Raising the Minimum Retirement Age: How Do Workers Respond?

As populations are aging, governments around the world are looking for ways to stretch pension programs to accommodate large numbers of retirees. One option is to raise the minimum retirement age, as Germany did in 1999, upping the retirement age for women from 60 to 63. Economists Johannes Geyer and Clara Welteke analyze the impacts of this policy shift in a Journal of Human Resources preprint article. They wanted to know whether women over 60 changed their labor market status as a result of the reform. Did employed women stay in their jobs longer or use unemployment or disability benefits as a way to exit the labor market? Geyer and Welteke joined us to discuss their findings.


Why did you decide to pursue this topic?

Population aging is an enormous challenge for the financial sustainability of public pension systems of many OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) countries. Germany is facing a rapid increase in the old-age dependency ratio in the coming years. Already every second person in Germany is over 45 years old and every fifth person is over 66 years old. One way to increase the financial sustainability of the pay-as-you-go pension system is to increase the legal retirement age, thereby extending contribution periods whilst simultaneously decreasing pension expenditures. However, legal retirement age increases often have undesired distributional effects. Furthermore, workers may not be able or willing to work longer and may choose other exit routes from employment. Thus, it is of great importance to gain empirical evidence on the effects of pension reforms that increase retirement age thresholds. Our goal is to gain insights into the effects of this important question and inform policy makers.

What is one takeaway from this research that you’d like to communicate to policy makers?

The increase in the early retirement age for women in Germany resulted in a large employment increase in the affected age group (60- to 63-year-olds). One could conclude that the reform was a success and recommend similar measures for other countries and groups. However, the reform was successful in increasing employment because the labor market was in a good state and women were able to continue their employment. We also find that inactive and unemployed women remain longer in their respective status due to the reform. Another factor was the early announcement of the reform, which gave enough time to adjust career plans.

As a main takeaway, we recommend early retirement age increases as an effective tool to increase employment of the affected group, if labor market perspectives and the health of workers enable such an extension of their working life. Retirement age increases should be announced well in advance and those who are not able to work longer should be offered appropriate support, such as disability pension schemes.

What’s one question that emerged from your research that you’d like to follow up on, or that you hope someone else will explore in the future?

One of our results was that non-working women affected by the pension reform did not return to the labor market while employed women stayed in employment. In a follow-up project, we look at the distributional effects of the pension reform at the household level. More specifically, we wanted to know if the pension led to increased income inequality. Our results suggest that the distribution of available household income is not affected by the reform. One reason for this result is program substitution. The study is forthcoming in Labor Economics. In a current project, we look at health effects of the reform. We use administrative data from German health insurance that contain detailed information about individual diagnoses from medical practitioners’ records. Preliminary results suggest that the reform led to an increase of psychological symptoms.

What are some of the ways in which raising the retirement age could theoretically backfire on governments? Did you find any evidence that this is happening in the case of Germany?

The reform can be considered a success in retrospect. It did not lead to an increase in unemployment or large increases in disability pensions. However, the positive employment effect is strongly related to the good labor market performance at the time. Our results also show that women at this pre-retirement age do not react very flexibly to changing conditions. The results would have been different if Germany had experienced a large recession. Interestingly, this result is also found in other countries, like Australia and Austria. Therefore, governments should also invest more in labor market opportunities for older workers and develop better strategies to bring the older unemployed back to work.


Johannes Geyer is deputy head of the department of public economics at DIW Berlin. He earned his PhD in Economics in 2012. Between 2012 and 2016 he was a visiting professor at Humboldt-Universität Berlin, in addition to his work at the DIW Berlin. His research focuses on issues of social protection and demographic change. For this he uses empirical methods of microeconometrics and microsimulation.

Clara Welteke is an economist at the German Federal Ministry of Finance since April 2019. Her work focuses on pension provision and the sustainability of public finances. Previously, Clara was a researcher at the Public Economics Department and the Gender Economics Research Group at the DIW Berlin. Clara received her PhD from the Free University Berlin and the DIW Graduate Center in 2017. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Philosophy & Economics from the University of Bayreuth and a Master’s degree in Econometrics and Mathematical Economics from the University of Amsterdam. After completing her Master’s degree, Clara worked as a consultant for the World Bank. During her doctoral studies, she worked for the OECD in Paris and the European Commission in Brussels.

Reimagining Ecosystems through Science Fiction

Science fiction readers may be familiar with the giant sandworms of Frank Herbert’s Dune, or the pequeninos, small pig-like aliens from Speaker for the Dead by Orson Scott Card. These species and their surrounding ecosystems puzzle the human explorers that encounter them. In the article “Islands in the Aether Ocean: Speculative Ecosystems in Science Fiction” from Contemporary Literature, Elizabeth Callaway examines these two novels and their strange species, arguing that the authors propose a different way of relating to biodiversity. In this interview, Callaway explains how science fiction can help us question the conceptual frameworks that define our understanding of biodiversity on Earth.


How did you end up looking at science fiction through the lens of biodiversity?

