Transcendentalism in Boston

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Emerson lecturing in Concord. Bettmann / Getty Images

“But in New England, the ideas entertained by the foreign thinkers took root in the native soil and blossomed out in every form of social life. The philosophy assumed full proportions, produced fruit according to its kind, created a new social order for itself, or rather showed what sort of social order it would create under favoring conditions. Its new heavens and new earth were made visible, if but for a moment, and in a wintry season. Hence, when we speak of Transcendentalism, we mean New England Transcendentalism. New England furnished the only plot of ground on the planet, where the transcendental philosophy had a chance to show what it was and what it proposed” -Octavius Brooks Frothingham, second wave transcendentalist writer and author of New England Transcendentalism

Transcendentalism was a literary, philosophical, and religious movement that began in the 19th century, based in New England. Followers of this movement believed that independent, self-reliant human’s coexistence with nature is the utmost state of existence. Transcendentalists thought that society and institutions had corrupted individual’s purity and that only through cohabitation with oneself in nature can equilibrium be restored. The natural, glorious landscape of New England- specifically in Massachusetts, inspired transcendentalist writings.

The head of the transcendentalist movement came to a head in Boston. The prevalence of literacy, sense of individualism, and tenacious Protestant beliefs held in New England at the time made this area the perfect breeding group for transcendentalism to flourish. Frothingham describes how the character of New Englanders were the perfect practitioners of transcendentalism’s ideas. “The Unitarians of New England, good scholars, careful reasoners, clear and exact thinkers, accomplished men of letters, humane in sentiment, sincere in moral intention, belonged, of course with individual exceptions, to the class which looked without for knowledge, rather than within for inspiration.”

The transcendentalists were so cemented in their belief of coexistence with nature that they collectively bought and temporarily lived at Brook Farm in West Roxbury, Boston, though most of their correspondences otherwise happened in the city. Commonly the transcendentalist club held meetings in Boston’s Beacon Hill at the Boston Athenaeum where the writers would engage in research at the Athenaeum’s library. Close by is the Parker House, located at 60 School Street in Beacon Hill. The transcendentalists would gather at the Parker House and host lively round table discussions, completely with freely flowing discussion, spirits, and food.

Further, the Old Corner Bookstore located on School Street in Boston allowed for transcendentalists to meet and publish their works. Between 1845 and 1865, The Old Corner Bookstore revolutionized the American book publishing industry by winning “worldwide renown as a well-stocked shop, a prominent publishing house, and a magnet for the literary world.”

Finally, one of Boston’s most well-known landmarks, The Common, was where it was rumored Ralph Waldo Emerson and Walt Whitman strolled, as Emerson tried to convince Whitman to tone down the sexual language in his works. Whitman wrote:

“Each point of Emerson’s statement was unanswerable, no judge’s charge ever more complete or convincing, I could never hear the point better put – and then I felt down in my soul the clear and unmistakable conviction to disobey all and pursue my own way.”

As Whitman aspired to do in his own works, the writings of the transcendentalists radicalized American writing by introducing a new, less inhibited way of thinking about one’s relation to the world. The transcendentalist movement created a more secular, skeptical generation of American writers and intellectuals.

Sources: http://atweb.tatecommunications.com/boston.htm

Post written by Emily Bunn

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Poet Spotlight: Evie Shockley

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Photo credit: Stéphane Robolin and the Poetry Foundation

It pains me to tell you of it; but I have promised to tell you the truth, and I will do it honestly, let it cost me what it may. – “Sex Trafficking Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl in the USA (or, The Nation’s Plague in Plain Sight)”

So writes Evie Shockley, a poet from Nashville, Tennessee, and the author of three books titled A Half Red Sea, The New Black, and Semiautomatic and her monograph, Renegade Poetics: Black Aesthetics and Formal Innovation in African American Poetry. Shockley was recognized for her poetic efforts when she received the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award for her book The New Black, as well as the Holmes National Poetry Prize, both in 2012. A few years later, in 2018, she placed as a Pulitzer Prize Finalist for the release of her most recent book, Semiautomatic

Semiautomatic recounts the experience of being black in America, police brutality, and racism, among other topics regarding the search for equality and justice. What makes this collection so unique is the unconventional attention to form and utilization of free verse. While her poems are often serious and saddening, the use of different poetic forms, such as unusual capitalization, repetition, rhyme scheme, and meter, is very playful. The writing exemplified in Semiautomatic is fierce, unabashed, and determined to make not only an impact but a concrete change in the world around her.

