Three Things Thursday: Early Christian Greece, Mineral Rites, and Jimmy Carter

I’m taking a real, honest to goodness vacation over the weekend. In fact, I’m going to vacation so hard that I’m not even taking a laptop! I reckon the last time that I vacationed without a laptop was in 2000 or 2001 when I was living in Athens.

To celebrate this unlikely situation, I’m going to offer a very short Three Things Thursday:

Thing the First

It’s pretty rare that I get genuinely excited about a new archaeological discovery and even less frequently that I get really excited about a discovery in the Late Antique Peloponnesus, but I was genuinely thrilled after reading Nikos Tsivikis’s recent article in the Journal of Epigraphical Studies 4 (2022), 175-197, titled “Christian inscriptions from a third and fourth-century house church at Messene (Peloponnese).” You can download it here.

This article provides some pretty solid evidence for a late-third century house church that continued in use into the fourth century. Tsiviki’s argument is grounded in both epigraphy and excavation evidence although the levels are primarily dated on the basis of numismatic evidence. The building is a modified urban villa in the city of Messenia and the inscriptions record the presence of a reader and then a bishop who provided a mosaic for the modified room.

Of course, textual evidence tells us that there were Christian communities in Greece from the first century AD, but archaeological evidence for pre-Constantinean Christianity in Greece has been pretty thin on the ground and comprised mostly of wishful thinking. In fact, there’s precious little indisputable material evidence for fourth century Christianity in Greece. This building will change that and provide the first archaeologically secure (at least to my knowledge) evidence for third (perhaps optimistically) or early fourth century (almost certainly) Christianity in southern Greece. This is exciting.

Thing the Second

I’ve been enjoying Bob Johnson’s Mineral Rites: An Archaeology of the Fossil Economy (Baltimore 2019). I’m not finished the book, but I appreciate his efforts to trace the significance of the fossil economy from the oil fields to the hot yoga studio. His efforts to demonstrate the deep entanglement of fossil fuels and our modern world is perhaps not entirely unexpected, but Johnson offers very readable and highly “textured” (to use a word from the book’s blurb) descriptions of how fossil fuels shape our daily lives. Johnson weaves fossil fuels into the story of the Titanic, various efforts to understand the human equivalency of fossil fuel energy, and a brilliant comparative chapter that considers the difference between Lewis and Clark’s journey and our modern road system. I’m still working my way through his study of the reality TV series Coal and the modern novel.    

Years ago, my buddy and collaborator Bret Weber suggested that we write a paper or an essay that tracked a drop of oil from the well to the atmosphere. Because I’m kind of a jerk, I rolled my eyes and said something jerk-ish about that idea. Years later and after giving it more and more thought, I think it’s really brilliant. In fact, I think Johnson’s book provides an appealing model for how the life of that “drop” of oil could be traced through our system and how much “life” it provides.

Thing the Third

There are a couple cool things from North Dakota Quarterly this week. First, I’ve posted over on the NDQ a poem by David Starkey which will appear in a forthcoming collection from the author. It’s a pretty nice little poem that features a cigarette as a prop. As I say in my post, I like poems that feature things.

There’s also this blog post about the time that NDQ published some of Jimmy Carter’s poetry. For some reason the pages of this issue were scanned or processed out of order so you have to scroll back from the first page, but do check out Lane Chasek’s post here and follow his link to NDQ 60.1 where we feature four of Carter’s poems. Then scroll backward from the first poem to read the three others.

A Memorial for a Digital Friend: Diana Gilliland Wright

Yesterday, I learned that Diana Gilliland Wright had died earlier this month. I didn’t know her very well and, in fact, I can’t exactly remember if I had ever met her. I knew her mostly via email, comments on my blog, and her own voluminous blogging output.

Over the last decade, as my research interest shifted toward the Argolid, she and I corresponded a bit more regularly as she offered us the occasional insight based on her years of work on the city of Nafplion and its environs. From what I can gather she wrote her dissertation on a 15th century Venetian administrator at Nafplion, Bartolomeo Minio. I’m embarrassed to say that I’ve never read it. Nor have I read any of her formal scholarship. What I did read, quite regularly, were her blogs.