Actually, the interest in biodiversity came first! I’m writing a book about representations of biodiversity, and a version of the article we’re discussing now appears as a chapter. When I was initially thinking about assembling a group of texts that tackle the challenge of representing species in their multitudes, science fiction seemed like a particularly fertile place to start. Within the genre are novels that describe entire planets of living variety. While other types of books mention hundreds of species (memoirs of competitive birders or the nonfiction of E. O. Wilson, for example) SF is really excellent at portraying entire planets of surprising and lively creatures. In addition, these planets can sometime feature what I call “speculative ecosystems,” or sets of interactions among living creatures that do not function the way Earth’s ecosystems do. They’re built on different, imaginative systems, and because they’re so unusual they model alternative stances toward biodiversity.

When it comes to depicting biodiversity, what makes these two novels different from other works of science fiction?

Their “speculative ecosystems” are a key part of what sets them apart. Unlike many worlds that are simple Earth analogues where the environment doesn’t make much of a difference to the story, and unlike novels which feature a planet seeded with Earth organisms (like Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars trilogy), these are not systems that are analogous to Earth ecosystems or based on Earth species. They’re totally alien (if imagined) worlds. There are other examples that I would include as speculative ecosystems. The most well-known might be James Cameron’s Avatar. That world features ecosystems that work in ways that are very different from those on Earth. Animals can connect to each other with exposed nerve-type organs, there is a central tree that connects the entire planet in a type of neural net, and there’s abundant terrestrial bioluminescence. That said, Dune and Speaker for the Dead, unlike Avatar, do not make the speculative ecosystem into an object of worship or offer any old-school environmental readings having to do with rootedness, sense of place, or living on the land. Rather they explore the speculative variety of organisms on their planet in new ways.

You say that, while we are used to thinking about science fiction as a genre that shows us possible futures for our own planet, science fiction also works “by imagining things that could never be.” How can the “counterfactual” nature of science fiction help us to think about our own environmental challenges?

On one hand it seems like the science fiction texts that imagine Earth futures might be more useful for thinking through current environmental challenges. You think of stories that include biodiversity decline like Phillip K. Dick’s Do Android’s Dream of Electric Sheep or Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake, and it’s clear how they’re interested in what animals mean to individual people and also to different human societies. They explore how these meanings might change as species decline. What is particularly interesting to me about science fiction that doesn’t imagine future Earths of declined species, however, is that they experiment with alternative ways to relate to biodiversity. In particular, I think it’s useful that Dune and Speaker for the Dead present a puzzled stance toward biodiversity where one is continually surprised by the way diverse nonhuman organisms interact with each other. I think the mechanics of science fiction itself—the way it explains how the fictional world works by casually throwing out hints rather than presenting sections of exposition—are fantastic for modeling a puzzled engagement that holds space open for recognizing the agency of nonhumans. In science fiction we’re always ready for that clue that changes what we had assumed to be true about the world, and this is especially true for the impossibly strange ecosystems of counterfactual worlds. If we’re curious about how the world works while aware that we can be surprised, then I think that can cultivate an attitude that more easily recognizes the liveliness of the material world including (but not limited to) nonhuman living creatures.

What are you reading right now? (For fun or for serious.)

Emily Dickinson has become my home quarantine inspiration. Whenever my socially-distanced world feels tiny and diminished, she makes me realize that my back yard is only as small as my mind. (Dickinson and I share the good fortune of having a yard.) After reading a few of her poems I see the details of the world as strange and new. In one of her more famous quotations she describes poetry as writing which makes her “feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off.” This is such a fabulously weird way of defining poetry, and it is how her poems make me feel except it is also as if my entire word has had a lid removed, and there’s more room to experience everything. I’m also reading How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe by Charles Yu, which is beautiful, lonely, and a playful mashup of science fiction and narrative theory.

If you had to pick a favorite species from Arrakis or Lusitania, what would it be?

Given our current pandemic, I am more and more fascinated by the descolada virus that “unglues” DNA and wreaks havoc on the human community of Lusitania in Speaker for the Dead. While I wouldn’t want to characterize the descolada as my “favorite,” it has captured my attention anew. This is the virus that sculpted life on Lusitania, initially creating the plant/animal paired species while driving the vast majority of life extinct. Its world-remaking capabilities certainly feel especially real right now as my own world is being remade in different but comparable ways. Also, the way the descolada simplifies the planet (to put it mildly) is more and more striking to me. I now look at my article’s visualization of the stark ecosystem of Lusitania and imagine a similarly simple social network made of my interactions during social distancing. The story of a virus reshaping a world certainly feels increasingly relevant.


Elizabeth Callaway is an assistant professor in the Department of English at the University of Utah and affiliated faculty with the Environmental Humanities Graduate Program. She researches and teaches at the intersections of contemporary literature, environmental humanities, and digital humanities. Some of her most recent publications focus on climate change in Zadie Smith’s NW, diversity and inclusion in definitions digital humanities, and the speculative ecosystems of science fiction. Her current book project, titled Eden’s Endemics: Narratives of Biodiversity on Earth and Beyond, is forthcoming at the University of Virginia Press.

