history

Bicentennial City – Tonight July 3rd at 9 p.m.

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BICENTENNIAL CITY
Though the city ultimately hosted over two million people, the 1976 Bicentennial in Philadelphia suffered from overblown expectations. In the wake of the Vietnam War and complicated by the provincial policies of a controversial mayor Frank Rizzo, the celebrations represented the promise of redeeming the economically troubled city. But it laid bare some pressing questions of America’s national identity. This essay film charts the struggles behind years of planning as it also spotlights the city as a place of resilient communal activity.

Directed by Thomas Devaney, Matthew Suib, and Aaron Igler. Produced by Haverford College’s Hurford Center/VCAM DocuLab Program and Hilary Brashear, Julia Coletti, Jixin Jia, Teddy Ogborn, Cole Sansom, and Grace Sue

Bicentennial City airs on WHYY TV12 Saturday, July 3rd at 9 PM EST. The film streams in July at: https://video.whyy.org/video/bicentennial-city-ggdm5m/ 
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In Salem by Catherine Corman

in salem

By Greg Bem

You are not to speak after this manner in the Court

I will speak the Truth as long as I live.

(page 20)

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The power of history is in its sense of foundation. History is heavy, sturdy, and yet buried. It is at once knowable and unknowable, arousing yet distanced. In today’s world of the minute, precise present, where every moment is a tweet, and every flick of the wrist receives, shares, or creates information, the object as bound to history feels more and more exotic. This exoticism may be a distant echo brimming of nostalgia and heartache, or a fuzzy layer destabilizing the already-frail sense of place within the contemporary. Structure is provided by the artists, who pull us in, making history more accessible, more enjoyable, more present. Even at their most abstracted and amorphous, it is artwork that turns history into arousal, into the poetic.

In Salem, Catherine Corman’s new collection of collage poems and original photography, is a new example of such arousal. Before the book even opens, it invites the reader with a 16th Century image from a book on witchcraft. The text inside is at once literary and visual. Short poems fill the left-hand side of the book. Short poems pulled directly from the voices of testimonies from the Salem Witch Trials. Multiple women’s voices are present and enmeshed with the accusing/prosecuting authorities: Abigail Hobbs, Deliverance Hobbs, Dorcas Hoar, Elizabeth Johnson, Elizabeth Proctor, and Mary Etsy. The found text is picked apart, pulled together, informed through and through. The resulting “collage” revisits the grim history in a new, brief form. One moment on one page the poetry feels absurd. Several pages later, it is depressing. Times still, it feels distant and murky. Corman’s ability to weave the dramatic with the harsh invigorates the sense of history that often comes off flat when retold by authors or thorough realists. The world of then, as with the world of now, has both concise and broad brushstrokes of cruelty and compassion. The goal of this book appears to show representation of both. One of the goals of In Salem, in other words, appears to be in the placement of the reader “in Salem.”

The children cryed there was a yellow bird with her

(page 38)

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Challenged by history, challenged by time, books often utilize techniques to create new layers of meaning, improved understanding of complexity. Lenses upon lenses overlap, thwarting a bias towards reduction and simplicity. Corman’s poetry, collaged and swirling like fog over a coastline, goes far in indicating complexity. It is supported with black and white images on the right-hand side of each spread. These images offer glimpses, visualizations, of the dry, cutting trial testimony within the text. Images of the rooms and pastoral scenes of the properties reveal the lives of these phantom-like voices. They are another form of foundation, despite how fleeting they too feel in the course of the book.

The book feels quite fleeting from the moment it begins. It is a blink in history that is tackled by an artist who is concerned with the assault upon and oppression of a very specific group of women in American history. By the time the back cover is reached, the urge to begin the text for a second time erupts. Could that be all there is? Isn’t there more? The imposing pressure of such a short work leaves the reader with great urgency. But that foundation of history—its presence, its realm of possibilities—remains, and grows. In many ways, thus, In Salem is a portal capable of triggering significant transformation, though such change requires a steadied, focused reader who brings their own intention into Corman’s framework.