Year ago, when blogging was still fresh and exciting and filled bloggers with hope, we envisioned a world where bloggers read each others’ work and reached out to one another and commented and shared each others’ work through hyperlinks and blogrolls and ultimately forged relationships across networks of blogs. Diana Wright did all that and was a regularly commenter on my blog from its earliest days (on Typepad!). And even as the promise of blogs as a corresponding medium faded a bit, she continued to reach out via email to offer comments and ask for publications. I remember sending her a few copies of North Dakota Quarterly at some point as well and hoping that she found the poetry and fiction in those pages interesting.

From what I can piece together she ran two blogs. The blog that I knew best was called “Surprised by Time” and it largely focused on the Medieval Morea (or Peloponnesus). Her interests were wide ranging and did much to make transparent murky waters separating the Medieval and Early Modern worlds. The scions of Byzantine elite families rubbed shoulders with Venetian administrators, on assignment, Ottoman officials, and Mediterranean diplomats, literati, and ne’er-do-wells. Palaiologoi cross paths with Italian merchants and Ottoman travelers, Pashas, and poets. Each of the over 200 entries, offered a startling glimpse into a world often overlooked by scholars preoccupied by tidier narratives of rise and decline of empire and neglectful of the messier interface of daily life among those most effected by political and cultural change. To Dr. Wright’s particular credit, the blog exists under a CC-By-SA license meaning that anyone can share her work as long as they credit her and make their work available under an open license. The blog appears to be fairly well archived by the internet archive, but I would be keen to entertain ways to preserve it more formally. 

For many years, she also maintained a landing page of sorts called “Nauplion.net” where she offered an index of her work and the work of her partner Pierre MacKay which featured regularly on her blog. It also featured links to many scans of hard to find primary sources some of which were translated on Surprised by Time. This site is no longer working and hadn’t been updated in many years, but it is preserved on the Internet Archive.

[By coincidence, I’m teaching Evliya Çelebi this week and using Pierre MacKay’s translation of Evliya’s visit to Corinth in my class. Diana Wright posted bits and pieces of Pierre’s translation and the story of his discovery of Evliya’s manuscript on her blog.]

Her other blog, Firesteel is an anthology of poetry gleaned from ancient and modern sources and from Greek, Ottoman, Arab, Italian, French and English language poets. I don’t know whether the poetry posted here and her more academic content crossed paths in some kind of formal way, but it really is an amazing collection of work (which I suspect violates all sort of copyrights, but I get the sense that Diana Wright just didn’t really care). 

~

As a small, digital memorial to Diana Gilliland Wright’s passing, I would encourage you spend a moment looking at her online legacy and recognizing it as a gesture of a kind of digital kinship that could connect individuals who had never met. For whatever reason, her profile included a link to John Coltrane’s 1957 recording of “While My Lady Sleeps.” It feels like an appropriate soundtrack for a visit to her digital world. 

. . . a little wine for remembrance . . . a little water for the dust.  

Writing about Pompeii in the Age of Catastrophe

The last couple weeks have been a real struggle for me personally and professionally. I’ve been sort of drifting through my days in a post-COVID fog and have found it incredibly difficult to focus enough to write anything longer than a few sentences. This is particularly intense in the afternoons when I start to fatigue. I remain optimistic that this will pass eventually, but it has led me to shift some of my limited attention from longer and more concentration intensive work like revising book chapters to shorter work. In an effort to make a virtue out of a necessity, I prepared this short response to a pair of poems published in Shawn Graham’s Epoiesen last year. I wrote a rough draft of it last week, but after some reflection on Mark Bould’s recent book, The Anthropocene Unconscious: Climate Catastrophe Culture (Verso 2021) and an assist from Sarah Bond on Twitter, I was able to expand my short post into something a bit more substantive. Shawn has graciously accepted my response and I look forward to it appearing over at Epoiesen later this year. 

Here’s what I have to say:

Pompeii has an enduring place in our modern cultural imagination. Excavations at the site, and their often grisly discoveries, have come to stand in for any number of modern situations from the intimate pain of personal heartbreak to horrors of the Shoah, industrialization, and the looming climate catastrophe. I’d like to propose Mary K. Lindberg’s poems on Pompeii continue in this tradition.