Another one of Shockley’s strengths is her keen eye for noticing the discrepancies and hidden nightmares of America’s operation. She often focuses her writing on topics that are considered taboo, or that are too painful to be spoken about aloud. One of the most heartwrenching and impactful pieces Shockley has published is “Sex Trafficking Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl in the USA (or, The Nation’s Plague in Plain Sight).” In this poem, the issue of sex trafficking in America is analyzed. A startling comparison is made between the atrocities of past slaves, and today’s female sex trafficking victims in America. Quotations from political figures, sex trafficking victims, anti-human trafficking organization officials, and sex trafficking statistics are fluidly incorporated within her poem to aid her message. The author grapples with her own realizations about this toxic, violent underground industry simultaneously telling the story of a victim. At the culmination of the piece, Shockley self-referentially asks herself what she can do to help fight this issue, and by writing this poem, she has brought attention to this critical issue of today.

To read Evie Shockley’s “Sex Trafficking Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl in the USA (or, The Nation’s Plague in Plain Sight)”, please the Poetry Foundation

Post written by Emily Bunn

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The Luminous Literary Life of Cambridge, Massachusetts

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Cambridge, MA is home to an impressive academic, literary community. Wandering down Massachusetts Avenue and the various side streets of Harvard Square, one can relish for hours among endless aisles of book stores and libraries. Cambridge is home to Harvard University, which garners a dignified collection of the works of renowned professors and writers in the world of academia. There are endless opportunities to learn and expand one’s bookshelf in the city of Cambridge, and here at CambridgeEditors, we strive to help writers improve their own works of writing. Exploring the scholastic landscape of the city is inspirational to the work of Cambridge Editors. Below are some of the best literary locations to visit on your stay in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

The Coop Cafe and Bookstore

The Coop Cafe/Bookstore is a one-stop-shop for Harvard students and alum, along with the general public. The bookstore offers an array of Harvard professor’s works, alongside various new, unrelated releases as well. Upstairs, there is a cozy cafe where one can pick up a cup of coffee or a pastry to enjoy while settling down to dive into a new read.

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Harvard Yard

Harvard’s campus, the heart of Cambridge, is both renowned and beautiful, especially during autumn. While strolling around campus, one can admire the stately, old halls, libraries, and class buildings. On the Harvard lawn, there are seating areas for one to sit and read peacefully.

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Harvard Bookstore

The Harvard Bookstore on Mass Ave offers a brilliant selection of books inside and outside. Shoppers can find priced-down, used books outside the shop and in the basement. Inside the Harvard Bookstore, one is welcome to browse the aisles to their heart’s content for any reading material they are looking to catch up on.

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Grolier Poetry Bookstore

Founded in 1927 near Havard Square, Grollier Poetry Bookstore exists as the oldest continuous poetry bookshop. Grollier Poetry Bookstore consists of one small but charming room, yet the life and works of art inside the shop are largely impressive. Grollier offers poetry readings, foundation events, and book sharing opportunities. Though it has become a popular literary destination for poets and book lovers, this hidden gem offers a vast array of rare and diverse works of poetry.

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Article and photos by Emily Bunn

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The Beat Generation: Members, Ideology, and Influences

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Neal Cassady (and the love of that year) photographed by Allen Ginsberg

“Nobody knows whether we were just catalysts or invented something, or just the froth riding on a wave of its own. We were all three, I suppose,” writes Allen Ginsberg, who along with William Burroughs, and Jack Kerouac, was one of the core founders of the Beat Generation, a literary movement inspired by politics and culture of the post-WWII American society. Coming to fruition in the 1950s, the movement coalesced around poets and polemicists in San Francisco and Berkley, California, and in New York City. The members of this movement were considered counterculture and rejected standard poetic and societal norms.

