was a little nervous, but after a few lines of the poem, he began to chant the words like a preacher, and the audience began to cheer at the end of every line. Kenneth Rexroth, the emcee of the event, was in tears by the end of the poem, and he later told Ginsberg, "This poem will make you famous from bridge to bridge." Rexroth was right. Lawrence Ferlinghetti published Howl and Other Poems in 1956, and an obscenity trial made it a huge best-seller.

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