The release of Cate Le Bon’s latest album titled Pompeii coincided with my reading of Lindberg’s poems and spurred my reflection. Le Bon’s album while refined, cohesive, and thoughtful, is not a concept album, and it doesn’t seem to connect with the site beyond including a song of the same title. In this song, however, Le Bon evokes a longstanding trope associated with Pompeii through a swirl of reverberating synths:

Get dressed
You’re a mess
You’re a sight Did you dream about Pompeii?
Your eyes always give it away
Cities built on monumental rage
Getting lost in the seminar…

The idea of dreaming about Pompeii invokes Sigmund Freud’s well-known treatise, Delusion and Dream: an Interpretation in the Light of Psychoanalysis of Gravida (1907) which interrogates Wilhelm Jensen’s novel Gravida (1903) through the lens of psychoanalysis. The main character in Jensen’s novel, Harold, an archaeologists, fell in love with an ancient relief carving which he calls Gravida. After a dream about the destruction of Pompeii and Gravida’s demise, he traveled to the site and while there, he saw a woman who looks like Gravida, but was alive and well. The woman was, in fact, Zoë Bertgang, a former neighbor of Harold’s on whom he had a childhood crush. Freud in his treatise, Delusion and Dream, excavated Harold’s dream of Gravida and argued that it was, in fact, a manifestation of his sublimated love for his former neighbor who he just happened to encounter in Pompeii. Thus, Harold’s passion for the Gravida relief and archaeology as a discipline was an expression of his repressed passion for this woman. Zoë understood this and cured Harold by at times imitating Gravida and at other times gently directing Harold’s attention from his fantasy to reality. Freud’s work both revealed his longstanding interest in excavation as a metaphor for bringing the complex working of the unconscious mind to light and demonstrated the utility of his psychoanalytical methods for considering works of literature.

It is hard to escape this long Freudian shadow when reading Mary K. Lindberg’s first poem, “Book Lover.” The narrator in the poem is a freedman, Aristo, who survives the first shocks of Vesuvius’s eruption, but dies in the pyroclastic flow the next day. He was a librarian whose love for books surpassed that for even his family(or perhaps the family of his former master who also perished in the eruption. He was found by excavators still clutching his keys to the library. In another poem, “The House of the Deer,” a wealthy Roman family hoped to escape Vesuvius’s eruption by seeking shelter in the boathouses by the sea. As they fled they grabbed jewelry and coins, but in the end, even with their worldly goods, they died among the fishy nets of boats. Like Harold’s desire for the sculpted Gravida, the characters in Lindberg’s poems appear to displace their desire for family, safety, and home onto material things even as Pompeii crumbled around them. In both poems, Lindberg includes figures rushing about with pillows tied to their heads as if begging the reader to reflect on our dreamtime displacements. These desperate figures seem to embody our own pillow-headed efforts to capture our dreams as they flee the probing fingers of our conscious mind and solidifies the dream-like quality of the poems which capture individuals at the moment of crisis.

Reading these poems and listening to Cate Le Bon’s oneiric voice ask “Did you dream about Pompeii?” begged me to consider how “cities built on monumental rage” had became “lost in the seminar.” Primo Levi’s haunting poem “The Girl-Child of Pompeii” (1978 [1984 in Italian and 1992 in English]) offered a depressing clue. The poem juxtaposes the plaster cast of a child who died in the eruption of Vesuvius while clutching her mother with Anne Frank and the famous Hiroshima blast shadow of the girl jumping rope. This poem was brought to my attention by Joanna Paul’s chapter in Pompeii in the Public Imagination ((2011) edited by Paul and Shelley Halles). Pompeii’s monumental rage has made it a timeless vessel for the past horrors of the Holocaust and the looming anxiety of the nuclear age: “Since everyone’s anguish is our own | We live ours over again…” Cities built on rage reverberate across the centuries suffusing the seminar with displaced anxieties.

