Guy Baldassarre: the man, the book, and the marsh

Guest post by Dr. Michael Schummer

Guy Baldassarre (1953–2012) was one of those people who transferred his passion for birds to all who met him. Even though he’s gone, that trait seems to linger, evidenced by the impact his book, Ducks, Geese, and Swans of North America, is about to have on generations of readers. For those not lucky enough to have known Guy, let me recap an amazing career. He was a  Distinguished Teaching Professor at SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry for 25 years, where he specialized in ornithology and wildlife management. Among his many honors, he was the recipient of the Wetlands Conservation Achievement Award from Ducks Unlimited. He was an eloquent speaker with a fantastic Boston accent that boomed like friendly thunder.

Passionate about waterfowl and wetland conservation, Guy’s capacity to synthesize an immense body of literature into a digestible form made him successful educator and writer. Guy truly poured all this talent into Ducks, Geese, and Swans. This classic work was last produced in 1980 by renowned waterfowl ecologist Frank Bellrose and desperately needed an update. With over thirty years of novel and abundant research to include in this new addition of DGS, Guy produced a work that will leave a legacy of well-informed readers. Part of the beauty of the book lies in the stunning color photos, which Guy was given by waterfowl photographers from across the continent. Add to that Bob Hines’s art and carefully documented range maps, and you have a book that is both a pleasure to read and work of art.

In memory of Guy, a marsh restoration project was undertaken at the Montezuma Wetlands Complex in central New York. “Guy’s Marsh” lies in the heart of those wetlands, where Guy often brought students to learn about waterfowl and wetlands ecology, conservation, and management. Indeed, the project includes plans for an outdoor classroom, a place for future educators and outdoor enthusiasts to come see the wonders of waterfowl that Guy wrote about in the new edition of Ducks, Geese, and Swans.  I can think of no better way to memorialize Guy than with a place for birds, where the sun will rise over a duck-filled marsh on an autumn morning while people view the waterfowl that Guy revealed to us in Ducks, Geese, and Swans of North America

(Editor’s note: to preview an excerpt of the this set, click here.)

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Dr. Michael (Mike) Schummer is a senior contract scientist with Long Point Waterfowl, an adjunct professor at the University of Western Ontario, and a visiting assistant professor of Zoology at SUNY-Oswego.

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Filed under Biology, Birds, Conservation, For Everyone, General Science, Life Science, ornithology

Reflecting on Wallace Stevens

Guest post by Natalie Gerber

On Thursday at noon, Wallace Stevens’ poetry will be the focus of a program sponsored by the U. S. poet laureate Charles Wright. The program, which is free and open to the public, will present two poets, Jennifer Michael Hecht and Peter Streckfus, celebrating Stevens’ birthday by reading selections from his work and discussing his influence on their own writing. The event will be held in the Whitthall Pavilion on the ground level of the Library’s Thomas Jefferson Building, 10 First St. SE, Washington, D.C.

The choice of Stevens (1879–1955) for a national celebration sponsored by the Library of Congress is both a source of delight and yet also perhaps a puzzle. Such events typically honor not only great but also representative poets: those whose works and life embody in some way the American experience. And while Stevens is, inarguably, a master poet, even seasoned readers may scratch their heads at the notion of Stevens as a representative American one.

Unlike many of his contemporaries, who plied or helped to story particular regions of America (both actual ones, as in Frost’s New England regions “north of Boston” and Williams’ Paterson, and imaginary territories, as in Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha County and Edgar Lee Masters’ Spoon River), Stevens’ poems often seem incidental to the geographical facts of their location. One of his most beloved poems, “The Idea of Order at Key West,” might seem to lose little, beyond biographical interest, were it retitled to any tropical location. And even though Stevens famously remarked that for him “life is an affair of places,” his reasons for choosing particular place names (be it the Carolinas in “Comedian as The Letter C”; Tennessee in “Anecdote of the Jar”; or the “thin men of Haddam,” Connecticut, in “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird”) often appear to invoke place more as staging than as essential or existential reflections on a specifically American identity or position.