 

You can find the book here: https://www.spdbooks.org/Products/9781946433626/in-salem.aspx

Greg Bem is a poet and librarian living on unceded Duwamish territory, specifically Seattle, Washington. He writes book reviews for Rain Taxi, Yellow Rabbits, and more. His current literary efforts mostly concern water and often include elements of video. Learn more at www.gregbem.com.

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A Wilder Time by William E. Glassley

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By g emil reutter
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Notes From a Geologist at the Edge of the Greenland Ice
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Glassley chronicles the expedition of three geologists in search of a truth that is in dispute. Along the way Glassley writes about the wilderness and nature of the massive walls of the fjords they are excavating. He writes of the hillocks, ridges, cascades of rocky knolls where plant life anchored itself in ice-wedged cracks and linchen attached to bare rock and of tundra pockets. There is a silence to the place as there is an absence of trees, houses, streets and people.
 
Glassley documents a mirage dancing along the horizon, thick horizontal blade of sharp turquoise blue cut along the land stretching hundreds of feet into the air. He writes of sailing on the water when the three hear a sound generated from more than two miles away, a mournful, wrenching sound, morphing into a feminine symphonic chorus, staccato screeches that turn out to a disturbed rookery where hundreds of gulls be gulls cried. Yet, the three believed they had just heard the sound of the Sirens, mythical, the sound Osyesseus had heard 3,200 years ago.
 
He writes in beautiful prose about his encounters. Such as just off camp in the bay a purplish color below the surface only to find thousands of sea urchins so densely crowded that their spines tangled together, of hundreds of small comb jellies, each shaped like a lantern, iridescent colors propelled as slowly turning lanterns in the sea. Always the observer, Glassley notices small ice blocks from a calving ice sheet floating lazily and that may have enough for some but Glassley notices more. Just under the murky water a river of fish were swimming, a school of herring like fish many feet wide unknown depth stretching in both directions as far as the eye could see. Suddenly the fish exploded, frantic panic possessed them as an Artic sculpin grabbed a straggler slowly sinking back down into the murky water as the herring regrouped and continued on their journey to an unknown destination.
 
During a thunderstorm he tells us of atoms that had once been part of the rock enclosing the sea were scrapped from surfaces by pounding boulders, released to float freely with the tides… mingle with other atoms whose origins were wind-blown dust, interstellar particles, dissolving dead animals and decaying plants… evolving into unities, become things that construct living forms… become part of snowfall on the high Himalayas, cause seasonal floods of the Ganges or just part of us. In this simple observation Glassely connects everything on earth, at times separate yet always part of the whole.
 
On a journey to bathe in the ice cold waters he returns to walk up a small bluff to a tundra bench. There while walking through the grasses, short stemmed flowers of the tundra carpet he encounters a female ptarmigan who appears and disappears as her colors blend in with the patterns of brown, tan and black color and texture of the plants. All the while she was protecting her hatchlings. Glassley speaks of the vertical and how much is missed. He knelt down taking in the sweet flower scents of Artic poppy, bell-heather, mountain sorrel, hairy lousewort and more. He describes it as being awash in a botanical sea. Had he not knelt he would never had experienced this beautiful event.
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The purpose of the expedition was to prove that Greenland was formed by the collision of two continents. That the ocean between them was sucked down into the earth. The three geologists examine rock formations, individual clusters and patterns. Their work is fascinating and the story telling ability of Glassley brings the reader into geology in an unexpected way. He brings us into the mystery of ice and rock and along the way his simply beautiful observations of tundra and fjords, the wild life and plants that populate the place are amazing. A Wilder Time is a book for those who love nature and have that longing desire to learn the unknown, all hidden along the walls of the fjords of Greenland. 
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The official release date is February 2018 but you can check out the book here: https://www.amazon.com/Wilder-Time-Notes-Geologist-Greenland-ebook/dp/B06Y1RY67T