The anguished dreams of Le Bon, Lindberg, and Levi jarred me. I’ve never been to Pompeii, but I nevertheless feel like the city looms over our contemporary world in a million cautionary tales. Perhaps Malcolm Lowry’s short story, “Present Estate of Pompeii,” published in the Partisan Review in 1959 offers a perspective on Pompeii’s appropriate to our present time. In the story, Roderick MacGregor Fairhaven and his wife travel to Pompeii by train where she insistently takes her husband on a tour of the site. Roderick is distracted and finds the site’s “tragic because almost successful — effort at permenance.” And, in keeping with the Pompeii’s status as a place of displaced dreams, Roderick noted that “it looked sometimes as though the Romans here had made all their dreams come true in terms of convenience, wicked and good alike.” Pompeii was an ancient city reshaped by modern priorities.

The dream transported Roderick back to his home in British Columbia where his cabin stood across the bay from an oil refinery. As the Italian tour guide escorted him and his wife around Pompeii, Roderick recalled the violent explosion of oil tanker Salinas as it unloaded its cargo at the refinery. Mark Bould in his new book, The Anthropocene Unconscious: Climate Catastrophe Culture (2021) argues that most contemporary fiction manifests our displaced anxieties about climate change. Lowry’s story appears to anticipate this. The ancient and ruined convenience of Pompeii collided with the mechanism of convenience in the contemporary age as the flames from the burning ship subsided and the ship itself slipped away sparing the refinery an even greater calamity. The dead sun of Lindberg’s Pompeii and Lowry’s sun “as the fiery hub to a gigantic black-disked wheel tired by a rainbow” of spilled oil traced the calamity’s global proportions. The ruins of Pompeii were the ruins of the refinery and the ruins of convenience, wealth, and arrogance. Pompeii, whatever else it was, can, or could be reminded Roderick that “Man had become a raven staring at a ruined heronry. Well, let him deduce his own ravenhood from it if he could.”

As the specter of the global climate change looms over contemporary society, the site of Pompeii takes on new meaning for contemporary writers and readers. It is impossible to escape the tragic futility of convenience, wealth, and “the countless words of thinkers who tried to understand human nature” in the face of horrible power of nature. The best we can do is displace it onto powerless, if not uncooperative sites like Pompeii. Restoring Pompeii reveals a city saturated with Levi’s recurrent anguish, Le Bon’s rage, Lowry’s ravens at the heronry, and Lindberg’s imperceptible move from the end of life to the beginning of death. Pompeii always reminds us of the final and inescapable end.

As Lowry’s Roderick departed the city he abruptly asked the question that perhaps haunts anyone who thinks about Pompeii for more than a moment: “What it amounted to was a feeling that there was not going to be time. Did you want to harrow yourself looking at what had been only temporarily spared, at what was finally doomed? And Roderick could not help but wonder whether man too was not beginning to stand, in some profound inexplicable scene, fundamentally in some such imperfect or dislocated relation to his environment as he.”

Pompeii Dreams

I don’t think very often about Pompeii, mostly because I assume that folks like Eric Poehler and Steven Ellis think about enough, but every now and then something happens that makes me aware of how ubiquitous Pompeii is in our popular culture.

For example, this week, I’ve been enjoying Cate Le Bon’s latest album titled Pompeii and while it doesn’t appear to be a concept album (and the album itself doesn’t appear related in any real way to the site), it does include a song of the same title. Le Bon sings through a swirl of reverberating synths: 

Get dressed
You’re a mess
You’re a sight
Did you dream about Pompeii?
Your eyes always give it away
Cities built on monumental rage
Getting lost in the seminar…

Of course, the idea of dreaming about Pompeii leads one directly to Freud’s famous Delusion and Dream: an Interpretation in the Light of Psychoanalysis of Gradiva (1907) which interrogates Wilhelm Jensen’s novel Gravida (1903) through the lens of psychoanalysis. In the novel the main character, Harold, an archaeologists, falls in love with an ancient relief carving which he calls Gravida. After a dream about the destruction of Pompeii and Gravida’s demise, he travels to the site and while there, he sees a woman who looks like Gravida, but is alive and well. The woman is, in fact, Zoë Bertgang, a former neighbor of Harold’s on whom he had a childhood crush. Freud excavates Harold’s dream of Gravida and reveals that it is, in fact, a manifestation of his sublimated love for his former neighbor who he just happens to encounter in Pompeii. Harold’s passion for the Gravida relief and archaeology as a discipline is merely repressed passion for this woman. Zoë understands this and by at time imitating Gravida and at times gently directing Harold’s attention from his fantasy to reality.

