Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Thirteen Stereotypes about Poets

by Gary Soto
excerpted from Why I Don't Write Children's Literature (March 2015)

It’s a disappointment that I’m not invited to parties more often because I possess an extensive social armor in the form of twelve suits, including a rare Paul Smith three-piece—rare in that there is only one other like it in the United States. To my mind, it’s very close to “bespoke,” meaning that a tailor, working from my slender measurements, made it just for me. I’m disappointed because I want to be present at a party where a midlevel techie—wine glass in his right hand, cracker in his left—asks, “What do you do?”

“I’m a poet,” I would answer, nibbling on my own cracker, sipping from my own drink. “Gee, this is a nice party. Look, there’s more food coming!”

And you live where? the techie might wonder, in his semi-vegan heart. But aloud he says, “Interesting. I read a short poem about black birds once. Didn’t understand it at all.” Cracker crumbs fall from his lower lip. His cell phone lights up and I disappear from his thoughts for seconds—no, for good. He turns away.

Still, I get to mingle with others at the party. I scan the scene and sip my wine. It’s good stuff—a blend of silliness, with just a touch of hilly ravine. Got to get a case of this, I remind myself.

In short, poets are misread. We’re like others in that we have hearts and lungs, money and then no money, and places to go—even if it’s by foot. If you call with an invitation to us older poets, on a landline, we will make every effort to come.


Poets Wear Berets
We are no longer partial to berets, though we’ve all seen them tilted smartly on heads, both male and female. Admittedly, they’re attractive head coverings, but only for the generation before 1960, and only if you were European with an owl-shaped face. Still, if a contemporary poet wears a beret it should be made of wool and smell of tobacco and worry—worry for the next poem and the next meal. When we do don hats, I’m afraid it’s the dumbed-down baseball-cap look—or a beanie, like that guy in U2. People assume that’s what poets look like—like the beanie guy. But no, that’s more like a rocker with a really expensive guitar.


Poets Are Silent and Reflective Types
If drinks are free for more than two hours—and if the party extends to another venue, offering more of the same—a poet can get really loud. He might collapse to his knees, roll onto his side, and keep talking, even while the brain has given up and the eyes resemble salmon eggs. The collapsed poet does not go quietly into the night. Though crumpled on the floor, his lips are still moving slightly.

“Bush,” the poet mumbles, “George Bush started it all . . . Rosebud, rosebud . . .”

Some smarty remarked that we poets come into the world not knowing a single word. After we have honed the ancient craft, however, we won’t shut up. But we also come into the world expecting a proper drink, right away. “Where’s mommy?” the newborn poet asks, then wails.


Poets Like Flowers
Sniffing them, we think of our future funerals, when an organ moans and the mourners, other poets in out-of-style ties, are keen to the aroma of vittles in the adjacent room. Flowers, of course, are beautiful in a vase, on half-price calendars, and when presented to us with the Nobel Prize for Literature. This big daddy of all awards most likely doesn’t happen, however, and we will have no occasion to shake hands with a real king and bow to his wife, the queen, thin as a tulip. But if it should occur, we would wear a red boutonniere, the color of the blood we spilled getting there.


Poets Vote Democrat
Yes, most darken those zeros in the voting booth in favor of Democrats. But a few vote Republican. Generally, these poets iron their jeans and then re-iron them, with sharp creases. Republican poets are always men.


Poets Don’t Work
We are apt to work hard—as long as we don’t have to bend over too much. We work for figures just north of minimum wage, correcting college papers that often begin, “In today’s society,” and teaching creative writing workshops where babyish students complain, “You just want us to write like you.” We appreciate work that ends about five o’clock and committee meetings that take no longer than the time in which to eat a sandwich. We like paychecks, but fret at all the deductions on the paystub. All those taxes never benefit poets.


Gary Soto, not unbalanced.
Unbalanced, Poets Must Hang onto Things When They Walk
Sylvia Plath put her head inside an oven—we know at least this much about her. Delmore Schwartz drank himself to death, and so did Dylan Thomas. Virginia Woolf, a prose writer with a poet’s sensibility, put rocks into her apron and walked into a cold river. In short, the public thinks that we’re unbalanced and steps back to give us room. But poets are well balanced. Consider how poets start off the day. We put on our socks first, then our pants, or maybe the other way around—pants first, then socks. We’re able to dress ourselves.


