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As the years pass I find myself wondering more and more if what I remember about my childhood are the events themselves or merely a memory of those events. There is a half-awake feel about these memories, a sense of being twice-removed, as if somewhere along the way the direct chain of cause and effect had broken, replaced by a more vaporous connection. Still, I am aware of something deeper that is just beyond my grasp. Events don’t seem only distant in time, they seem more like scenes from a movie that keep flashing through my mind that I struggle to place because I’m no longer sure I’ve even seen the film. Yet I am aware of myself as a player in those scenes. The more I try to wring meaning from these memories the more I realize that the way to do it is to unveil the universals that lie beneath them. Only then will they reveal themselves as more than a collection of unrelated episodes grown hoary with time.

I was born in the Point Breeze section of Philadelphia in a two-story brick rowhouse. It was the first house my parents bought after they were married and where my father was about to begin his medical career. From Colonial times through to the early twentieth century homes in Philadelphia were commonly built of brick, and Point Breeze was a classic example of the type. Standing on the sidewalk in that first neighborhood in the first years of my life, whichever direction I looked revealed long rows of red brick homes, usually two stories high, some with three and, less frequently, four. Grass, except in tiny back yards that butted against even tinier alleyways, was almost nonexistent in those canyons of brick. On cloudy days the neighborhood seemed to huddle beneath a grayish shroud; on cold rainy days it seemed to draw inward on itself and was downright depressing. Despite the dearth of greenery those block-long brick walls formed by the rows of identical houses were boundaries of my youth. I felt a strong sense of place and time and that it was right for me to be there. By the time I was ready to begin grade school my parents had moved a few blocks west to the Stephen Girard Estate, originally the home of the wealthy Colonial-era philanthropist and banker. It was there that I spent the next 12 years of my life. More… “Everything Desirable”

John Capista is a reader who loves to write and a writer who loves to read. He reads, writes and resides in Drexel Hill, PA.

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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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My favorite moment when visiting any art museum is leaving it.

While I’d claim to enjoy viewing art, two to three hours strolling through most collections can give me museum fatigue. Stepping out on the street, however, I gawk astonished on the colors, forms, and composition of everyday objects. Traffic light, mini-skirt, trash can, movie poster, hubcap, a wad of gum: suddenly the world’s transformed, exposed. I feel like the kid with X-ray specs from the ad at the back of comic books. The luster and lineaments of ordinary artifacts take on giddy energy as if the hand of an estranging god were shaping a terrible beauty before my eyes. More… “On the Edge of Art and the Everyday”

Will Cordeiro has work in various genres appearing or forthcoming in over 100 publications, including Best New Poets, Blue Earth Review, Copper Nickel, Crab Orchard Review, DIAGRAM, Fourteen Hills, Nashville Review, National Poetry Review, New Walk, [PANK], Phoebe, Poetry Northwest, Territory, and Zone 3. He is grateful for a grant from the Arizona Commission on the Arts, a scholarship from Sewanee Writers’ Conference, and a Truman Capote Writer’s Fellowship, as well as residencies from ART 342, Blue Mountain Center, Ora Lerman Trust, Petrified Forest National Park, and Risley Residential College. He received his MFA and Ph.D. from Cornell University. He lives in Flagstaff, where he is the faculty in residence and teaches in the Honors College at Northern Arizona University.

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In early November, I received an event notification in my email: “Presidential Hair: A Close Shave with History.” Speaker Robert McCracken Peck, Academy Curator of Art and Artifacts and Senior Fellow, was going to provide insight into the hair collection of Peter A. Browne, the subject of his book Specimens of Hair: The Curious Collection of Peter A. Browne. I couldn’t click fast enough to RSVP.A lawyer, Browne became interested in wool and fur, tracking the differences between animals and species across various geographic locales. The next step was human hair. Throughout the 1840s and 1850s, Browne actively collected human hair samples, including 13 of the first US presidents, famous authors like James Fenimore Cooper, and Napoleon Bonaparte. Browne devoted his life to this project. Before DNA, Browne knew hair was a significant indicator of our identity and that through hair, we could know more about ourselves, as individuals, in addition to the human species. His immense collection, however, would have been tossed in the 1970s had it not been for Peck who stumbled upon the scrapbooks in the hallway of the Academy bound for the trash.

Peck’s book, Specimens of Hair, accounts for the collection through Rosamond Purcell’s stunning photographs and Peck’s rich text. Full of history and analysis, the book is more than just a glance into what many might consider a frivolous oddity, something to ogle and judge. Peck makes the irrefutable case of Browne’s collection being emblematic of 19th-century science, curiosity, and the adventurous spirit of scientific exploration. A week after his talk, Peck was gracious enough to host me in his office at the Academy of Natural Sciences where we discussed Browne’s mission, science literacy and advocacy, and the implications of collecting hair samples. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

More… “Out of Thin Hair”

Melinda Lewis has a PhD in American Culture Studies. She knows more celebrity gossip than basic math and watches too much television.

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Philadelphia’s Passyunk Avenue appears from nowhere, cutting diagonally from Queen’s Village through South Philadelphia. Following it, you get a cross-section of old and new Philadelphia. Historical row houses bump shoulders with condos. Family businesses coexist with hot new restaurants, boutiques, and local markets. Regardless of changes to the community is the neighborhood feel of Passyunk Square. One thing, however, was missing: a bookstore. While Philadelphia has an assortment of independent and box store bookstores, local couple Christina Rosso-Schneider and Alex Schneider, saw a gap. At the start of December, their store, A Novel Idea, opened on 1726 E. Passyunk, preparing their community for a new year full of literary treatures, local art, and events aimed to bring the community together. On a brisk but beautiful day, we sat in their store talking about some of our favorite things: Scholastic book sales, cozy spaces, and the joys of loitering.

