Please note that the poems and essays on this site are copyright and may not be reproduced without the author's permission.


Friday, 10 September 2010

Arthur Rothstein: Submarginal: Arkansas, 1935


.

Image, Source: digital file from intermediary roll film

Sharecropper's child suffering from rickets and malnutrition, Wilson cotton plantation, Mississippi County, Arkansas


Every Night and every Morn
Some to Misery are Born.
Every Morn and every Night
Some are Born to sweet delight.
Some are Born to sweet delight,
Some are Born to Endless Night.


William Blake: from Auguries of Innocence, c. 1801-1803


Image, Source: digital file from intermediary roll film

Sharecropper's child suffering from rickets and malnutrition, Wilson cotton plantation, Mississippi County, Arkansas

Image, Source: digital file from intermediary roll film

Son of a sharecropper, Mississippi County, Arkansas

Image, Source: digital file from intermediary roll film

Daughter of a sharecropper, Mississippi County, Arkansas

Image, Source: digital file from intermediary roll film

Sharecropper with his children in front of company house, Mississippi County, Arkansas

Image, Source: digital file from intermediary roll film

Sharecropper, Wilson cotton plantation, Mississippi County, Arkansas

Image, Source: digital file from intermediary roll film

Wife and child of sharecropper, Washington County, Arkansas

Image, Source: digital file from intermediary roll film

Wife and children of sharecropper, Washington County, Arkansas

Image, Source: digital file from intermediary roll film

Wife and child of sharecropper, Stortz cotton plantation, Pulaski County, Arkansas

Image, Source: digital file from intermediary roll film

Sharecropper's son, Ozark Mountains, Arkansas

Image, Source: digital file from intermediary roll film

Well on submarginal hillside farm, Ozark Mountains, Arkansas

Image, Source: digital file from intermediary roll film

Ozark Mountains, Arkansas


Pity would be no more
If we did not make somebody Poor;
And Mercy no more could be
If all were as happy as we.

William Blake: The Human Abstract, from Songs of Experience, 1794

Photos by Arthur Rothstein, August 1935 (Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Collection, Library of Congress)

13 comments:

curtisroberts said...

These photos speak so clearly that commentary (apart from the Blake, which is genius) would be superfluous. The last company I worked for happened to be the second largest employer in Arkansas. We owned a large DVD manufacturing plant outside of North Little Rock and I enjoyed traveling to Arkansas a lot, although I stayed mainly around Little Rock. There's a lot of beauty there, but even in those urban areas I felt further away from the America that most Americans experience than I did when traveling abroad, even to Asia. People just don't know. "Submarginal" is a scary, hopeless word.

STEPHEN RATCLIFFE said...

Tom,

Yes, "Some to misery are born," some places "submarginal" ("a scary, hopeless word," as Curtis says, these photos too. Perhaps some resonance here ---


9.10

pale orange light in sky above blackness
of ridge, silver of planet beside branch
in foreground, sound of waves in channel

world given in the following
show, as it is revealed

about each other, that place
sometimes, these people

grey-white of fog against top of ridge,
shadowed green pine on tip of sandspit

Marylinn Kelly said...

Tom - In a future posting on my blog, might I include a link to yours? All of this is assuming I am able to write the piece I have in mind that would connect to your themes and photos. You have done so much to illuminate the parallels between those times and ours, not that many are aware they exist. Whether or not this is something you would approve, you may leave a message as a comment at my blog or use my e-mail address which is there on the main page, part of the profile, I believe. If I do not hear, that will be an answer as well. My thanks for being a voice for those without one. Marylinn

Elmo St. Rose said...

"Tell your ma
Tell your pa
I'm going to send you
back to Arkansas"
Ray Charles


Bill Clinton,
Glen Campbell and the Pointer Sisters and now Andrei Codrescu

56% functional illiteracy

"if you don't do right" Ray said

There's power and glory when people
rise...Curtis, my man, Little Rock
has become cosmopolitan and po is
still po but the Clinton's did do
right by Arkansas

TC said...

Well, all I can say is, here's to the new Arkansas.

(Question, though, about that list of significant Razorbacks: if it includes a legitimate native Transylvanian, adoptive sons and daughters must be eligible -- so, why isn't Elmo St. Rose on it?)

Would at any rate happily trade the entirety of California, where our present life is so palpably submarginal as to qualify as a bad cracker joke, for a one way ticket to the new or for that matter even the old Ozarks. But first we'd have to start calling the bonded stretcher bearers for estimates, check the permit codes, etc.

as it is revealed

about each other, that place
sometimes, these people

Ah, all these universes...