The shared values of Beat Generation authors include rejection of materialism, exploitation of Eastern religions, psychedelic experimentation, explicit and raw illustrations of the human condition, and sexual liberation. To reach a heightened state of sensory awareness, the Beat Generation advocated for Zen Buddism, drugs, sex, and jazz and bebop music. Common themes within Beat Generation writings include the demystification/decriminalization of marijuana, opposition to the military-industrial ‘machine civilization,’ and sexual freedom. 

Though the movement faded by the 1960s, the effects of these great writers continue to be longstanding. The openness and raw emotion of the Beat writers helped break down barriers in the artistic and literary worlds. Great later writers who were influenced by the Beat Generation include Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Gregory Corso, and Gary Snyder. Similarly, the Beat Generation influenced the notable Andy Warhol, an abstract pop artist who also went against artistic norms to create his paintings. After the world was introduced to Beat Generation writing, poetry become more free-form and unconventional. Overall, the Beat Generation created a more abstract and unapologetic generation of writers and artists.

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William Burroughs photographed by Allen Ginsberg

The greatest works of the Beat Generation, which still influence writing today, have changed my perspective on the medium itself. My favorite Beat Generation works include “Howl” and “A Supermarket in California” by Allen Ginsberg; “Old Angel Midnight” and On The Road by Jack Kerouac, The Soft Machine and And the Hippos Were Boiled in their Tanks by William Burroughs; “An Exercise in Love” by Diane Di Prima; and the crowning piece of the entire Beat Generation- “America” by Allen Ginsberg. 

Allen Ginsberg’s “America” is a heart-wrenching, angry, and enigmatic poem about the infrastructure and operations of the mechanized, militaristic, capitalist society of America in the 1950s. In the wake of WWII, Ginsburg discusses the political unrest that has stained the American soil. He discusses the Cold War foreign policy positions the United States embroils itself in and his contempt with the nation’s handling of these situations at stake. Within “America” Ginsberg discusses themes such as the creation and threat of nuclear bombs, organized religion, drug use, and the fight against communism. Ginsberg is ranting to the omniscient America so as much as he is rambling to himself, and his ebullient, frustrated, radical declarations are both political and vulgar. Ginsberg’s impenetrable tenacity and fierce argumentation raise skepticism about the world around us; especially within such the highly advanced and praised democracy that America broadcasts. To exemplify this, below is the first stanza of Allen Ginsberg’s “America.”

 

America I’ve given you all and now I’m nothing.
America two dollars and twentyseven cents January 17, 1956.   
I can’t stand my own mind.
America when will we end the human war?
Go fuck yourself with your atom bomb.
I don’t feel good don’t bother me.
I won’t write my poem till I’m in my right mind.
America when will you be angelic?
When will you take off your clothes?
When will you look at yourself through the grave?
When will you be worthy of your million Trotskyites?
America why are your libraries full of tears?
America when will you send your eggs to India?
I’m sick of your insane demands.
When can I go into the supermarket and buy what I need with my good looks?

 

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William Burroughs photographed by Allen Ginsberg

 

To read the rest of “America”, please visit: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/49305/america-56d22b41f119f

Post written by Emily Bunn

 

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How Reading Saves Lives

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Image source: Text to Text | ‘Of Mice and Men’ and ‘Friendship in an Age of Economics’ New York Times

Reading fiction has the potential to save lives. As a high school English teacher, I have seen the way literature opens the eyes of teens. I work at an affluent, majority-white school in an incredibly affluent city that is also majority white. While books like Of Mice and Men, Lord of the Flies, and even Romeo and Juliet may not excite the youth, it does give students a unique opportunity to see that they are not alone in their feelings. The struggles of young lovers are nothing new. I have seen students going through their own romantic drama find a kindred bond with Shakespeare’s star-crossed lovers. Students find overwhelming compassion for Simon and Piggy in a world gone mad without the watchful eyes of adults. And, in an exploration of racial and sexist dismissiveness in the characters of Crooks and Curley’s Wife through the eyes of Lenny, many find compassion for the lived experiences of those who may not share the same privileges of our community.

Reading fiction helps people of all ages to realize that they are not alone in their feelings and gives students an opportunity to learn coping mechanisms that may otherwise go undeveloped. After reading a great story, one has a greater awareness of the trials that others face and, therefore, recognize the signs of those struggling and will be more willing to lend a helping hand or an open ear. Reading Saves Lives.

