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All the world is sad and dreary

In a talk about her development as a poet, Louise Gluck relates the time when she, as a young girl, created a competition for the greatest poem ever based on what she had read so far. She chose Blake’s “Little Black Boy” and the song “Swanee River” as the finalists. Looking back on this (to me) unexpected choice, she said, “They are both totally alike, the same solitary voice raised in lament and grief.” I thought about these two poems and their connections to race, something Gluck doesn’t address, perhaps because it is so obvious. I was especially intrigued by her choice of “Swanee River,” both music and lyrics, because when I was the same age as she was, picking her own literary winners and losers, I was busily working my way through a book on my parents’ shelves, The Fireside Book of American Songs. Although I could play the melody on a recorder, I was mostly interested in the lyrics — favorites like “Bicycle Built for Two” and the songs of Stephen Foster, especially “Swanee River.” I was captivated by words like “creation” and “longing” and “plantation,” far too complicated and clearly beyond my comprehension:

Sadly I roam.

I’m still a-longin’ for the old plantation,

And for the old folks at home.

My fascination with this song has a complicated origin. When I was little, my mother used to drag me with her whenever she shopped for clothes at a small department store called Chatlins, in a small city outside Philadelphia. While she went to search or clothing, she always left me in the middle of a terrifying formation of headless white mannequins, all donning bras, and girdles. But just an aisle away there was a free-standing wooden display case, eye-level to my seven-year-old self. On its side, there was a button to press, which started a whirring sound and then a lever to pull, which opened a curtain to reveal a rural scene. (Cotton fields and barges, I’m guessing, though I don’t recall this part.) The ensuing show was free — no slot for a penny, nickel, or dime — and commenced strummed banjo music from a speaker the case. Then, a gangly, flapping marionette in blackface, the size of one of my sister’s Barbie dolls, shuffled and tapped, singing, “Way down upon the Swanee River . . . ”  More… “Swanee River”

Leonard Kress has published poetry and fiction in Missouri Review, Massachusetts Review, Iowa Review, American Poetry Review, and Harvard Review. His recent collections are The Orpheus Complexand Walk Like Bo DiddleyLiving in the Candy Store and Other Poems and his new verse translation of the Polish Romantic epic, Pan Tadeusz by Adam Mickiewicz were both published in 2018. Craniotomy will appear this summer. He teaches philosophy and religion at Owens Community College in Ohio.

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Caricature and political cartooning is not some willy new form of expression. Ever since there has been someone ready to declare themselves in charge, there’s been someone equally willing to mock them via an unflattering portrait or two (though perhaps doing so in previous centuries shortened the artist’s lifespan considerably).

All that being said, there have been few political figures in American history that have invited as much ire and ridicule as much as our current president, Donald J. Trump (yes, I’m including other recent presidents). His policies, his offensive comments, and his seeming disregard for basic civility have resulted in an abundance of cartoons making fun of his hair, weight, speech patterns, and just about every other aspect of his persona. More… “The Tremendous Trump”

By day, Chris Mautner is the mild-mannered social media producer for PennLive.com. By night, he writes about really nerdy things for The Comics Journal . . . and this site. He is one-quarter of the podcast Comic Books Are Burning in Hell.

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Cecilia Beaux (1855-1942) is known, if known at all, as a quiet, conservative painter — a portraitist of the wealthy and well connected in late 19th- and early 20th-century America. Neglected for most of the last century, she has received a modicum of recognition in recent years, with a number of monographs and a comprehensive exhibition of her work in 2007-2008. Contemporary critics have characterized her, much as those of her own day did, as a very good painter, technically proficient, and dedicated to her art.

But this assessment doesn’t begin to do her justice. It seems time for Beaux to be viewed afresh, not just revived. For she is more than a conventional realist, more than a realist with Impressionist tendencies, more even than a portraitist. She is, I would argue, a great original, for whom labels of school, method, and genre fall short. She deserves comparison with her great predecessor, Édouard Manet. Manet was brash and revolutionary; Beaux, restrained and insinuating — but she repays attention with insights as profound. More… “Beaux Monde”

Paula Marantz Cohen is Dean of the Pennoni Honors College and a Distinguished Professor of English at Drexel University. She is the host of  The Drexel InterView, a unit of the Pennoni Honors College. The Drexel InterView features a half-hour conversation with a nationally known or emerging talent in the arts, culture, science, or business. She is author of five nonfiction books and six bestselling novels, including Jane Austen in Boca and Jane Austen in Scarsdale or Love, Death, and the SATs. Her essays and stories have appeared in The Yale ReviewThe American Scholar, The Times Literary Supplement, and other publications. Her latest novels are Suzanne Davis Gets a Life and her YA novel, Beatrice Bunson’s Guide to Romeo and Juliet.

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