On May 18, 2019, I graduated from the University of Minnesota Law School -- and after I put away my robes and medals and stacked my textbooks, I went through my papers to take stock of what, over the last three years, have gathered around me like fallen leaves. These include poems, short stories, and … Continue reading Robert Bly’s Dream Diaries and His Poem “Digging Worms”
“And marked his grave with nameless stones”: William Cullen Bryant’s “The Murdered Traveller”
While waiting in a Baltimore hotel lobby, I thumbed through one of its meant-to-be-seen-and-not-read bookshelves. There among old, leather-bound editions of Gibbon's History of the Decline and Roosevelt's Naval War of 1812, I found the collected works of William Cullen Bryant. A romantic, Bryant is known primarily for his poetic naturalism (see, e.g., "Thanatopsis") but he was also a prodigious translator, deciding at the age of 77 to translate Homer's Iliad and Odyssey. But as this was my first introduction to the poet, I knew none of this. Skimming the volume, I was not very impressed, but then I came across a poem that I stopped to read three times in a row. Its title: "The Murdered Traveller."
“The Greatest Cartoon the World War Produces is a Photo!”
I’ve posted before about the Great War, including the anniversary of the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand and a sampling of political cartoons from the war's first year. Recently, while searching the newspaper archives for (and failing to find) a certain Russian-Anarchist-themed comic strip, I discovered the following photograph. Titled WAR, it depicts a Belgian woman—grief-stricken, the features of her face lost in dark shadows. It's amazing what one uncovers in archives. What begins with the discovery of a single photograph unravels into a politics, a profession, an entire life. As the poet Anne Waldman once told me, "archive is memory," and WAR reminds us how many war photographers have made this same refrain: "If HER face does not stop war, not all the sights of [Europe, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan] would stop war."
“Made while under fire”: Elijah E. Edwards’ Civil War sketches
Before there were cameras to document warfare, there were sketchbooks. So imagine then sketching a battlefield and, as smoke filled the air and bullets zipped past, trying to keep your pencil straight. This, though, was the experience of many artists, including Elijah Evan Edwards (1831-1915), who served as chaplain of the 7th Minnesota Infantry during the Civil War (1864-1865). The Minnesota Historical Society has three volumes of Edwards' journals, including a 1910 typescript he wrote synthesizing his pocket diaries from the war. In it he discusses daily camp life, the people he met, different battles, and so on. Besides being an invaluable, firsthand account of the Civil War, what makes the text rich is its being accompanied by several dozen sketches made from "hasty outlines finished from memory when I had leisure." "This is especially true of the battle scenes," he added, "since I had during the critical moments of the conflict neither leisure nor opportunity to make sketches." (p.1). It's these that distinguish Edwards' written account from others.
“Words were powerless”: A Minnesota newspaper’s response to the Lincoln assassination
On April 15, 1865, lying in a boarding house across the street from Ford's Theater, President Abraham Lincoln died, the victim of an assassin's bullet. What was a week celebrating an end to four years of bloodshed was capstoned by one last tragedy. Though not everyone felt the same way, tens of millions mourned their fallen hero, and in Minnesota as well as elsewhere, this sorrow turned into disbelief, into anger.
Holding Robert Bly’s Diaries
Going through Bly's diaries and correspondence spanning his entire life, I felt empowered watching this writer grow, discovering that the youthful doubts I harbor are doubts he harbored, too. It felt validating. (I don't expect anyone but the writers in the audience to understand what I mean by this). Sometimes I'd even stumble across lines that, in variation, have appeared in my own diary ...
This is why I don’t take arguments about “moral and cultural decay” seriously.
There's a common trope among conservatives that we're living in an era of moral and cultural decay, which is reflected in art and performance -- Elvis Presley! Marilyn Manson! Miley Cyrus! With a nervous sweat on their brow, these moral crusaders call for censorship, suggesting it's the American thing to do. (And, I suppose in some ways it is). But, alas, this kind of outrage is nothing new -- the following comic was printed in Illinois' Rock Island Argus in 1915. Replace the statue with Beyonce and the old white aristocrat with ... the old, white, aristocratic Gov. Mike Huckabee and it's just as relevant a century later. ...
A Letter from Charles Bukowski to Robert Bly
Back in November, I wrote about two letters from Garrison Keillor and Bill Holm I found in the University of Minnesota's Robert Bly Papers. What I didn't note is that I also found one from writer Charles Bukowski. Pulling it out of the stack was a surprise -- though it shouldn't have been given Bly's stature in the literary world at the time -- and so I made a copy of it thinking Buk's may be interested. It's not as big of a literary event as the discovery of Neal Cassady's "Joan Anderson letter," but it does include an unpublished poem. ...
Turn Left at Nowhere: A Century of Morris Poetry
"This anthology is a love letter to my newest hometown, to the rural, and to the small," writes Julie Arhelger in the introduction to Turn Left at Nowhere: A Century of Morris Poetry (2014). Compiled as her capstone project for the University of Minnesota Morris' (UMM) honors program*, Turn Left is a lovely volume of pieces inspired … Continue reading Turn Left at Nowhere: A Century of Morris Poetry
Four Newspaper Illustrations from 1914
A century ago, in 1914, war erupted across Europe following the assassination of Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand, a conflict that by its end claimed 37 million casualties worldwide. It was four years of fighting that closed the 19th century and set the 20th into motion. Because its worst horrors remained to be seen (Wilfred Owen's poem "Dulce et Decorum est" captures the disillusion well), there was still hope it'd come to a speedy end. Although this small sample is not representative of every published illustration, political cartoon, and comic, it still provides some insight into the nation's feelings of that decisive year. Here we see doubt over the merits of sustaining a standing army (this being 15 years after the Spanish-American War and the nation's first foray into imperialism). We see as well both doubt and optimism for war -- and finally hope for 1915.