Ghana Studies Welcomes New Editors

Ghana Studies journal is proud to welcome two new editors, Abdul-Gafaru Abdulai and Jeffrey Ahlman. Abdulai and Ahlman take over for outgoing editors Carina Ray and Kofi Baku. The UW Press would like to thank Ray and Baku for all their hard work on behalf of the journal over the course of their three-year term. The following is a brief introduction to the new editors.


Abdul-Gafaru Abdulai holds an MPhil in Development Studies from the University of Cambridge (UK), and a PhD in Development Policy and Management from the University of Manchester, UK. He is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Public Administration at the University of Ghana Business School (UGBS), and an Honorary Research Fellow at the Global Development Institute, University of Manchester. His research centers on the intersection between politics and development, with particular focus on public sector reforms, natural resource governance, spatial inequalities, social policy and social protection, and democratization. He is the co-author of Governing Extractive Industries: Politics, Histories, Ideas (Oxford University Press, 2018). His published work has also appeared in African Affairs, Politics & Policy, New Political Economy, Democratization, Development Policy Review, European Journal of Development Research, Journal of International Development, and Labour, Capital & Society. He won the prestigious Gerti Hesseling Prize (2017), awarded for the best journal article by an African scholar, and was also recipient of a runner-up position for African Affairs’ African Author Prize for best paper published in 2016/2017. In his new role as co-editor of Ghana Studies, he looks forward to deepening the visibility and multidisciplinary outlook of the Journal.

Jeffrey Ahlman is an Associate Professor of History and the Director of the African Studies Program at Smith College, where he specializes in African political, social, and intellectual history. His research reflects on issues of decolonization, political and social sovereignty, citizenship, and the Cold War in mid-twentieth-century Africa. His book, Living with Nkrumahism: Nation, State, and Pan-Africanism in Ghana, was published by Ohio University Press in 2017. He is currently completing two books. The first is a biography of Ghana’s first president, Kwame Nkrumah, which is under contract with Ohio University Press. The second—under contract with I.B. Tauris—is a history of Ghana since approximately the mid-nineteenth century. His other published work has appeared in the Journal of African History, the International Journal of African Historical Studies, Africa Today, Ghana Studies, and Kronos: Southern African Histories. He looks forward to his new role as co-editor of Ghana Studies, where he strives to further promote the journal as the premier site for the interdisciplinary study of Ghana.


Call for Papers

The editors welcome submissions of original research about Ghana for potential publication in Ghana Studies. Submissions from all disciplines will be considered. Manuscripts of interest could explore, but are not limited to, topics such as:

  • Ghana’s 2020 elections
  • Ghana’s recent financial crisis
  • The political economy of oil in Ghana
  • Questions of inequality
  • Challenges of structural transformation
  • Ghanaian-Diasporic Relations

For full guidelines, please visit http://bit.ly/gssubmissions.

PLOT LINES AND ADAPTATIONS: MARKETING BOOK CLUB (APRIL)

For National Poetry Month, we read Gloss by Rebecca Hazelton, part of the Wisconsin Poetry Series. Our book club consists of Alexis Paperman, publicity assistant and grad student studying library information science; Morgan Reardon, marketing assistant studying English literature and American Indian studies; and Julia Knecht, exhibits and data manager.

Hand holding a book with a pink cover, background is sandy beach and waves crashing behind.

Morgan’s favorite poem was “Recast, Again,” in the first section of the book, “Adaptations.” The poem beautifully captured the feeling of a child’s helplessness and how we can be observers in our own lives. She interpreted this poem to be describing the speaker’s childhood of witnessing a failing parental relationship and how the speaker wants to shield their own child from its effects. The imagery really brought the reader in, as though they too were lying on the ground watching the rest of the world float by: “I spent most of my childhood watching / the clouds / revolve while I stayed still.” The way the poem is structured, in short stanzas spread across the page, evokes the drifting of the clouds. This poem also explores how our memories can shift and trick us into believing in things that never happened, but the point is that it doesn’t matter. The speaker is looking toward the future, toward the person listening to these words.

Julia especially enjoyed the poems “Group Text” and “Why I Don’t Believe.” “Group Text” is a nuanced portrayal of modern friendship in a digital age, detailing a group text exchange between friends that bounces seamlessly between philosophical queries and poop emojis. It explores how a digital medium influences our social exchanges, such as how the speaker is “just three dots, shimmering.” She is a witness, always on the cusp of contribution. “Why I Don’t Believe” takes a painful look at the fading relationship between mother and young son, best summarized by the line “I am in an unequal relationship / with a toddler.” The poem is a startling portrayal of motherhood that strays from the straightforward narrative of limitless motherly love to consider socialized conflict that arises as children age.

