In late January of 2015, a tree stood wavering on the edge of Detroit’s burnt-out Grixdale neighborhood. A loud, old engine revved. A 100-foot rope tightened. A car strained forward. The tree followed, snapping and dropping into the overgrown yard of an abandoned house. A group of bearded men looked on from the front yard of a fire-ravaged structure across the street. Satisfaction and relief filled them as the final rays of sunlight scattered into the gray horizon. They had lost two ropes and a chainsaw in bringing down the tree, but they comforted themselves with the thought that the abandoned house and the surrounding telephone lines stood unharmed.
They were pretty far from Detroit’s refurbished downtown. Years ago, this neighborhood had succumbed to the rot brought on by the crack wars. Inhabitants fled, homes were torched, and the long blocks, once designed for cars, were left sparsely populated. In 2015, it remained largely abandoned. Sometimes, there were residual flare-ups of violence and theft. Some ways down the road, there remained a crack house. In this quiet, largely forgotten place, however, adjacent to the vistas of empty lots, under the canopy of old-growth trees, there was a new community growing. They lived amongst the neglected red brick houses and chose to call themselves Fireweed, after the pioneer plant species that takes over the landscape after a forest fire. More… “Why Does a Tree Fall in Detroit?”
Literary critics and regular readers often have things to say about a writer’s voice. Many think that the most-read writers are those whose voice is so clear that it can be singled out from all the other authorial voices. Hemingway, with his hard-edged nouns and verbs, is often said to have a powerful voice. Katherine Anne Porter’s authorial voice might be described as precise, incisive, and aware. Joy Williams’s voice is somewhat quirky, but — as we say — in a serious way. Peter Balakian’s voice is strong and exhilarating. F. Scott Fitzgerald’s voice carries a certain wistfulness and a sense of regret. Thomas Hardy’s novels project compassion and sorrow; yes, a sorrowful voice. Jane Austen’s voice is crisp and witty. The voice of George Eliot, née Mary Anne Evans, the author of Middlemarch, often said to be the most intelligent book ever written, is psychologically acute and hard-nosed and definitive. More… “Voice Is Vision”
I am a Ph.D. student in a political science program, and I’ve been getting more and more annoyed. Most of the major voices in the field want to pin human behavior down to a series of standardized, quantifiable measures. Not only is this approach terribly boring to read, but it totally ignores the complexity of the individual or society. Is there any way I can use poetry in my work in order to fight these trends? — P.N., Madison, Wisconsin
There is definitely a way to fight those trends with poetry, P.N., and when you publish your compelling dissertation, I want to read it. The first thing you need to do is discover a poet from the area or areas of the world you research, particularly one who is not endorsed by the state, and do… More…
Currently there is a lot of space debris — generated by programs like NASA — circling the globe. It’s becoming an increasing problem for satellites and new missions. How can we reduce this debris to ensure that future and current missions will be safe? — Linwood, Boston, Massachusettes
Your mission, Linwood, if you choose to accept it, is to write an apocalyptic poem about the space debris problem that is so powerful it begins a change. It has to be so good that it inundates the mainstream, warrants translation into all the world languages, and terrifies the globe. All international leaders need to be compelled to work together, with a team of scientists, and solve this problem, and it’s your job to make this problem a priority.
After your poem’s publication (your poem should be so good that… More…
“China is the most unresolved nation of consequence in the world.” — Orville Schell, Director of the Center on U.S.-China Relations at the Asia Society
Travel vs. Tourism
Paul Fussell, in his nostalgic travel book Abroad, described the difference between travel and tourism: Travel is authentic and surprising; tourism, packaged and predictable. Fussell claimed that the former, in our market-driven, homogenized society, has been more or less superseded by the latter: not just cities but countries, too, have been turned into “pseudo-places or tourist commonwealths, whose function is simply to entice tourists and sell them things.”
My sentiments exactly. And why I tend to balk at the idea of going anywhere, especially to faraway, inconvenient places — like China. I was sure that a two-week, organized trip to China, which my husband had arranged when I was… More…