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Howard Greenberg Collection: Romanticism Through Times of Hardship

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The “Viewpoints: Photographs from the Howard Greenberg Collection” at the Museum of Fine, Boston is a spectacular collection of images from many notable photographers. 

Greenberg’s collection explores the social history and cultural battleground of America. The photographs display the Depression Era, African American life from the 1930s to the Civil Rights Movement, and photographs of war-time as it ravaged the country and overseas.[MOU1]  Greenberg describes the impact of the works: “photography is an art form, as well as a cultural, political, and social force.” The power of the photographic eye in this collection, while powerful and saddening, still recognizes a glimmer of hope.” _

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Robert Frank “The Day Before Arriving in New York” (1924)

The photograph just being in black and white adds a certain dramatism, as this man’s future rests on the unknown. The monochromatic print feels more depressing than hopefully as if the pain of leaving one’s own home and embarking on this long journey at sea is more meaningful than the final destination- New York. 

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Brassai (Gyula Halasz): “Lovers in a Cafe (couple d’amoureux dans un petit cafe)” (1932)

Greenberg, commenting on the photograph, writes: “the complex composition and fragments seen in the mirrors surrounding the pair, evoking the duality of Parisian nightlife that so enchanted Brassai. His photograhs reveal the combination of glamour and decadence with lust and sinfulness all found in the city’s nighttime angst and beauty.” Additionally, the “L” shaped composition made by the mirrors draws the viewer’s eye toward the subjects, further emphasized by the stark contrast of their faces against the dark booth behind and below them.

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Allen Ginsberg: “Handsome Jack with his Breakman’s Rule Book in his Pocket, 206 E. 7th Street” (1953)

Allen Ginsberg’s “Handsome Jack with his Breakman’s Rule Book in his Pocket, 206 E. 7th Street” shows a young Jack Kerouac looking out over the city. The tight cropping of the photograph between the brick wall and Keruac feels intimate and shows the close relationship between the subject and photographer, Ginsberg.

 

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Bruce Davidson “Couple Kissing in Corner” (1959)

Bruce Davidson’s “Couple Kissing in Corner” shows the comparison between loving connection and platonic acquaintances. In the room with the couple, the highlights on their bodies make them stand out from the dark hallway surrounding them. In contrast, the room with the acquaintances has a light wallpaper, and their bodies are dark and unemotional as they sit with their backs to the walls.

The Howard Greenberg Viewpoints exhibit at the Museum of Fine Arts shows the power of “photography as a tool for documentation” [of social conditions in America]. The ways in which each photographer is able to convey connectedness and love (whether that be romantic or platonic love) is truly mesmerizing. The romanticization of the American dream, of lovers, and of childlike wonder each show the ways in which one can fall in love with the world around them. 

 

 

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The Future Library of Norway

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The Future Library of Norway is an environmental, literary, and artistic project designed by Scottish artist, Katie Paterson. In 2014, 1,000 trees were planted in Norway. Once a year for the next one hundred years, one writer will be chosen to contribute an original work, which will not be read until 2114. That year, the fully-grown forest will be chopped down and used as paper to publish an anthology of the writers’ pieces.  

In 2014, Margaret Atwood was chosen to be the first Future Library author. “For me, it’s the great unknown,” the Canadian writer states, “but it’s a very hopeful gesture. It means somewhere in the future there will still be readers. There will still be people. There’ll still be a forest in Norway. There will still be a library.” The only information available about Atwood’s book is the title, Scribbler Moon.

Since 2014, David Mitchell, Sjón, Elif Shafak, and Han Kang have been chosen to contribute to the Future Library. South Korean writer Han Kang dragged a white cloth through the forest before wrapping it around her book. In Korea, white cloth is traditionally used to clothe newborn babies and those recently deceased. In an interview, Kang stated, “it was like a wedding of my manuscript with this forest. Or a lullaby for a century-long sleep, softly touching the earth all the way. So, this is time to say goodbye.” Her book, named Dear Son, My Beloved, will not be read by any human for 95 years. 

The next author to join the Future Library will be selected later this year. 

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