This question takes on immediacy in WSJ editor Bart Eeckhout’s forthcoming essay, “The Planet—or Just America? On Helen Vendler’s Claims about Stevens’ Americanness,” which appears in this fall’s special issue, Helen Vendler’s Stevens. Eeckhout questions whether Vendler is right when she considers Stevens to be an American poet or rather if she is right when she considers nationality incidental to the force of his poetry and poetics. Do we read Stevens through the critical tradition of Western literary tradition as the poet who sets out to write “the great poem of the earth,” since the great poems of heaven (Milton) and hell (Dante) had already been written? Or do we read him as the poet who begins Harmonium (1923) with an odd pair of poems, “Earthy Anecdote” and “Invective Against Swans,” that counterpoint the open plains and clattering bucks of Oklahoma (made a state only in 1907) against Europe’s equivalent “spaces”—boxed-in and static public squares, littered with their statuary and antiquated diction? Certainly it is question worth contemplating in a hall whose namesake, Thomas Jefferson, bears some intellectual resemblance to Stevens. (And it is worth noting, too, that it was the Jefferson Lecture for the NEH that occasioned Vendler’s remarks most vigorously ratifying Stevens’ Americanness). It is also a question likely to take on new meaning through the remarks of these two laureled American poets who themselves find inspiration in Stevens’ verse and use of language.

Representative or not, American or international, Stevens lives on for poets, both in the United States and around the world. This point was brought home by Poetry After Stevens, a two-day conference sponsored by the Wallace Stevens Society this summer in Antwerp, where nearly two dozen scholars from Belgium, China, the Czech Republic, England, France, Ireland, and the U. S. gave talks illuminating Stevens’ legacy vis-a-vis a startling array of postwar and contemporary poets who range from the canonical to the experimental. Some of these names might be expected: A. R. Ammons, Elizabeth Bishop, Robert Hass, and Adrienne Rich. Others, from Sylvia Plath to Dodie Bellamy, C.S. Giscombe, Terrance Hayes, and Susan Howe, perhaps less so.

In such capacious company, we might remember Stevens not solely as the poet of the mind or of “The Snow Man” but also as the poet of “How to Live. What to Do,” who once responded to a questionnaire that the purpose of art is “to help us live our lives,” as Tom Sowders reflected beautifully in this column one year ago, showing us how Stevens’ verse and life became for one reader a source of strength that sustained him through the loss of his father, who, like Stevens, was also an insurance salesman.

We are fortunate to have yet another occasion, on Stevens’ birthday no less, to rediscover how Stevens’ poetry gives “a sense of the freshness or vividness of life.”

Natalie Gerber is an Associate Editor of The Wallace Stevens Journal and Secretary-Treasurer of The Wallace Stevens Society. From 1995–1997, she also assisted Robert Hass during his tenure as U. S. poet laureate and helped organize the 1995 conference Watershed: Writers, Nature, and Community.

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Filed under Journals, Literature, Poetry

Don’t miss the Baltimore Book Festival, September 26–28

BBF_logoJohns Hopkins University Press and the George Peabody Library are jointly hosting the JHU Press Book Sale along with talks, book signings, and special exhibits. Visit us at the 2014 Baltimore Book Festival in the beautiful Baltimore Visitor Center overlooking the Inner Harbor.

The JHU Press Book Sale takes place inside the Visitor Center throughout the Festival, with Press authors scheduled to meet the public and sign books throughout the weekend. The George Peabody Library will offer a special exhibit of archival books and materials related to Baltimore history, and members of the Special Collections staff will offer a Peabody Collections Spotlight each day.

Visitors Center

The JHU Press Book Sale will be held in the beautiful Baltimore Visitor Center when the Baltimore Book Festival moves to the Inner Harbor this year.

Presentations in the Visitors Center include book talks by JHU Press authors Gil Sandler, Fraser Smith, Mike Olesker, Rick Striner, Melissa Blair, Steve Grant, Michael Wolfe, Charley Mitchell, and others. Each day will end with with performances by students from JHU’s Peabody Conservatory. The Visitor Center will remain open for business as usual during the Festival, welcoming visitors and showing a short film about Charm City every 20 minutes.

See the entire JHU Press/Peabody Library BBF schedule here.

The Ivy Bookshop will host two JHUP authors for talks in the Ivy tent on Rash Field at the Book Festival: Jeremy Greene discusses Generic: The Unbranding of Modern Medicine on Saturday, September 27, at 1:00 pm; Charley Mitchell discusses Travels through American History in the Mid Atlantic: A Guide for All Ages on Saturday at 3:00 pm. See the Ivy’s BBF schedule here.

