To mark the 50th anniversary of Lyndon Johnson’s war on poverty, the New York Times has launched a new series dubbed “Caught in Poverty.” For the inaugural article in the series, journalist Trip Gabriel and photographer Travis Dove visited McDowell County, “the poorest in West Virginia…emblematic of entrenched American poverty for more than a half-century.” On visiting McDowell County, what Gabriel and Dove discovered was a place in much the same state as it was before the government intervened with the intent of improving the quality of life some 50 years ago: Read more…

Something reminded me of Edgar Lee Masters’ Spoon River Anthology this morning. It was probably my ever-present and rather burdensome obsession with death (which might be funny if it weren’t so true). Anyhow, if you’ve never read the book, it’s a fascinating collection of short poems that narrate the epitaphs of the residents of a fictional small town called Spoon River — residents with names like Jeduthan Hawley, Plymouth Rock Joe, Lydia Puckett, and Minerva Jones. An excerpt from “The Hill,” Spoon River‘s opening poem, gives a good sense of Masters’ take on small town America:

Where are Elmer, Herman, Bert, Tom and Charley,
The weak of will, the strong of arm, the clown, the boozer, the fighter?
All, all are sleeping on the hill.
One passed in a fever,
One was burned in a mine,
One was killed in a brawl,
One died in a jail,
One fell from a bridge toiling for children and wife—
All, all are sleeping, sleeping, sleeping on the hill.
Where are Ella, Kate, Mag, Lizzie and Edith,
The tender heart, the simple soul, the loud, the proud, the happy one?—
All, all are sleeping on the hill.
One died in shameful child-birth,
One of a thwarted love,
One at the hands of a brute in a brothel,
One of a broken pride, in the search for heart’s desire;
One after life in far-away London and Paris
Was brought to her little space by Ella and Kate and Mag—
All, all are sleeping, sleeping, sleeping on the hill.

As you can see, Masters’ prose is lyrical and incredibly moving. He also manages to weave dense and often complex narratives into each epitaph. While thinking about Masters’ book this morning, I discovered that someone went to the trouble of creating an online edition. So if you’ve never read Spoon River, it’s worth your time.

(Illustration: Giovanni Robustelli. Caption: Spoon River, Edgar Lee Masters, Spazio Papel, Milano 2012.)

I experienced an odd moment of synchronicity this morning. After reading “Death Stares,” Tamara Kneese’s essay for The New Inquiry that examines selfies, narcissism, and death in the digital age, I then came across this passage from photographer Mike Mandel’s Myself: Timed Exposures, published in 1971: Read more…

On Tuesday, if my friend Mike were still alive, he would have turned 37 years old. It’s been almost three-and-a-half years now since he died. And most days I catch myself thinking about him in one way or another — like the time he tried to convince me that we wouldn’t sound like fools if we talked like Doughboy from Boys N the Hood; or when, as an adult, he sometimes confessed his frustration over finding his right place in the world. As a way to remember him this week, I wanted to share the eulogy that I gave at Mike’s memorial service in October 2010. Read more…

During World War II, propaganda was an indispensable tool for both the Allies and the Axis. In Germany, for example, the Nazi newspaper Storm SS acted as a mouthpiece for the Third Reich and a forum for propagandist imagery. Kultur-Terror (pictured above), illustrated by Harald Damsleth, is a perfect example. In this image Damsleth, a Norwegian cartoonist who contributed countless illustrations to the Nazi war effort, depicts the United States as an amalgamated monster of contradictions. Read more…