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g emil reutter is a writer of poems and stories. You can find him here:About g emil reutter

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Literature & the Great War by Randall Stevenson

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By Ray Greenblatt
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          I, an educated, middle-aged American, learned so much from this outstanding book. So many pieces of information filled in my spotty familiarity with the Great War. Prof. Stevenson has studied a staggering number of books about the War, as well as individual letters, military documents, etc. He also has a broad overview not only of literature written during the War, but of writing that preceded it as well as later literature influenced by the War. 
          The organization of Stevenson’s work is lucid: the uniqueness of the Great War; prose about the War; the poetry; and the influence of the Great War on culture generally. My discussion will follow those four divisions.
          Peace for Britain had lasted for a hundred years, with only distant skirmishes in the Empire. However, some more prescient writers, like H.G. Wells, sensed tensions growing in Europe centered in Germany. Once the War began, the government asked many authors to write encouraging comments about events taking place. Most agreed; individuals like G.B. Shaw continued to voice their own concerns. Before very long the press was censored; newspaper headlines—even cinema—were tilted toward the positive for morale sake.
          Letters from the front became a new and vital concept. What resulted was exposure in writing to the spoken word, local dialects, foreign languages, swearing, and especially “militarese.” Even then, many soldiers did not want to relate the horrors. Likewise, the older generation on the home front, who had lived more of a romantic ideal, did not want to hear the gruesome truths. Perhaps, suggests Stevenson, if the government and press had been truthful, the War might have stopped sooner!
          Since the Great War was truly titanic in scope with science developing gas masks, steel helmets, airplanes, tanks, and long-distance bombs, the average soldier felt diminished. Perhaps only the Air Force felt cavalier about one-to-one air duels. Time became meaningless in the trenches; time for those at home meant either a letter or a death notice.
          Prof. Stevenson cannily points out that lines blurred between the autobiography, memoir and novel. Coherency was often missing because that was how the mind worked during war. It was even difficult to use the right tense because under extreme stress time could freeze or rush helter-skelter.
          Siegfried Sassoon had his two selves talk in The Complete Memoirs of George Sherston. T.E. Lawrence in Seven Pillars of Wisdom stated that soldiers felt dwarfed by Nature. R.H. Mottram‘s Spanish Farm consisted of multiple books: one about the War, another about a love affair during the War. Ford Madox Ford’s Parade’s End explored the inner consciousness of soldiers.
         Since I have been a working poet for nearly forty years, I think it fitting to include one of the most moving poems to come out of the Great War, since Prof. Stevenson did not have space for complete poems:
 
Dulce Et Decorum Est by Wilfrid Owen
 
Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs,
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots,
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame, all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of gas-shells dropping softly behind.
 
Gas! GAS! Quick, boys! – An ecstasy of fumbling
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time,
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime.
Dim through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.
 
In all my dreams before my helpless sight
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.
 
If in some smothering dreams, you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin,
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.
 