The Ivy Bookshop and JHU’s Sheridan Libraries co-host a talk by JHU’s Alice McDermott in the BBF Literary Salon on Saturday at 1:00 pm.

Admission: Free; visit the Baltimore Book Festival for more information.

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Filed under Baltimore, Book talks, Press Events, Regional-Chesapeake Bay, Sale

For T. S. Eliot’s birthday this week, a new book trailer and a look at his Complete Prose

Guest post by Jewel Spears Brooker and Ronald Schuchard

eliot-portrait-webDigital editions of the first two volumes of The Complete Prose of T. S. Eliot, a monumental work shepherded for many years by general editor Ronald Schuchard, will be officially published this week on Eliot’s birthday (September 26; he was born in St. Louis in 1888).  To mark the occasion, we are pleased to share a new book trailer along with a portion of the introduction to volume one, Apprentice Years, 1905–1918, which “returns readers to the beginning of Eliot’s intellectual life.”

“The token that a philosophy is true,” T. S. Eliot argued in a 1914 student essay, “is the fact that it brings us to the exact point from which we started.” Three decades later, in the final lines of his last major poem, “Four Quartets,” he echoes the idea: “And the end of all our exploring / Will be to arrive where we started / And know the place for the first time.” This volume, the first to assemble Eliot’s early prose, much of it previously unpublished and none of it previously collected and edited, returns readers to the beginning of Eliot’s intellectual life, enabling them to experience the depth and range of the prose from his years as a student and literary journalist. The material here included is from the most formative period in Eliot’s life.

In the spring of 1905, he was sixteen and in his last year of day school in St. Louis; at the end of 1918, he was thirty and established in London as a poet and essayist. In between, he spent almost a decade at the world’s premier institutions—Harvard and Oxford Universities, the Sorbonne—and in cultural centers that were both sordid and fascinating—Boston, Paris, and London. In 1914 and 1915, he wrote a doctoral dissertation on idealist philosophy, and then abandoned a promising career in philosophy for a precarious one in literature.

These tumultuous years took him from the cocoon of a loving family to a world in which he struggled to create his own circle of friends, occasionally bonding, as with Conrad Aiken at Harvard, Jean Verdenal in Paris, and Ezra Pound in London. These years include his precipitous and disillusioning marriage to Vivien (Vivienne) Haigh-Wood, severe economic distress, and alienation from family and country. Between 1915 and 1918, living in a city ravaged by war, he supported himself as a teacher and journalist, slowly emerging as a respected man of letters.

He published his first book, Prufrock and Other Observations, in 1917, and in the following two years, composed the poems that were to appear in his second, Ara Vus Prec (Ara Vos Prec), published in 1919. Beginning with essays related to his credentials in philosophy and then with reviews and articles on literary topics, he launched himself as a prose writer. By the end of 1918, he had come a long way from St. Louis, but it is to St. Louis, his first world, that he must be returned.

Visit Project MUSE for more information about the digital editions of volumes one and two of The Complete Prose of T. S. Eliot.

eliotV2Jewel Spears Brooker, Professor Emerita of Literature at Eckerd College, is the author or editor of eight books, including Mastery and Escape: T. S. Eliot and the Dialectic of Modernism (1994), Reading ‘The Waste Land': Modernism and the Limits of Interpretation (1990, coauthored with Joseph Bentley), and T. S. Eliot: The Contemporary Reviews (2004).  She has received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities, Knight Foundation, and Pew Charitable Trust. She has served as president of the T. S. Eliot Society and the South Atlantic Modern Language Association and as a member of the National Humanities Council of the National Endowment for the Humanities. Ronald Schuchard, the Goodrich C. White Professor of English, Emeritus, at Emory University, is the author of award-winning Eliot’s Dark Angel (1999) and The Last Minstrels: Yeats and the Revival of the Bardic Arts (2008). The editor of Eliot’s Clark and Turnbull lectures, The Varieties of Metaphysical Poetry (1993), he is co-editor with John Kelly of The Collected Letters of W. B. Yeats, Volume 3 (1994), Volume 4 (2005), winner of the MLA’s Cohen Award for a Distinguished Edition of Letters, and Volume 5 (forthcoming). A former Guggenheim fellow and founder-director of the T. S. Eliot International Summer School (2009-2013), he is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.


