Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Day 5: The Year Jack London was Born

I've been teaching my favorite novel The Valley of the Moon to my community college students for several years now and every year I struggle to set up the biography of who Jack London was and what the world was like over a hundred years ago when he was writing and publishing his work.  Recently, a friend of mine sent me a link to Professor Cecilia Tichi's lecture on Jack London.   In this lecture, Tichi does an amazing job setting up the world Jack London was born into by talking about the 1876 Worlds Fair in Philadelphia.  It's a clear introduction into how divided our country had become between the very rich and the extremely poor and child labor and lack of labor laws.  What gets me every time I watch the lecture is her reference to gigantic steam engine that was basically used to power everything at the world fair and more importantly what isn't seen by the spectators: the steam engine dirty little secret (men shoveling coal for little to no money).  Here is my draft of a poem about these two worlds.

The Year Jack London was Born
At the 1876 World's Fair
(Being an able man there are always)
in Philadelphia everything was
((hours stitched tight with coal dust.)
meant to reveal to the world's eye
(hours that sweat and blur into days)
United States' industrial prowess
(the stoop of too many, the scoop and drop)
and innovation. And at its center
(of mute black coal. Being able there are)
was the coal powered steam engine that ran
(years to stoke the machine between then)
nearly everything at the exhibition.
(and now. Who will scavenge what we lost?)

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