Alexis wanted to say the whole collection was her favorite, however, when pressed, she decided on “Recast” and “Largest Hands.” The idea of “Recast” is not exactly new. It is the description which Rebecca Hazelton utilizes that illuminates roles of women: “the glaring lights of a delivery room after she’s moved the story along.” Indeed, there are times when that line has resonated with Alexis—that what she is doing is simply moving the story or plot of someone else’s life forward. She thinks that many of the moments presented in Hazelton’s collection will resonate with women. Strong imagery is one of the things that appeals to Alexis in poems. Hazelton’s poem “Largest Hands” is filled with such imagery as it describes the functioning of the dollhouse. Underneath the first layer of “Largest Hands” is again the questioning of what forces in life create a fragile ideal that leaves the soul wanting. It is hard to properly do justice to the poem in a simple excerpt; however, here is the line that drew Alexis in: “Where are the children? They were too expensive.” It is the fourth line in, and, without the context of the poem as a whole, may not mean much. Still, Alexis hopes you take the time to read both poems as well as the rest of Rebecca Hazelton’s collection.

Overall, we thought this book was an enjoyable and thought-provoking read. The way Hazelton plays with structure really adds to the depth of her poems. She weaves the concept of people portraying themselves in different ways to themselves and others throughout each piece. She comments on this using the metaphor of Hollywood, describing people as actors who perform on and off set. Along with discussing the sense of self, these poems also examine sexuality, relationships, and power. The cover image, lipstick smudged off of a pair of slightly agape lips, feeds into the idea that we cultivate an image for ourselves in the public eye, but that the way we cover and disguise our inner selves cannot be easily taken off. These poems fit well together, and though some of them stood out for us personally, it felt like they were a part of a cohesive collection. A reader with any level of experience reading poetry will be able to connect with Hazelton’s words.

Could “Location-based” Scholarships Lead to Greater Success in College?

High school students at public schools in Kalamazoo, Michigan, get a pretty sweet deal: if they graduate, they are eligible for the Kalamazoo Promise, a scholarship that covers up to 100 percent of tuition for any public postsecondary institution in the state of Michigan. A team of economists wanted to explore whether this type of scholarship could increase the number of students who enroll in a university or community college, as well as whether it would impact postsecondary graduation rates. The results of this study, conducted by Timothy J. Bartik, Brad Hershbein, and Marta Lachowska, will appear in a forthcoming issue of the Journal of Human Resources. We spoke with the authors about their research process and the origins of their study. To learn more, read the full Journal of Human Resources preprint article, “The Effects of the Kalamazoo Promise Scholarship on College Enrollment and Completion,” freely available until the end of May.


Tell us about the history of the Kalamazoo Promise scholarship—how did it come about, what is the nature of this scholarship, and what initial questions did you have about it?

The Kalamazoo Promise was initiated in 2005 in a mid-sized, urban school district that had gradually been losing enrollment, but still retained many middle-class as well as low-income students, and in a community that had suffered recent job cutbacks, but still had many college-educated workers. The Promise came about through discussions between the Kalamazoo Public Schools superintendent and anonymous private donors about how to revitalize the community and the school district. The solution? A “simple” gift: any graduate who had lived and attended school in the district long enough could receive a generous scholarship to any Michigan public university or community college. The intent was to grow the local economy and school district by attracting families to the community and boosting students’ educational attainment and—presumably—their local job opportunities. Our initial question, addressed in prior research (Bartik, Eberts, and Huang 2010; Hershbein 2013), was the impact of the Kalamazoo Promise on district enrollment. Our current paper addresses whether the Promise succeeded in increasing educational attainment.

What is one takeaway from your article that you’d like to communicate to readers outside of the economics community?

The Kalamazoo Promise program, which is one specific design of a “free-tuition” program, worked! The program increased the attainment of a post-secondary credential by one-third. If one compares the predicted lifetime increase in earnings from this additional educational attainment with the Promise’s scholarship costs, the program’s rate of return is over 11 percent.

Why did it make sense to publish in the Journal of Human Resources

The Journal of Human Resources is a top journal in empirical microeconomics and has published numerous articles on the effects of scholarship programs. Therefore, it felt like a natural fit for us. In addition to being well-regarded and influential, it also has a reputation for being a well-run journal. 

Will you continue to pursue similar questions, or will you take your research in another direction?

Absolutely! There are relatively few studies of the long-term impacts of college scholarships on outcomes beyond education, such as employment, earnings, or financial health. Two prominent examples of such studies are Judy Scott-Clayton and Basit Zafar’s study of the West Virginia Promise and Bettinger et al’s study of the Cal Grant program in California. But the first of these is a merit scholarship and the second is need-based, and both are state programs; to date, there are no completed studies of workforce impacts of universal, place-based scholarships, even as these have continued to proliferate. With funding from the Strada Education Network, we and teams of other researchers are studying workforce impacts of the Kalamazoo Promise, the Pittsburgh Promise, Knox Achieves (the predecessor of the Tennessee Promise), and the Denver Scholarship Foundation. We expect to have preliminary results presented at conferences later this year, so stay tuned!