          As Prof. Stevenson writes, poems by soldiers as well as civilians dominated the depiction of the Great War. Poetry is essentially a song that is an inherent part of mankind.  It represents emotion, exaltation, spirit, soul. Compared to a novel a poem can be quickly written; it can also be fragmentary. These qualities best fit the atmosphere of battle. Edward Thomas, a noted prose writer about Nature before the War, changed to poetry very successfully while serving in the War.
          Historically poetry had strongly been about Nature, so the tradition continued although the environment was no longer soothing. Down deep in trenches, men looked up to the sky and clouds and stars for inspiration.  But as the War progressed, idealism and heroism, as written about in many of Rupert Brooke’s poems, grew bleaker. After the battle of the Somme in 1916, the entire tenor of the War and literature as well became negative, as in Wilfrid Owen’s poetry.
          Prof. Stevenson writes that in Britain 40,000 war memorials were dedicated to the Great War. As an American I see WWI memorials fused with WWII, even the Korean and Viet Nam Wars. Many American monuments are raised to the American Revolutionary War and even more so to the American Civil War. The same horrors occurred, like tourists searching for souvenirs on the battlefield. Many say that the Great War caused history to break and progress to regress; that war will always happen.
          Without  the War no debts would have accrued and perhaps more schools and hospitals could have been constructed.  Women were offered more opportunities during and after the War. The working class man became the backbone of the army.
          Prof. Stevenson states that some things are sure, with which I agree wholeheartedly.  Poetry in English class, rather than in history class, brought the Great War vividly alive. What history disturbs, culture restores. More experimental and abstract writing was spurred by the War.  In poetry, specifically, varied line lengths and half-rhymes became more accessible. It took until well into the 1920’s for authors to be read without censorial interference. Indirect influences from the Great War can be seen in D.H. Lawrence’s Women in Love (1921), E.M. Forster’s A Passage to India (1924), Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse (1927), Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World (1932). And those literary changes caused by the Great War continue today!
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You can find the book here: https://www.amazon.com/Literature-1914-1918-Oxford-Textual-Perspectives/dp/019959645X

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Ray Greenblatt has recently been published in: Abbey, Apiary, Boston Literary Magazine, Comstock Review, Clarion, and Painters & Poets.  His experimental novel TWENTY YEARS ON GRAYSHEEP BAY, half poetry and half prose, is being republished by Sunstone Press.

Publication Will Resume in January 2017

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North of Oxford is on a December break and will return in January 2017. Submissions of book reviews, commentary, interviews etc. remain open and we hope to hear from you.

Submission guidelines:

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/contact/

We wish all a fine holiday season and a great new year!

The Soviet Gulag – Evidence, Interpretation, and Comparison

gulag

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Review by g emil reutter

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“global spread of institutions of mass internment illustrates how, within a relatively short time span, these institutions and their underlying concepts were appropriated across borders, as ruling elites around the globe looked for potent strategies to end opposition and resistance to their projects of expansion and consolidation.” -Klaus Mühlhahn

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In this collection, Editor Michael David-Fox has brought the modern voices of Gulag Scholars into the mix to create a broad understanding of the impact of the Gulag, Soviet society and the communist experiment. Oleg KhlevniukIt estimates that over 25 million people were forced into labor during the Stalin era of the Soviet Union into a system of Gulag’s between 1930 and 1952. Mühlhahn’s statement reinforces the thought that the ruling elites even in todays’ world support ideas to eliminate opposition and resistance to their projects that would expand globalization and consolidation. The Gulag and related systems used in other countries during the Stalin era were the extreme, however it should be noted that the extreme can be reached quickly when people’s freedom is eliminated.

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These essays study the impact the Gulags had on the overall society in the Soviet Union, the interaction between “free” society and the Gulag system. How the system was influenced by the British concentration camps in South Africa and how the Gulag system influenced camps in North Korea, China and Germany. Unlike Feudalism, which was ended in the 1860’s with the emancipation of the serfs in Russia, the Gulags treated everyone as property of the state regardless of class based on the need of the Gulag. When the system used up those imprisoned either mentally or physically they were simply discarded. There was no value to human life except as it related to the work in the Gulag.

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It sounds cliché, but one has to know history not to repeat it. Humans are not good at this for every step forward there are several backward. The loss of individual identity and national identity led to the horrors of the Gulag system which is a common theme throughout these essays. It seems no matter the system of government when the elites believe they know what is best for the masses and impose that will, people suffer and humanity is lost.

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You can find the book here: https://www.amazon.com/Soviet-Gulag-Evidence-Interpretation-Comparison/dp/0822944642

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g emil reutter is a writer of poems and stories. You can find him here:About g emil reutter