Last weekend, I worked to typeset two poems published by Mary K. Lindberg over at Shawn Graham’s journal Epoiesen: A Journal for Creative Engagement in History and Archaeology. One in particular, “Book Lover” caught my attention. The narrator in the poem is a freedman, Aristo, who survives the first shocks of Vesuvius’s eruption, but dies in the pyroclastic flow the next day. He was a librarian whose love for books surpassed that for even his family or perhaps the family of his former master who, like, Aristo, died in the eruption. In another poem, “The House of the Deer,” a wealthy Roman family hoped to escape Vesuvius’s eruption by seeking shelter in the boathouses by the sea. As they fled they grabbed jewelry and coins, but in the end, they died among the fishy nets of boats. Like Harold’s desire for the sculpted Gravida, the characters in Lindberg’s poems appear, dream like, to displace their desires onto material things even as Pompeii itself crumbles around them. This displacement is not only so central to how we understand our dreams, but also contributes to the poems dream-like qualities.

When Cate Le Bon asks “Did you dream about Pompeii?” amid the oneiric swirls of synths and “cities built on monumental rage” becomes “lost in the seminar,” it is hard to avoid thinking of Primo Levi’s haunting poem “The Girl-Child of Pompeii” which juxtaposes the plaster cast of a child who died in the eruption of Vesuvius with Anne Frank and the famous blast shadow of the girl jumping rope in Hiroshima. (This poem was brought to my attention by Joanna Paul’s relatively recent essay in the book Pompeii in the Public Imagination (2011) edited by Paul and Shelley Halles.)

It’s clear that our fascination with Pompeii represents all sorts of modern anxieties from the devastating potential of nuclear war, the murderous capacities of the militarized state, and our displaced desire for ancient and modern things in an era where human connections feel especially precious and strained. 

Photo Friday and a Few Random Links

It’s the start of the “Frog Days of Summer” when it’s so hot, we all become a bit amphibious to beat the heat. 

The dogs are doing their best to keep cool and hydrated.

The Barge in Summer

and to endure the terror of summer thunderstorms.

IMG 6312

I still don’t have quite enough energy for a full on “Quick Hits and Varia,” but a few links to some late-summer reading never go astray. Do check out Carl Schiffman’s essay posted over at the North Dakota Quarterly blog or reminisce about a summer on Swan’s Island with the late Donald Junkins.

If you have a digital project that you love, do consider nominating it for the AIA Award for Outstanding Work in Digital Archaeology

If you’re looking for something at the intersection of poetry and photography, check out Kyle Cassidy’s Optimized for Likes: Kerning the Human Altered Landscape. It’s $3 and you can get the PDF here.

If you have itchy writing figures, do consider submitting something to this coming fall’s pilgrimCHAT conference. You can read the CFP here.

This is a neat little piece on jazz violinist Billy Bang.

I’m reading Rosemary Joyce’s The Future of Nuclear Waste: What Art and Archaeology Can Tell Us about Securing the World’s Most Hazardous Material. Oxford 2020.

Three Things Thursday: Blogging, Archaeology and Climate, and Poetry

I’ve reached the point of the summer when all my projects seem to melt together into chaotic ball of deadlines, half-met expectations, and long bikes rides. Needless to say, it has not been very productive.

At the same time, I am having fun thinking about things to blog about and then stretching my morning blogging time well into my second cup of coffee. So this morning, I have three things that might, someday, mature into full blog posts.

Thing the First

Years ago (let’s say 2008), I wrote a piece on the archaeology of blogging (and blogging archaeology) for Archaeology magazine’s website. I returned to some of the ideas in that article with a piece co-written by Andrew Reinhard for Internet Archaeology which considered the place of blogs in the academic ecosystem.