If a community is considering implementing a place-based scholarship like the Kalamazoo Promise, what factors should be considered to ensure they achieve the desired results?

This is a great question. Place-based college scholarships vary considerably in both their goals and their parameters and these two factors are not always aligned. Our paper demonstrates that a universal-access program can yield sizable increases in college completion, although it may not be the cost-minimizing approach to doing so. On the other hand, as we discuss in the paper, place-based college scholarships often have other goals besides just increasing educational attainments, such as strengthening K-12 achievement and local workforce and economic development. From our paper and related analyses, we’ve learned a few lessons that other communities should keep in mind:

  1. Simplicity generally leads to greater take-up. It’s often tempting to impose significant merit or financial need criteria to limit costs or reward “good students,” but the research doesn’t back this up as an effective strategy. Universal scholarships in communities with high financial need can provide simplicity while reducing the likelihood that scholarships subsidize relatively wealthy students. (This is one of the reasons place-based scholarships may be more compelling than statewide ones.)
  2. Money alone does not fix all problems. Even with one of the most generous scholarships in the country, only about half of Kalamazoo Promise students complete a credential within the ten years over which they can use the scholarship (and less within the first six years). Less generous scholarships often produce even smaller impacts. The Kalamazoo Promise, other scholarship programs, and even colleges have increasingly turned to provide additional supports, such as college coaching and navigators, to help students succeed. These supports have shown potential in several contexts, although we know relatively little about how effective these additional supports are with and without scholarships for tuition.
  3. To measure effectiveness, good data are imperative. We used National Student Clearinghouse data to measure postsecondary outcomes for our paper, but as more states continue to develop longitudinal data systems that track students from K-12 into college and beyond, it will be possible to create better estimates and examine additional outcomes, such as credit attainment, earnings, or use of social safety net programs. Currently, obtaining these data for evaluations is challenging even for the most successful and well-connected researchers, and often nearly impossible for local communities. States should make it easier for these data to be used for research purposes while protecting student confidentiality.

Timothy J. Bartik’s research focuses on how broad-based prosperity can be advanced through better local labor market policies. This includes both policies affecting labor demand, such as state and local economic development policies, and policies affecting labor supply, such as place-based scholarships. Bartik is co-editor of Economic Development Quarterly, the only journal focused on local economic development in the United States. Bartik received both his PhD and his MS in economics from the University of Wisconsin–Madison in 1982. He earned a BA from Yale University in political philosophy in 1975. Prior to joining the Upjohn Institute in 1989, he was an assistant professor of economics at Vanderbilt University.

Brad Hershbein is an economist at the W. E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research, a labor studies research organization in Kalamazoo, Michigan, and a non-resident fellow in Economic Studies at the Brookings Institution. He also serves as the Institute’s director of information and communications services. His fields of interest focus on labor economics, demography, and economics of education, and especially the intersection of the three. His work has appeared in Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, and American Economic Review. He earned his BA in economics from Harvard College, and his PhD, also in economics, from the University of Michigan.

Marta Lachowska completed her Ph.D. in economics at Stockholm University in 2010. Lachowska has research interests in labor economics, economics of social insurance, and economics of education. Her work has been published in the American Economic Journal: Economic PolicyJournal of Human ResourcesLabour Economics, and Oxford Economic Papers, among others. She has been the PI or co-PI of several investigator-initiated grants, including projects funded by the U.S. Department of Labor, the William T. Grant Foundation, and the Washington Center for Equitable Growth.

On the 50th Anniversary of Earth Day

Earth Day was a resounding success because the organizers didn’t try to shape a uniform national action. They empowered ordinary people to express their passion for the Earth in whatever way they chose from wherever they were. . . . It was a moment of rare political alignment that elicited support from Republicans and Democrats, rich and poor, city slickers and farmers. . . . Never could [my father] have imagined that a day dedicated to the environment would inspire millions to action and alter the course of history.

—Tia Nelson, from the preface of Gaylord Nelson’s Beyond Earth Day: Fulfilling the Promise

In 1970, an estimated 20 million Americans celebrated the first Earth Day. Founded by former Wisconsin senator and governor Gaylord Nelson (1916–2005), the event increased public awareness of conservation work, helped spur the creation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and led to the passage of the Clean Air, Clean Water, and Endangered Species Acts. We asked our authors and editors what Earth Day means to them.

Brian DeVore, author of Wildly Successful Farming

Brian DeVore

To me, Earth Day means community. As Aldo Leopold’s land ethic reminds us, we are all part of a larger community, one that includes plants, animals, watersheds, and soil microbes. If we are to do right by that community in this age of the Anthropocene, it will require working with nature as a not-so-silent partner. I’ve been on many farms that have done this by blending the “wild” and the “tame”—such boundary-blurring doesn’t produce the clean precision we Homo sapiens believe we want, but it most certainly generates the messy resiliency that we need.