About plights and delights and the fates of the not-so-greats, however, one can only say that Blake was too right.

STEPHEN RATCLIFFE said...

Tom,

Yes "all these universes . . . Blake was too right" --


9.11

grey whiteness of fog against invisible
ridge, shadowed green of cypress branch
in foreground, wave sounding in channel

disclosure, as light appears
in such a way that this

looking back at something as
happening, that is, not

blue-white of sky reflected in channel,
sunlit green canyon of ridge across it

George Mattingly said...

On the eve of the rightest wing Republican resurgence in my lifetime it's fitting that you post this Blake poem and these great photos, Tom, showing the kind of damage about to be done.

The world into which I was born in 1950 (rural southern Missouri) and even later in the 50s in rural Iowa looked a lot like this. My family wasn't this poor, but lots of others were, and this is just way too familiar to me.

I wonder if people are really ready to go back, or (more likely) to send millions of others, back to this bleak place.

TC said...

Thanks, Steve, for bringing the matutinal lucidity. But like Pound's acorn of light, can we hold it?

... as light appears
in such a way that this

looking back at something as
happening, that is, not

This might be the new sixty-four dollar question, Where is the negative dialectic now that we need it? One catches oneself, amid the nonstop bombardment of Meg commercials, already looking back on what has not yet happened but appears fated, and wishing but not quite daring to hope for that miraculous NOT. The prospect of the unthinkable, it seems, has a curious deleterious effect on thought. Yet it's hard to miss the truth of what George all too accurately foresees,

the kind of damage about to be done

leading us

back to this bleak place.

The bleak place our forebears somehow survived...

One of my earliest recollections of a world outside Chicago involves a trip with my father, then a traveling salesman, attempting to sell cardboard boxes in towns like Davenport, and Dubuque, where the river-bottom shacks of the poor, in the shadow of the door-and-sash factory, were overlooked by the houses of the rich on the bluffs above... things hadn't changed much despite the wartime boom, it was just another version of the tenement reality... big city poverty and little city poverty, then and now... an endless night.

Still fatalism has its limits and too it's hard to accept just fading away like an old soldier when one was never much of a soldier in the first place. But as Dr. Johnson said, There is nothing that concentrates the mind like knowing you'll be hanged in the morning. So maybe with dawn's early light there will come a thought.

STEPHEN RATCLIFFE said...

Tom,

Ah yes, "maybe with dawn's early light there will come a thought." And then again, "the nonstop bombardment of Meg commercials") notwithstanding, maybe not. . . .


9.12

grey whiteness of fog against invisible
top of ridge, green of leaves on branch
in foreground, wave sounding in channel

curved surface, that portion
between points measured

per second, simple as number
of periods, assume that

grey-white fog against invisible ridge,
circular green pine on tip of sandspit

billymills said...

The amazing thing is the resiliance; people went on getting married, raising families to the best of their ability. The genetic imperative in full flow.

TC said...

Billy,

True, and a reminder that though children may represent mouths to be fed, they also represent hands and arms and backs to lift and bend on the farm. In rural poverty, there is always the factor of "the survival calculus of the poor".

Arkansas 1935, Ireland 1842, or Bangladesh anytime...

"Without resources to secure their future, people can rely only on their own families. Thus, when poor parents have lots of children, they are making a rational calculus for survival. High birth rates reflect people's defensive reaction against enforced poverty."

Peter Rosset discusses this in World Hunger.

The strategy behind the New Deal programs was to put all those population numbers to work.

But now...

Did America say give me your poor?
Yes for poor is the vitamin not stored
It goes out in the urine of all endeavor.
So poor came in long black flea coats
and bulgarian hats
spies and bombers
and she made five rich while flies covered the rest
who were suppressed or murdered
or out-bred their own demise.

E. Dorn, "Prayers for the People of the World", from The Newly Fallen, 1961

~otto~ said...

Amazing photos. Time travel. And nelygot.

TC said...

Otto,

Totally nelyglot. I feel like I can turn around and be right back in the Ozarks.

First visiting there c. 1950, I was curious to find everyone had all their "major appliances" (washing machine, icebox if they had one) out on the front porch.

This seems less strange to me now.

(Bewildered quest for a roof over our bowed heads at this moment... another surgery day in the USA... )