Lately, I’ve been thinking about how blogging has changed over the past five years. When I started blogging, I imagined an audience who would be interested in understanding how the [academic] sausage was made. Along those lines, my blog would serve as part idea box, part academic scratch pad, and part preview channel for my various research interests. At my most optimistic, I considered it to be living supplement to my academic CV (with occasional dog photo!) and as a way to move back the veil on how academics produce new knowledge. In any event, it may be that this was an optimistic program from the start, but I continue to think that it has relevance. I suspect that this is even more true for today as the general public has become increasingly invested in understanding how scientific knowledge forms the basis for public policy, authority, and expertise.

That said, I can completely understand how my blog is not to everyone’s taste. Indeed, it seems like public scholarship has two main areas of emphasis. One is works that approach historical problems with a journalistic flair for narrative, description, and analysis. Ed Watt’s recent book on the fall of the Roman Republic fits this category as do works by the likes of Eric Cline or my colleague Eric Burin. These works have the potential to attract the elusive crossover audience that includes both academics and the general public and have emerged as a revenue stream for publishers and scholars alike. This is important at a time when library purchasing power is in decline and faculty salaries have tended to stagnate.

The other major strain in public scholarship, and one that has particular prominence in the blogging community, is politically engaged outreach. This involves writing — often for blogs, but also in more established publications — on both academic issues that have an impact on contemporary society and in efforts to demonstrate how the contemporary political discourse has had an impact on what we do as researchers. I find the work of folks like Sarah Bond, Rebecca Futo-Kennedy, and the folks who blog at places like Everyday Orientalism (and previously Eidolon) compelling and important voices. At the same time, I recognize that this kind of public outreach often puts you in the crosshairs of the political outrage machine on social media. On the other hand, their work also attracts significant positive attention from readers within and outside the academy and if the goal of public outreach is actually reaching the public, then these authors have succeeded in spades. 

That said, it is a very different kind of blogging than what I envisioned when I started my blog and one wonders whether the changing political and cultural economy of academia has fundamentally transformed the character of outreach and public oriented scholarship? 

Thing the Second

I really enjoyed this article in the Journal of Field Archaeology by Karim Alizadeh, M. Rouhollah Mohammadi, Sepideh Maziar, and Mohmmad Feizkhah titled: “The Islamic Conquest or Flooding? Sasanian Settlements and Irrigation Systems Collapse in Mughan, Iranian Azerbaijan.” It is another in the recent gaggle of articles interested in considering the role of climate change in the transformation of settlement and activity in the ancient Mediterranean (broadly construed) landscape. Alizadeh and colleagues look at evidence for fortifications and irrigation systems in the Mughan Steppe region of the Azerbaijan-Iranian borderland.

They argue that the Sassanians constructed a complex network of irrigation canals throughout the region that only faltered as a result of two major flooding events in the 7th century. These floods cut down the Aras River bed making disrupting its relationship to the steppe’s irrigation network. These flooding events may well be connected to changes in climate and hydrology precipitated by the Late Antique Little Ice Age. The subsequent abandonment of settlement in the Mughan Steppe in the late 7th century, then, may not be related to the Muslim Conquests and the arrival of Muslim military forces in the world. Or, alternately, the faltering irrigation may have made the regional less resilient in the face of political and military challenges. 

This kind of work has had me thinking more carefully about the settlement change in Greece in the 7th century and the relationship between climate change, changes in economic structures, and the evident reorganization of Greek rural settlement. While the data that we have for the environmental conditions at the local level remains fragmentary and inconclusive, comparisons with other regions of the Mediterranean give us another reason to resist assuming that political and military events precipitated changes in the settlement and economy.   

Thing the Third

Do go and check out the North Dakota Quarterly blog today. I’ve posted a poem by John Walser titled “Chronoscope 181: And that spot.” It’s a great example of how poetry (and music!) can do things with time that we struggle to accomplish in the more linear world of academic prose. Plus, it’s a perfect poem to read heading into midsummer and thinking about how long days can slow down time and make even the chaotic disorganization of summer feel like something significant… 

Three Things Thursday: Riding, Reading, and Teaching

The semester is winding down and I’m contemplating my summer blogging schedule. I’d like to keep it going at least four days a week, but perhaps ramping down my quick hits and varia posts on Friday? Or making them a “photography Phriday” post?

