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Poet Invents Eighth Deadly Sin In New Collection


Lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, envy, wrath, and pride: the seven deadly sins. They've been an inspiration for artists for centuries. Award winning poet Sharon Dolin adds an eighth sin in her new collection, "Burn and Dodge." Sharon Dolin, what is it?

Ms. SHARON DOLIN (Poet): It's guilt, guilt, something we all have. Yes!

LYDEN: Will you read your poem "To Guilt" for us, please?

Ms. DOLIN: Sure.

(Soundbite of poem "To Guilt")

Ms. DOLIN: (Reading) To guilt, eighth deadly sin, half-hidden dissembler, you resemble dwarf centipede, hunching among dead leaves and soil. Or are you between envy, who bites her nails and sloth who can't be bothered? You vanish when I'm hard at work, then gash me when I sit to read a novel or even think of running to the movies or out to buy a skirt. Or else your stepsister, mother guilt with her 82 legs barges in on me here in the cafe when I think I've given you the slip. She finds me slacking off for five minutes, not with my child but reading the paper about a new species of centipede discovered in Central Park. How else assuage you but equate you, draw you in. Among leaf litter, at less than half an inch, you are shorter than your name, Nannarrup hoffmani. With your poisonous fangs, you will probably eat me when I am nothing but body. For now, feed on this.

LYDEN: I'm just thinking, Sharon Dolin, it's not everybody who can get guilt and a centipede into the same poem.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. DOLIN: Well, actually it's mother guilt, which is a particular brand of guilt. And then since I've become a mother I do seem to be prone to even more sins or vices than before. And there is a way in which you're sort of eaten up by these various vices, and certainly mother guilt. Oh, that's one I carry all the time.

LYDEN: Now, you've written this book. There are no less than four poems about envy in here. And you have a lot of fun and play with the seven deadly sins. But the book is not named for that. It's called "Burn and Dodge," this collection of poems. Would you please explain where the title comes from?

Ms. DOLIN: Well, it is a photographic term. It does refer to photographs where you burn in the light or you dodge the light. But I was thinking of it metaphorically. I was thinking about myself burning up in these various vices. And then, I thought, what is the way out of them? Well, through linguistic play and through praise, ultimately. So I think of the collection as really about the burning up in the vices. And then, how do you dodge them? How do you get away from them? And sometimes it happens in the same poem.

LYDEN: You've got a very quirky and wild style. I like it. It's very uninhibited. But when you talk about these themes, when you think about sins, do you think that any of the sins - I mean, if you had to pick one, which one would you say you enjoy the most, or relish the most perhaps is the word?

Ms. DOLIN: Yeah, each time I think about them, each one feels like my chief vice. So envy, yes. But indecision, I think, has really been with me for much of my life.

LYDEN: You know, I have to say that your poem "Entreaty to Indecision" was one of my favorites in this collection. Maybe you can read that one for us.

(Soundbite of poem "Entreaty to Indecision")

Ms. DOLIN: (Reading) "Entreaty to Indecision." Anxiety's flunky, you do, in your undoing, her grunt work. Heart flutterer, sleep depriver, It is to you, two-headed turncoat I have offered up my life. Dun-colored peahen, why can't I oust you at last from the roost of me? You know how to tempt me on the one hand with your lavender veils, on the other with sea green. So, I'm a swivel-headed spendthrift. Or when two paths or men loom before me, I stand there, medusa'd quivering on caffeine until one or both dries up or grows overgrown with brush or moves on. And so I plod, plod, plod. The one still left, or else bereft, always leaning toward dreaming about the right one. Can't you stop? I've worshiped at your twin altars long enough, not to decide is to decide on my teenage wall, my postered boast to live by. Thirty years later, you're in my blood, And when your anxious mistress wells up inside, don't I know by now, what I have to do to be rid of you? Or do I?

LYDEN: That seems like a poem that not only speaks to midlife, but to our times right now.

Ms. DOLIN: Well, at certain moments I'm extremely decisive, and then I have these moments where I just get paralyzed. And so, I thought, well, maybe if I turn her into a goddess and I petition her, maybe she'll leave me alone. At least I get a poem out of it.

LYDEN: Sharon Dolin, her new collection is called "Burn and Dodge." It's been a real pleasure speaking with you. Thanks so much for joining us.

Ms. DOLIN: It's been a real pleasure for me too, Jacki. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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