Filed under Literature, MUSE, Philosophy

Starfish, icons of the sea

Guest post by John M. Lawrence

starfish 2Starfish rarely receive widespread public notice. The explosion of populations of crown-of-thorns starfish (Acanthaster planci) on the Great Barrier Reef in the 1960s, which received world-wide attention, is an exception.

However, news of a major starfish die-off, which took place in southern California from 1983–1984, received little notice except among marine ecologists. More recently, though, a massive die-off—first noted in June 2013 along the coast of Washington state, then witnessed over a wide geographic area—was reported. Earlier this year,  a report on PBS NewsHour described a massive die-off of starfish on the Pacific coast of North America, bringing nationwide attention to the issue. In June, PBS revisited and updated the story.

The current massive die-off has been attributed to a wasting disease in which the external epithelium of the starfish develops lesions. Its tissue decays, its body fragments, and the starfish dies. Notably, the disease affects numerous starfish species, including Pisaster ochraceus, an important predator of the intertidal community.

The epidemiological basis for this massive die-off is lacking but its similarity to the sporadic disease-related mass mortality of the sea urchin (Strongylocentrotus droebachiensis) off the Atlantic coast of Canada is striking. Temperature plays a major role in the transmission of this sea urchin disease. It’s also been suggested that ocean currents and hydrodynamics affect the spread of the disease and its periodic occurrence.

Starfish are icons of the sea. But they are more than that. They have immense biological and ecological importance. They are key components of marine ecosystems that can impact humans.

lawrencecomp.inddJohn M. Lawrence is a professor of integrative biology at the University of South Florida and the editor of Starfish: Biology and Ecology of the Asteroidea.

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Filed under Animals, Biology, Conservation, General Science, Life Science, Nature

The Press Reads: Trees of Life

Our occasional Friday series on the blog, The Press Reads, features short excerpts from recent JHUP books. We hope to whet your appetite and inspire additions to your reading list.  Today’s selection is drawn from the preface of Trees of Life: A Visual History of Evolution by Theodore W. Pietsch. Trees of Life, embraced by reviewers across many disciplines, is now available in trade paperback.


Ernst Haeckel's family tree of the mammals, from 1866.

Ernst Haeckel’s family tree of the mammals, from 1866.

This is a book about  trees—not the transpiring, photosynthesizing kind, but tree-like branching diagrams that attempt to show the interrelationships of organisms, from viruses and bacteria to birds and mammals, both living and fossil. It is not intended as a treatise about the philosophy or science behind tree construction, nor is it a defense or refutation of the various relationships depicted among organisms. It is rather a celebration of the manifest beauty, intrinsic interest, and human ingenuity revealed in trees of life through time.

A phylogeny of elephants constructed by Henry Fairfield Osborn in 1926, this one a "pictogram," showing relationships, but also an indication of relative size, and the remarkable convergence of general body shape among modern forms descended from markedly different ancestors.

A phylogeny of elephants constructed by Henry Fairfield Osborn in 1926, this one a “pictogram,” showing relationships, but also an indication of relative size, and the remarkable convergence of general body shape among modern forms descended from markedly different ancestors.

The emphasis is on the images, arranged chronologically, two hundred and thirty chosen from among thousands of possibilities, dating from the mid-sixteenth century to the present day. The descriptive text is kept to a  minimum—just enough to provide context.

The frontispiece of William King Gregory's two-volume Evolution Emerging.

The frontispiece of William King Gregory’s two-volume Evolution Emerging.

The focus of this book is on diagrams that resemble trees in the botanical sense, images with parts analogous to trunks, limbs, and terminal twigs, but other configurations are also explored as precursors and variations on the theme of biosystematic iconography. These various related images include bracketed  tables—trees laid on their  side—similar to modern-day analytical keys; maps, or so-called archipelagos, that hypothesize relationships analogous to the juxtaposition of geographical territories; webs or networks, in which individual taxa or chains of taxa are interconnected by lines of affinity or resemblance; and various numerical, symmetrical and geometric systems.

Dinosaur tree by Paul Callistus Sereno, emphasizing the sharp dichotomy between the two orders, the Ornithischia on the left and the Saurischia on the right.

Dinosaur tree by Paul Callistus Sereno, emphasizing the sharp dichotomy between the two orders, the Ornithischia on the left and the Saurischia on the right.

