April 24th, 2012
Lowell-born poet and former Alaska Poet Laureate Tom Sexton recently provided the inspiring words for acclaimed composer Libby Larsen’s new work “Alaska Spring,” which premiered this week in a performance by the Alaska Chamber Singers. Read Mike Dunham’s article in the Anchorage Daily News here.
Composer Libby Larsen and poet Tom Sexton. Web photo by Erik Hill courtesy of Anchorage Daily News
April 24th, 2012
Dracut native Jane Brox, author of Brilliant: The Evolution of Artificial Light; Clearing Land; Five Thousand Days Like This One; and Here and Nowhere Else spoke at the UMass Lowell Inn and Conference Center yesterday as part of UML’s lunchtime lecture series. The topic of Brox’s talk was “Reading, Writing and Sense of Place.”
Brox said that a well-written book about a place she already knows “makes my old place seem new” but if the book is about a place she’s never been to, “it captures the spirit of the place for me.” Much historical writing uses what she called “a BBC voice”, something very formal and cold. She always searches for the “warmer voices of history” and cited Thoreau’s book about his journey on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers as an example. The lower Merrimack Valley is a great setting for books because it has “all the nation’s history concentrated in one place.”
Writing about place – in her case the family farm in Dracut – allowed Brox to preserve a thing she saw slipping away. She also talked on the nature of farming. Regarding the family farm, she said the American conception of a farm as “the stable icon of civilization” is “a ruse” because a farm must constantly change to survive. This idea that not only farms but the entire world changes at high speed was a recurring theme of her talk. She observed that today’s information age is really just a “hyped-up” industrial age and that the real disruption occurred nearly two centuries ago with the transition from agriculture to industrialization.
The power of disruptive change became a more personal topic during the question and answer period when Brox expressed, as someone who earns a living from writing books, some trepidation about the changing reading habits of the American population, changes conveyed by technology (e-readers), economics (demise of the bookstore) and personal habits (more distractions than ever). But despite all of these changes, Brox believes, as she stated earlier in the afternoon, that as our society becomes more and more mobile and transitory, that literature about place will become all the more important.
April 24th, 2012
NYTimes opinion writer David Brooks in today’s column advises Americans at large to think about creativity vs competitiveness in our economic life—and wonders out loud if the standard call to compete at all costs may not be the most productive course of action. Read his thoughts here, and get the NYT if you want more.
His analysis could apply to what happened collectively in Lowell in the 1970s. Residents, spurred on by persuasive leaders backed up by activists on the ground, moved towards a new paradigm for community development. Rather than spending all their efforts and energy on luring new employers to set up shop in the city, Lowellians began to reframe the value of the city’s intrinsic worth as an important American place whose architecture and heritage were special. This was done so effectively that Lowell became a model for preservation-driven revitalization among smaller cities. In effect, Lowell created its own niche in the way Brooks praises. Lowell people dared to be different, and it has pretty much worked for 30-plus years as a distinguishing asset.