Jan. 29, 2002

February 10

by David Lehman

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Poem: "February 10," by David Lehman from The Daily Mirror: A Journal in Poetry (Scribner Poetry).

February 10

He was no altar boy
She was no chorus girl
He couldn't sit still
She couldn't drive
He couldn't sing
She couldn't stop
He wouldn't stop
She didn't say no
He hadn't planned to go
She wasn't born yesterday
He couldn't say
She wouldn't listen
He was no soldier
She was no nurse
It was no picnic

It's the birthday of writer and feminist Germaine Greer, born in Melbourne, Australia (1939). She is best known for her 1970 bestseller, The Female Eunuch. It explored Western attitudes towards women, and called for an end to sexual repression. She criticized the institution of marriage and the nuclear family, and thought that people should live in communes where mothers could jointly raise all the children.

It's the birthday of writer and environmentalist Edward Abbey, born in Home, Pennsylvania (1927), who was best known for his 1975 novel, The Monkey Wrench Gang, which became an underground classic and sold half a million copies. It follows the adventures of four environmental terrorists, and conveys the message that it may take radical action to save the planet.

It's the birthday of writer (Sidney) Paddy Chayefsky, born in the Bronx, New York (1923). His most famous script is the 1953 play, Marty, the story of a lonely, overweight butcher who finally decides that he has to take his one chance at love.

It's the birthday of film director Ernst Lubitsch, born in Berlin, Germany (1892), who started his theatrical career as a comic actor. He came to America in 1923 to direct Mary Pickford in Rosita (1923). In the early 1930s, film critics began to speak of a distinctive "Lubitsch touch," which emphasized quick wit and clever visual touches. In 1939, he directed the highly successful Ninotchka, a romantic comedy that featured Greta Garbo in her first comic role. That was followed by two more hits, The Shop Around the Corner (1940) and To Be or Not to Be (1942).

It's the birthday of short story writer and playwright Anton Chekhov, born in Taganrog, Russia (1860). In 1884, he graduated from the University of Moscow with a medical degree. However, since his father was unemployed, Chekhov helped to support his family as a freelance journalist and writer of comic sketches. He began to write longer and more serious sketches, until he became a master at the art of the short story. The first of his works to be published in a major literary magazine was Steppe (1888), an autobiographical tale of a journey through the Ukraine as told through the eyes of a child. At the same time, he began writing short, comic plays, including The Bear (1888) and The Wedding (1889). In 1895, his four-act play, The Seagull, was performed in St. Petersburg. The audience hated it so much that Chekhov left the theater during the second act and vowed never to write for the theater again. However, two years later the play was produced by the Moscow Art Theater, directed by Constantin Stanislavsky. It was a great hit, although Chekhov himself was not happy with the production. He insisted that the play was a comedy, while he thought Stanislavsky turned it into a drama. In fact, Chekhov insisted that most of his plays, including Uncle Vanya (1899) and The Cherry Orchard (1904) were satires of the hard lives and unhappy natures of the Russian people. He died of tuberculosis in July of 1904, at the age of forty-four.

It's the birthday of writer and politician Thomas Paine, born in Thetford, England (1737), who was one of the most important influences on the American Revolution. He arrived in America in 1774 and immediately began publishing politically based articles, including one denouncing slavery. The American Revolution was just getting under way. After the Battle of Lexington and Concord in 1775, Paine wrote the pamphlet called Common Sense (1776), which argued that America should be fighting not just against taxation from the British but for independence as well. It sold more than five hundred thousand copies in just a few months. He said: "What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly; it is the dearness that gives everything value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price on its goods."

In 1845 this day, Edgar Allan Poe's poem "The Raven" first appeared in the New York Evening Mirror. An introduction by Poe's friend Nathaniel Park Willis stated that that the poem would "…stick to the memory of everybody who reads it."

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