In the River Valley, a robust culture of “publicness,” let alone public space, seems scant at first glance. This is primarily due to the prominence of the paper mill: Its pollution, smell, optics, and noise make outdoor activities or community gatherings unappealing. For many, however, bodies cannot stay silent or still—even bodies subdued by, dispirited with, or afraid of environmental or work pressures. This two-part feature about public space by writer and literary critic John Freeman and report editor Aaron Cayer examine how bodies can express themselves in small apertures—even when they may be oppressed, restricted, or silenced.
Part I features an excerpt from Freeman’s 2019 book, Dictionary of the Undoing. As bookseller John Evans writes in LitHub, the book is “a conversational corona of essays, in alphabetical order, each building on the previous ones to construct a language with which to speak about our ability to live well together.” One needs little prompting to see what happens when we turn away from this project. “Saving language itself from the predations of party politics, corporate manipulation, and media distortion,” Evans continues, “Freeman calmly and poetically enlivens our vocabulary, accessibly restoring values, heart, and feeling back into the mix. This is the one book … I wish everyone would take some thoughtful moments to read. And then share it with friends so that we can talk differently, to act differently, to create differently, our world.” —Maine’s River Valley report editors
Read part II of the public space feature here.