While their choice of imagery varied considerably, most all eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century naturalists were working toward the same goal: to construct classifications of plants and animals that were “natural.” Their thought was that organisms brought together in “natural classifications” ought to share “natural affinities.” But just exactly what was meant by “natural affinity,” remained an unresolved question. It was Darwin’s theory of evolutionary change by means of natural selection that provided the missing context and unified the work of biosystematists in their pursuit of a natural system of classification. The phylogenetic tree as we know it today was one conspicuous result.

A universal tree of life based on ribosomal RNA sequences, sampled from about 3,000 species from throughout biodiversity, and constructed by David Mark Hillis and colleagues at the University of Texas at Austin.

A universal tree of life based on ribosomal RNA sequences, sampled from about 3,000 species from throughout biodiversity, and constructed by David Mark Hillis and colleagues at the University of Texas at Austin.

Brain Pickings posted a review of Trees of Life, which you can read here.

“A luminous book . . . For classroom use, the brevity and simplicity of the introductory remarks will serve instructors who wish to teach these images’ and their authors’ significance to the history of biology and the history of scientific illustration. Biologists, historians of science, scholars interested in the intersections between art and design and science will find an abundance of images and wise commentary that reveals new details with each reading.”

— Christine Manganaro, Journal of the History of Biology

“With the concept of evolution now often iconified to the point of misrepresentation, Trees of Life reminds us that both the idea and its representation were—and are—fluid, debated, and reconstructed.”

—Camillia Matuk, Science

“Trees of Life commemorates the tree as a visual representation of life; science buffs will revel in this dazzling forest of transformation.”

—Jen Forbus, Shelf Awareness

pietsch_JACKET COMP5.inddTheodore W. Pietsch is Dorothy T. Gilbert Professor in the School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences and Curator of Fishes at the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture at the University of Washington in Seattle. He is the author of more than a dozen books, including The Curious Death of Peter Artedi: A Mystery in the History of Science and Oceanic Anglerfishes: Extraordinary Diversity in the Deep Sea.

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Filed under Animals, Botany, Conservation, Evolution

What the mind’s eye can see

Guest post by Dr. J.R. Leibowitz 

My book Hidden Harmony: The Connected Worlds of Physics and Art has been cited as among the first serious efforts to address the fundamental connections between physics and art. The question of what unites them invites all of us to some understanding of what is truly basic to these two seemingly disparate realms. It is a reasonable objective for readers who have had little exposure to either.

The docent in an art gallery may choose to address some of the art historical allusions associated with a particular work. “Please notice the clues in this German Expressionist piece to what was transpiring in Berlin at that time. In this next painting, what is the historical significance of the placement of that vase on that particular table?” There is no question that such matters are interesting.

But it is also fascinating to imagine peeking over the shoulder of the artist engaged in creating a work of art from a blank canvas. How did the painter swim among principles of design and the virtually limitless choices among artistic elements, including hues, values, and forms, to get those aesthetic effects? The artist strives to create a coherent whole, a metaphorical symphony of interacting musical voices, a unity of directed intention. How rewarding it could be to trace out some of the distinct creations of mood and charm traceable to Cézanne’s brush techniques, or Van Gogh’s or Renoir’s.

A physicist might cite historical context as well. For example, one might simply look historically at the work of pioneers in electromagnetic discoveries. But how did conceptual insights actually build upon each other to make possible the theory of Maxwell? This interplay powerfully illustrates principles of design based on “symmetry” and “broken symmetry,” terms akin to those familiar in art.

To say that there are serious points of contact between a coherent physical theory and a work of art certainly does not mean to suggest that art and physics are the same in essence. But the eye trained ever so slightly to see needs no convincing here. A similar sense of transcendence lurks in the works of Cézanne and Van Gogh and Newton and Einstein.

Taking a quote from my book:

In a 1918 speech in honor of the 60th birthday of Max Planck, the father of the quantum concept, Albert Einstein, spoke of the distinct motives of different scientists for pursuing their calling. Among these, he cited the pure motivation of those like Planck: “Man seeks to form, in whatever manner is suitable, a simplified and lucid image of the world, a world picture . . . That is what painters do, and poets and philosophers and natural scientists, all in their own way.”



Dr. J. R. Leibowitz is a fellow of the American Physical Society and the author of Hidden Harmony: The Connected Worlds of Physics and Art.


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Filed under Fine art, General Science, Physics