Just a thought.

For the final Thursday of the semester, here are three little things that are simmering around in my head. 

Thing the First

Over the last decade, I’ve rediscovered the joy of walking. Hardly a week goes by when I don’t walk at least 20-30 miles usually in 6 or 7 mile chunks and usually accompanied by the dogs. Because I’m a creature of habit, I tend to walk the same paths day after day and this has given me a chance to observe the subtle changes that take place both with the changing of seasons and  year after year.

This spring, I’ve started to ride my bike a bit more. I bought a gravel bike that’s a hybrid between a road bike and a mountain bike suited for light trail riding and, more importantly, sojourns on the gravel section-line roads that surround Grand Forks. This has allowed me to explore a bit more widely. At the same time, I’m finding that gravel riding takes a significant amount of concentration. The distribution of gravel on the section-line roads is uneven meaning gravel appears in pools and eddies, ridges and troughs which make it like riding in deep snow or sand. The road surfaces have washboard patches that give way to smooth, almost polished, hard-packed stretches which ride like pavement. 

What’s interesting about riding the gravel roads around my town is that they give me a greater appreciation for the local landscape much the same way as walking does, but the texture of the gravel roads always is vying for my attention with the landscape for my attention. I can’t really tell whether riding my bike, then, has expanded my view of my world or narrowed it to the smoothest paths between the ridges of gravel on the roads.

Thing the Second

Somewhere on the web, I was reminded that the Greek poet Nikos Gatsos died on May 12, 1992. It’s not a special anniversary of his death or anything (I guess next year we can recognize that it’s been 30 years). His most famous poem is Amorogos. I remember buying my copy of the Sally Purcell translation in Athens when I was working at the American School of Classical Studies at Athens. You can read a bit of an earlier translation by Kimon Friar here and there on the web.

The poem was written during the Nazi occupation of Greece and combines traditional Greek poetic forms with surrealist images. For Gatsos, Amorgos (an island, according to the story, Gatsos never even visited) becomes the object for his brilliant tracing of the pain and beauty of the complicated world in which he lived.

Thing the Third

It’s the start of the summer and I’m teaching an undergraduate Roman History class to two students. Traditionally, these summer courses are taught as independent reading and usually focus on three to five books and involve a series of reviews or reflection essays.

This summer, however, I was considering focusing on maybe one or two books. I’m curious about Ed Watts’ recent book on the fall of the Roman Republic, Mortal Republic: How Rome Fell into Tyranny (Basic Books 2018) and Walter Scheidel, Escape from Rome: The Failure of Empire and the Road to Prosperity (Princeton 2019). I’d like to add a third book to the list, but considering that Scheidel clocks in at over 700 pages and Mortal Republic at 350. That’s 1000 pages for students to read and digest, and probably enough for one semester.

That said, I’m open to a third book, if you have something in mind. These students have no background in ancient history or Roman History.

Three Things Thursday: Black History Month, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and a New Book

I’m almost making a habit of these Three Things Thursdays! This week, I’m mostly sharing things that happening at my other two projects: The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota and North Dakota Quarterly.

Thing the First

Please go and check out this long interview with David Pettegrew on the making of the book One Hundred Voices: Harrisburg’s Historic African American Community, 1850-1920 that he co-edited with Calobe Jackson, Jr. and Katie Wingert McArdle.

It’s a brilliant example of public, digital archaeology that involved a diverse group of individuals and produce a wide range of products, experiences, and community.

Thing the Second

I brought together some stuff about the late Lawrence Ferlinghetti for the NDQ blog including a couple amusing stories about Ferlinghetti’s visit to the UND Writers Conference in 1974 which of course involved the cops and Tom McGrath because North Dakota. 

Thing the Third

This one is a bit top secret, but I want to share it with loyal readers to this blog.

On Monday, The Digital Press will release Rebecca M. Seifried and Deborah E. Stewart Brown’s Deserted Villages: Perspectives from the Eastern Mediterranean. This book is brilliant and brings together nine substantial papers on deserted and abandoned villages in a wide range of contexts (including North Dakota). 

If you want to download a copy for free, in advance of the official publication date, go here or you can be the first to receive your very own paper copy here.