John Hildebrand, author of Long Way Round

John Hildebrand

Fifty years ago, I sat in Crisler Arena at the University of Michigan listening to Gaylord Nelson and others at the first Earth Day and promptly forgetting everything they said. But I still remember the music—Gordon Lightfoot’s “Black Day in July,” a song about the 1967 Detroit riot. I’d worked on a Ford assembly line that summer and a year later rode a bus to classes through Motown’s gutted streets. So Earth Day is forever linked in my mind to a burning city. Why? Because to love the earth means loving all of it, not just the pretty parts.

Dr. Steven Love, editor of Native Plants Journal

Dr. Steven Love

My celebration of Earth Day typically looks like any other workaday. The fact is, I generally pay very little attention to this one-day environmental event. Not that I reject principles of conservation. In fact, I think we should all adopt lifestyles in which we conserve water and other natural resources,  create habitat for creatures whose world we share, make decisions that reduce human impact, protect our pristine natural areas, and generally make the world a better and more sustainable place to live. My problem with Earth Day is that I believe we should live these principles every day, not celebrate them once a year.

Arthur Melville Pearson, author of Force of Nature

Arthur Melville Pearson

For George Fell, every day was Earth Day. For all he accomplished, he seldom if ever stopped to celebrate because there always remained so much more to do. This Earth Day, marking a milestone anniversary, I plan to stop and think of all The Nature Conservancy has accomplished over the last half century. And the Illinois Nature Preserves Commission. The Natural Land Institute. And the many organizations and individuals of the Natural Areas Association. Thanks to George. The next day, I’ll get back to work for all the challenges and opportunities that yet lie ahead.

Poetry and Crisis

As the COVID-19 pandemic has rapidly reshaped political, economic, and personal realities worldwide, it’s easy to wonder how art will look back on this time. In honor of poetry month, we gathered articles from Contemporary Literature journal that discuss how poetry has grappled with past—and ongoing—national and international crises. From the AIDS epidemic, to 9/11, to environmental racism, to the global refugee crisis, these articles examine poetry that addresses the challenge of representing unimaginable circumstances and lost lives. The articles listed here are freely available until 5/31/20.

“Toward an Antiracist Ecopoetics: Waste and Wasting in the Poetry of Claudia Rankine” by Angela Hume, vol. 57.1 (2018)

I read CITIZEN as the latest installment of Rankine’s twenty-year meditation on the “wasting body”—a figure that, in Rankine’s poetry, accounts for how certain bodies are attenuated or made sick under capitalism and the state, while simultaneously being regarded as surplus by these same structures. While the book is not ostensibly a work of ecological poetry or environmental criticism, one of CITIZEN’s most pointed critiques—a critique Rankine makes in her earlier books, too—concerns the difficulty of relating to or identifying with one’s environment when one has been othered by the dominant white society and, consequently, forced to live with greater amounts of environmental risk.

Angela Hume

“Myung Mi Kim’s Vegetal Imaginary and the Poetics of Dispossession” by Melissa Parrish, vol. 59.1 (2018)

As war, regime change, wageless labor, and environmental degradation persist on a global scale, they magnify the vulnerability of the hundreds of millions of people who have long been displaced by capital accumulation…. In this essay, I contend that a poetics oriented toward social dispossession must wrestle with the perpetual violence waged on the representability of people themselves. In this way, lost histories―in their making and survival―are made visible in the act of bearing witness to dispossession across multiple generations and locales. Korean American poet Myung Mi Kim takes up this practice by turning to subjects without subjecthood, whose presence attends to granular scales of life hidden in plain sight.

Melissa Parrish

“‘Not Needed, Except as Meaning’: Belatedness in Post–9/11 American Poetry” by Ann Keniston, vol. 52.4 (2011)

[S]everal poems depict [the 9/11 attacks] in ways that draw attention to this problem of representing the “real.” But these poems do so indirectly; they consider the relation between the literal and the figurative through chronological instability, distance, indirection, and estrangement. These are features that trauma theory, following psychoanalysis, has associated with “belatedness,” a version of Freudian Nachträglichkeit, often translated as “deferred action” and described in terms of disruptions in the process of remembering traumatic events. Belatedness is often manifested for trauma victims in repetition, flashbacks, prolepsis, and other forms of temporal instability, and post–9/11 poems sometimes reveal these features…. Belatedness is here not a symptom, as in psychoanalysis, but rather a poetic strategy.

Ann Keniston

“Avant-Garde Interrupted: A New Narrative after AIDS” by Kaplan Page Harris, vol. 52.4 (2011)

[Kevin Killian’s 2001 book of poems] ARGENTO SERIES might be a good contender as a contemporary version of Ezra Pound’s Gaudier-Brzeska. Like Pound mourning the Vorticist sculptor lost in the trenches of World War I, Killian pays homage to the coterie figures who welcomed and influenced his early writing. Among them are Sam D’Allesandro (d. 1988), Dlugos (d. 1990), Leland Hickman (d. 1991), Steve Abbott (d. 1992), David Wojnarowicz (d. 1992), and Joe Brainard (d. 1994). ARGENTO SERIES gives the impression that these writers were an avant-garde, or something like one, and raises for us the cogent question of what happens when an avant-garde does not develop according to the usual pattern of oppositionality followed by institutional assimilation…. For Killian’s avant-garde, however, one whose genealogy combines the two traditions of gay liberation and modernist experimentation, the neutralizing process happened because of AIDS rather than enticements like literary prizes, endowed chairs, commercial publishing contracts, or M.F.A. reading circuits.