More… “An Open Bookstore”

Melinda Lewis has a PhD in American Culture Studies. She knows more celebrity gossip than basic math and watches too much television.

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Since the seminal book by sociologist E. Digby Baltzel, Puritan Boston & Quaker Philadelphia, in 1996, articles by a range of thought leaders appear episodically to remind us that Philadelphia is a city still on the edge of greatness. But a deeper understanding of Philly shows that the city is a paradox for becoming a great city and there are advantages to being on the edge.

For total population, while not as big as the Apple, LA, and Chi-Town, the City of Brotherly Love has been battling three newcomers in the Southwest and holding its own as one of the most populated cities in the US. While not the paragon of hospitality, Philadelphia gets high marks by tourist magazines for being inviting to several subgroups such as the LGBTQ community and young African American professionals. Funny thing though, as locals we may not be the best guides to the most popular sites to see; seeing the liberty bell and other sites in Old City quickly become a faint memory from grade school. We are more likely to take you to the Whispering Wall (Memorial Hall Park), to find the statue of Chief Tedyuscung in the Wissahickon, or visit the Devil’s pocket and Swampoodle blocks of Philly. More… “A City on the Edge”

Stephen F. Gambescia, professor of health services administration at Drexel, has perfect attendance at school reunions.

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Returning to the States after two years in Poland – during which I had married, taught English, and witnessed the rise of Solidarity and the imposition of martial law – I suggested to my wife that we live in Philadelphia.

I had always liked the city, not least because I owed my existence to it. Somewhere in its folds in 1941, my father, a student at Penn Law School, met my mother, a nurse at the Children’s Hospital. As parents, upriver in New Jersey, they introduced my brothers and me to the zoo, the Franklin Institute, Connie Mack Stadium, Elfreth’s Alley. Years later, as a student at Villanova, I took the Paoli Local in to watch Big Five basketball at the Palestra and, one memorable evening, strippers at the Trocadero Theater. In my junior year I bought my first pair of round tortoiseshell glasses – the same style I wear today – at Limeburner Opticians on Chestnut Street. More… “Out of Philadelphia”

Thomas Swick is the author of three books, the most recent being The Joys of Travel: And Stories That Illuminate Them. His work has appeared in numerous national magazines and literary quarterlies, and in six editions of The Best American Travel Writing.

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Seven years ago, I interviewed architects Robert Venturi and his wife and partner, Denise Scott Brown, for the Drexel InterView. The show, produced out of this University, showcases individuals in all walks of life who have contributed in important ways to our society. Venturi and Brown, who had done some of their major work in Philadelphia and whose practice was located in the city, had long been people I wanted to interview. Venturi had written the groundbreaking Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture in 1966 and, with Brown (and Steven Izenour), the perhaps even more influential Learning from Las Vegas in 1972. They were giants of modern architecture who had managed to oppose both modernism and postmodernism with a singular vision of their own. More… “Learning from Robert Venturi”

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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Philadelphia: Finding the Hidden City is a ground-breaking look at American cities in many ways. It takes a deep and richly textured view into places that make up what we call cities and stretches the boundaries of that understanding beyond the often one-dimensional historical, economic, sociological, or political interpretations that try to explain urban environments. The authors do this by re-imagining, recreating, and retelling Philadelphia as a complicated story from the industrial past to the post-industrial present. They view the city through “layers” of the past that both speak to a bygone era, but also the possibilities for the future, seeing Philadelphia in a very nuanced way that challenges all of us to think differently of cities in the American context. On January 19, 2018, I had a chance to sit down with one of the authors, Nathaniel Popkin, to talk about the book and the broader attempt to interpret cities in the 21st century. It was a pleasure to take time to talk about their creative intellectual endeavor. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

More… Philadelphia: Finding the Hidden City

Daniel Dougherty is a political scientist who spends his time teaching, researching, experiencing, pondering, and talking about cities. He is Associate Dean of the Pennoni Honors College and Director of the Honors Program at Drexel University.

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The punk music scene in Philadelphia is deeply rooted in the prominent hardcore clubs and bands that made the city their home in the 1980s, and it continues to thrive today. College radio stations, like Drexel University’s WKDU and the University of Pennsylvania’s WXPN, also played a crucial role in establishing the scene. While the genre frequently rages against the establishment in both content and performance, it was predominantly men who were on stage and behind the mic, giving voice to the anti-establishment message — at least in the beginning.

Or so the story of punk (particularly hardcore punk) goes. The reality is that Philadelphia’s punk scene has a much more complicated relationship with gender and with the representation of women in that scene. Looking at the broader landscape of punk today, it is not hard to see the legacy of early female punk bands, like the Slits or the more recent Riot Grrrl movement. Philadelphia is no exception to that, with many current bands that have significant female representation and have adopted overt third-wave feminist viewpoints. But this is not necessarily a new formation for Philly punk; the “institutions” of Philadelphia punk — show houses, basements, clubs, and radio stations — have been testing grounds for new and more progressive identity politics, which themselves have been reflections of broader social movements that account for feminist and queer perspectives, for decades.

More… “Philly Punk”

Kevin Egan is the director of the Center for Interdisciplinary Inquiry in the Pennoni Honors College at Drexel University.

Maren Larsen is the associate editor of The Smart Set. She is a digital journalism student, college radio DJ, and outdoor enthusiast.

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