1 Deserted Villages book cover

Poetry

It was wonderful to see the excitement surrounding Amanda Gorman’s remarkable poetry during yesterday’s inauguration. I wonder whether this will spur people to read more poetry – especially contemporary poetry – and support its publication?

Over the last few years, I’ve been reading much more poetry than ever before both for myself and as the editor of North Dakota Quarterly. I’m convinced that poetry speaks in unique ways to our contemporary situation. I has the capacity to be ambiguous, elusive, and shifting while also speaking significant and, at its best, profound truths to the world. It reminds me that being true shouldn’t be a watchword for a kind of desiccated empiricism or descriptive practices that value reportage over judgement, interpretation, and understanding. Despite recent calls to embrace “truth,” poetry makes clear that being true doesn’t mean being tidy or straightforward. Truth is messy and, in most cases, unclear.

Anyway, maybe we’re living in an age where poetry matters.

My colleagues and I post poetry regularly at the NDQ blog. You can check it out here.

If you like what you read in NDQit would be really great if you subscribed. Poets need venues for poetry to thrive and one way to make sure that the next generation of poets have places to publish, to be read, and to be discovered.

This week, I’ve be reading my way through the latest issue of Rattle, a poetry journal with an impressive circulation, some remarkable poetry, and an enviable track record. Check them out here.

I’m always excited to get a copy of the Beloit Poetry Journal and read through the remarkable collection of poets that it assembles each quarter. NDQ’s stablemate at the University of Nebraska Press is the wonderful Hotel Amerika, which always features provocative and new poetry.

Lately, I’ve been enjoying the poetry of Sun Ra (here’s a nice little essay on what they can be like) and I’m looking forward to getting a copy of Amiri Baraka and Larry Neal collection of Black poets published in 1968: Black Fire: An Anthology of Afro American Writing, which is currently published by a Black owned press, Black Classic Press. You can get a copy here. It’s worth remembering that Alain Locke’s classic anthology of African American literature, The New Negro: An Interpretation, that sought to capture the spirit of the Harlem Renaissance just as Baraka and Neal captured the anger and frustration of Blacks in New York though the Black Arts Movement.

In any event, I’m not trying to convince you to read any particular poetry or to subscribe or purchase any particular journal or collection. At the same time, I AM trying to encourage you to channel your admiration for Amanda Gorman into supporting poets and poetry more broadly. So please, at very least click on one of the links and maybe you’ll find something amazing to read. 

Louise Glück’s Poetry, The Bakken and the Quarterly

It speaks volumes that a fly will overshadow the announcement of an American poet, Louise Elisabeth Glück, winning the Nobel Prize for literature.

If you don’t have some of her poetry on your shelf, I recommend it (for whatever that’s worth). A few years ago Farrar, Strauss and Giroux published an anthology of her work. Here are some of her poems as well. I also like the essay, “Against Sincerity”:

“…the source of art is experience, the end product truth, and the artist, surveying the actual, constantly intervenes and manages, lies and deletes, all in the service of truth.”

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I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the number of downloads that Kyle Conway’s edited volume, Sixty Years of Boom and Bust: The Impact of Oil in North Dakota, 1958-2018. It has already outperformed my expectations and continues to generate interest and excitement.

Kyle is also a great interview (and conversationalist). I did a little interview with him and posted it to the Digital Press blog. We discuss the book and the past and future of his Bakken research. As always he saves elevates my banal questions with his insightful responses. 

Read it here. Or download the book here, buy it on Amazon here, or get a copy from a small bookshop here.

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Last but not least, I’ve posted the table of contents for the next issue of North Dakota Quarterly over at the NDQ blog. You can check it out here.

If you like it, you can download volume 85 for free or our latest issue 87.1/2 here.  

As you likely know, these days are particularly challenging for many cultural institutions, publishers, and little magazines. If you can, consider buying a book from a small presssubscribing to a literary journal (like our UNP stablemate, Hotel Amerika), or otherwise supporting the arts.

We are currently reading poetry and essay and are always reading fiction. You can submit something to us here. If you already subscribe, you should get receive your latest copy of NDQ in November. If you’d like to subscribe, please go here