Kaplan Page Harris

National Poetry Month: Poetry for the Present

April is National Poetry Month—and we could all use a little extra poetry lately. Five University of Wisconsin Press poets share a poem from their recently published collections.


Ganbatte by Sarah Kortemeier

Cover image for Ganbatte

Kortemeier: Most of my work means something different to me now than it did when I wrote it; this poem definitely does. Hold on. We need each other, all our collective strength, all our love.





春 [haru] Japanese. Spring.

The sun hides under
the days. Lift them away, like wet planks
from a storm-wrecked house.
One removed, two—a breath,
a cry, a light
strikes a smudged, thin face—
and there is the spring, broken, starving,
still alive. Hoist her out.


If the house by Molly Spencer

Cover image for If the House

Spencer: In these days of sheltering, I’ve been thinking a lot about Linda Gregg’s poem, “We Manage Most When We Manage Small.” It strikes me today—years after writing it—that “Love at These Coordinates” is about managing small in a particular place and in a time of bewilderment, much as we all are now. It’s about focusing on what’s concrete and at hand, and it’s about keeping at it, hanging in there, trying again in hope—with no guarantee of results, and despite the impermanence of everything.


Love at These Coordinates

Put the window here. No

put it here. Where
the leaves are about to burn
and blow away. Keep sweeping

over the bare place
where
you thought you left

your body—breezeway
strike plate
tread of the stair.

Here is the sill
where at the end of

every winter I have tried
to force the paperwhites
to bloom.


Fruit by Bruce Snider

Snider: In this time of social distancing, it’s easy for us to feel disconnected from one another. I wrote “The Average Human” thinking about the imperceptible ways we’re always connected, even across place and time.





The Average Human

breath contains approximately 1044 molecules, which, once exhaled,
in time spread evenly through the atmosphere


                so today I took
in the last breaths of James
Baldwin Marie Curie Genghis
Kahn my great great grandmother’s
breath entering me beside the breath
of a Viking slave boy immolated
on the flames of his master’s
burning corpse. I inhaled
African queens Chinese
emperors the homeless
man with the bright blue
coat down the street. If oxygen
is the third most plentiful
element in the universe, moving
through us like Virgil through
the underworld, how long
have I tasted the girl
drowned among cattails near
the murky shore? In ancient Egypt
a priestess packed a corpse with
salt but not before a breath
escaped that two thousand years
later entered me or at least
atoms of it, a molecule. Plato
theorized atoms in 400 BC
and this morning outside
Athens I took in his last breath,
my lungs damp crypts
where Charon’s oars dipped
into the black waters of the River
Styx, not knowing who would
pay the ferryman and
with what coin on what tongue.


No Day at the Beach by John Brehm

Brehm: I chose this poem because it speaks to the sense of shared vulnerability, as individuals and as a species, that we’re all feeling right now.





Field of Vision

Our survival cost us our happiness,
always scanning for lions
stalking us on the open

savannahs—is that
a panther or just wind
in the tall grass moving?

The carefree became
a big cat’s satisfied sleep.
The rest of us are here,

five million years of fear
hard-wiring our brains
to be on guard, to look

for trouble, for the one
thing wrong with this picture,
whatever the picture might be.

Now we do it out of habit,
even when there’s no reason,
when we’re perfectly safe,

walking out each morning,
naked, under the baobab trees,
into the lion’s field of vision.


Queen in Blue by Ambalila Hemsell

Hemsell: Almost every poem in my collection is in some way about the deeply intertwined nature of death and birth, violence and creation. This poem imagines the return to a vital and animalistic existence amidst the breakdown of capitalistic society. The poem posits that there is joy to be found somewhere in the alchemy of gratitude, love, and survival.



joy

joy spreads like blood on the sheets, love, and we are black
blooded thieves, turnip takers in our lucky rabbit skins.

whiskey makes the good heart powerful and we thump thump
our drums until sunup. chant ourselves hoarse through the smoking

wet cedar. the system of currency and want has lost its sway. I have now
only the natural sorts of hunger. with that in mind, let us feast.

with that in mind, let us cleave the river from the bank with the cosmic axe.
feed the deer from our pockets, the oatmeal we ourselves were raised on

and will raise our children on again. with that in mind, ravage me.
have you seen the quiet way in fog the dawn barely breaks? it is treason

for the day to enter with so little ceremony. I want fireworks. I want
the slaughter of lambs for our holy days, but each day is holier than the last.

as we plummet from our high banyan seat the short switch beats the rug,
the golden beets are slow to come and you, love, accept my hurricane

to your stout trunk, accept the natural uprooting. the bevel meeting of me to you,
god, speak on the smoothing of stone by water, and the fitting of stone to stone.

we are meek walkers on the once lush globe. now, among the perishing, we count
our blessings and shed our shoes.


