Oct. 7, 2009

Amor Fati

by Katha Pollitt

Everywhere I look I see my fate.
In the subway. In a stone.
On the curb where people wait for the bus in the rain.
In a cloud. In a glass of wine.

When I go for a walk in the park it's a sycamore leaf.
At the office, a dull pencil.
In the window of Woolworth's my fate looks back at me
through the shrewd eyes of a dusty parakeet.

Scrap of newspaper, dime in a handful of change,
down what busy street do you hurry this morning,
an overcoat among overcoats,

with a train to catch, a datebook full of appointments?
If I called you by my name would you turn around
or vanish round the corner,
leaving a faint odor of orange-flower water,
tobacco, twilight, snow?

"Amor Fati" by Katha Pollitt from The Mind-Body Problem. © Random House, 2009. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It was on this day in 1955 that Allen Ginsberg (books by this author) read his poem "Howl" at the Six Gallery in San Francisco. The Six Gallery had been an auto repair shop, and now it was an art gallery — the sculptures on display were orange crates covered in cloth and dipped in plaster of paris. The reading was intended to promote the new gallery. The poet Kenneth Rexroth organized the reading, and in preparation, he introduced Gary Snyder to Allen Ginsberg. Ginsberg introduced everyone to Jack Kerouac, and they became the core of the group of writers known as the Beats. For the Six Gallery event, Allen Ginsberg and Gary Snyder sent out postcard invitations, and more than 100 people turned up. Rexroth, Snyder, and Ginsberg were scheduled to read, along with Philip Whalen, Philip Lamantia, and Michael McClure.

They asked the guests to donate money for drinks, and Jack Kerouac headed out and bought four jugs of red wine, which got passed around while the poets read.

Ginsberg was the second to the last to read, and he started at about 11 p.m. He was 29 years old, and he had never participated in a poetry reading before. He started off in a quiet voice. But as he read, he found his rhythm, and he took a deep breath before each of the long lines in "Howl" and then said each line in one breath. Jack Kerouac chanted "Go, go, go" in rhythm while Ginsberg read, and the audience went wild.

The reading got a lot of publicity, and Ginsberg became a celebrity, even more so a year later when he published Howl and Other Poems (1956) and it was banned for obscenity, taken to trial, and managed to defy censorship laws.

"Howl" begins with the famous lines:
I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by
              madness, starving hysterical naked,
       dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn
              looking for an angry fix,
       angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly
              connection to the starry dynamo in the machin-
              ery of night

It's the birthday of Diane Ackerman, (books by this author) born in Waukegan, Illinois (1948). When she was 12 years old, she tried to write a spy novel, but she realized that she didn't know enough about either kissing or violence, so a spy novel wasn't going to work.

Her newest book is The Zookeeper's Wife (2007), in which she tells the true story of Antoninia and Jan Zabinski, the couple who ran the Warsaw Zoo during World War II. After the Germans attacked Warsaw and the zoo was mostly destroyed, the couple kept alive what animals they could, and they also sheltered more than 300 Jewish people — some in their home, but most in the animal's cages in the zoo.

It's the birthday of writer Sherman Alexie, (books by this author) born on the Spokane Indian Reservation in Wellpinit, Washington (1966). He has written many novels, books of poetry, short stories, and screenplays, including The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven (1993), Reservation Blues (1995), and The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian (2007). His most recent books are Face, a book of poems published earlier this year, and War Dances, a book of short stories that just came out this week.

He wrote, "He loved her, of course, but better than that, he chose her, day after day. Choice: that was the thing."

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




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