Ed Garvey and the tradition of Wisconsin Progressivism

Today is the 2020 Wisconsin Spring Election (for more information on voting, visit MyVote Wisconsin). Author and local journalist Rob Zaleski shares his motivation for writing Ed Garvey Unvarnished: Lessons from a Visionary Progressive.

In 2011, shortly after Republican Scott Walker was elected Wisconsin’s governor, Ed Garvey, a dynamic and widely respected progressive activist from Burlington, and I had 17 in-depth interviews. We discussed a myriad of issues related not only to Walker’s victory but to Garvey’s remarkable life—including his sterling accomplishments as an environmental crusader and three failed attempts at public office. Those interviews, we figured, would make for an engrossing, thought-provoking book.

In our final interview, Garvey revealed that he was about to seek a publisher for a second book he’d been working on about his time as the executive director of the National Football League’s players union. Fascinating guy that he was, I doubted there was a market for both his book and the one I was writing about him.

After Garvey succumbed to Parkinson’s in February 2017, I was taken aback by the many glowing tributes to him—not only from his many friends and admirers throughout Wisconsin but from media voices and politicians across the country.

“Ed Garvey was a hero to progressives in this state,” my colleague Natasha Kassulke pointedly noted over lunch. “And progressives have never needed a hero more than now. Rob, you’ve got to finish your book.”

She was right. So I went back to work, and in September of this past year—some eight years after Garvey and I met at his suburban Shorewood Hills home for our first interview—UW Press published Ed Garvey Unvarnished.

The Garvey name, I’ve discovered, still resonates. A number of readers have expressed their amazement at how candid and brutally honest Garvey was in our interviews. Several were intrigued by the access he afforded me—and the fact that he trusted me with many of his deep, personal feelings on a variety of issues.

But, as anyone who knew Garvey well can attest, brutal honesty was his trademark. It’s who he was. As for trusting me with his most sensitive inner-thoughts, I believe it had to do with the sense of urgency he felt from the moment we sat down for that first interview: he was fully aware that the clock was running out.

First and foremost, Garvey wanted to remind people of what he had stood for his entire life. But he also felt he hadn’t received his due for his work on behalf of the National Football League Players Association—a view that is shared in the book by two former NFLPA players’ reps: Pat Richter, who went on to become athletic director at the University of Wisconsin, and Mark Murphy, now president of the Green Bay Packers.

Prior to Garvey’s hiring as the NFLPA’s executive director in 1971, most players worked part-time in the offseason. They had virtually no job security. Then, the average NFL salary was $24,000. Today it’s about $2.7 million.

“Look at what players have now,” Murphy marveled. “This was Ed’s dream. People thought we were crazy when the players went on strike in 1982 and demanded a percentage of the league’s gross [profits]. Our rallying cry was, ‘We are the game,’ which of course is true. Now the players do get a percentage of the gross, and everybody views it as a great system that’s working well for everybody. And it’s mainly because of Ed.”

Much as I admired what Garvey had accomplished in his NFLPA days, it’s not the main reason I wanted to do this book. I have interviewed thousands of people during my 30-plus years in the newspaper business. But no one quite like Ed Garvey.

Yes, he had a hair-trigger temper. And yes, he could be viciously sarcastic. In heated debates, he wouldn’t hesitate to go for his rival’s jugular. But I’ve never met a public figure—certainly never a politician—who was as decent, as forthright, and as determined to speak the truth as Ed Garvey. And I wanted people to know what a fascinating and unique person he was.

When he took a stance on a particular issue, he never checked the opinion polls or conferred with a bunch of high-falutin’ consultants. He did it because he believed it was the right thing to do. While he felt the Republican party was controlled by selfish, bigoted, wealthy old men, he routinely criticized the Democratic party for catering to the same well-heeled special interests as Republicans.

Ed Garvey, I came to realize, truly was one of a kind. My hope is that younger Americans who read his words will be inspired to seize his mantle.

Rob Zaleski is a freelance writer and award-winning columnist. He spent twenty-six years writing for The Capital Times in Madison.

Luso-Brazilian Review Is Now Free to Read on Project MUSE

In response to the COVID-19 crisis, volumes 41–56 (2004–present) of Luso-Brazilian Review are now freely available until May 31, 2020, on Project MUSE. In opening content, the journal joins a wider initiative led by Project MUSE to provide free access to many books and journals, in order to support scholars as they transition to remote teaching and learning. You can find a complete list of free resources on MUSE here.


Luso-Brazilian Review

Luso-Brazilian Review publishes interdisciplinary scholarship on Portuguese, Brazilian, and Lusophone African cultures, with special emphasis on scholarly works in literature, history, and the social sciences. Each issue of the Luso-Brazilian Review includes articles and book reviews, which may be written in either English or Portuguese.