Poetry Slams Are for Everyone
Poets in a slam rhyme like this: “I was a’gonna fall / before the call / but big beautiful doll / hecka pale and tall / you feel me, y’all?” After some soft clapping from the audience, the poet swings his hair from his right shoulder to his left. Then he begins another: “Skinny but mad / fruitfully glad / mom and dad / like frowned at ‘Brad’ / but my words, sugar babe, ain’t that bad.” These slams start at about 7:00 p.m. and end when we turn about twenty-five.


Poets Drink Too Much Coffee
Like the regular Joes and Josephinas of the world, wesavor our morning brew. We drink two cups, get that sweet vibe going, then head to work on BART. In our office, we’re blasted by fluorescent light bulbs, but on our desk we have a potted plant to soothe our eyes.

“How’s it going?” a workmate asks.

“I stapled my tie to the desk—that’s how it’s going,” the poet answers. “You seen the scissors?”

We don’t sit in cafes jotting down ideas for poems that may or may not happen. Poets like their coffee with lots of cream and with sugar—two spoonfuls will sweeten the day.


Poets Listen to NPR
While driving a cheapo rental, poets may cruise the radio stations, halt briefly at NPR’s “All Things Considered,” and growl, “Oh, yeah, a station for the Volvo crowd.” When a reporter begins, in an urgent voice, “Today in Australia a kangaroo was found sitting among rocks at low tide,” poets snort, “Yeah, but what about me? I sat there and no one gave a shit.” Poets search for a station with loud music.


Poets Need Sensitivity Training 
A famous poet and his semi-famous friend commiserated over a prestigious prize that neither received. It instead had gone to a very famous poet.

“Get over it,” the famous poet scolded. “Bury the hatchet.”

“Good idea!” the semi-famous poet roared. “I’ll bury in it in his forehead.”


Poets Understand Dreams
We sleep in narrow or wide beds and we dream narrowly or widely. To our analysts, we report with mild urgency dreams such as this: “When I went into the bathroom I saw a polar bear drinking from the toilet. He raised his face with little drops of water dripping from his chops, and chased me down the hallway. We both ran in slow motion, but since he was more powerful he caught me and, well, gave me a bear hug.”

Analyst (tapping pencil against his leg—so Freudian): “Were there ice cubes involved?”


Poets Live on the Top Floor of the Ivory Tower
We live in houses with lots of windows, or apartments with some windows, or shared spaces with only one window, which we climb through when we’ve forgotten the key. We live in tents when the going is hard or with our parents when the going is really hard. No poet lives too richly. We don’t shine the silver or dust the chandelier or take tally of the Royal Copenhagen china. We seldom dwell in large houses with more than two bathrooms. When we do, it’s because our wife or husband or lover is the one with money. Even then, we feel a little embarrassed when we show our guests the view from the great room.


Poets Smell
Ghastly rumor! We shower and we wash our fleshy mitts. Some solitary days we contemplate the grime under our fingernails, grime that if analyzed in a lab would reveal pencil lead. We write poems that work and poems that don’t work. When we sweat, we provide the world with an unusual odor. “What’s that?” a curious business-type might ask, as he sniffs the confines of an elevator. Dogs howl at our sides as they recall from their canine past some primordial longing that involved the first Neanderthal poets. People hurry out of the elevator before the poet can say, “It’s me! I’ve just finished a poetry manuscript. The perfume is called ‘Essence of Limited Edition.’”




Why I Don't Write Children's Literature, by Gary Soto, is available from ForeEdge on March 3rd.


Thursday, January 8, 2015

Are We Nearing the Final Chapter of the Marriage Equality Movement?

Newly married couples leaving City Hall in Seattle in 2012, by Dennis Bratland


It's a rare thing to publish a book whose ending hasn't been written.

Maybe rarer when that book, released last November, lands scores of soaring reviews, including a spot on Slate's list of the best of 2014.

We're talking about the definitive—and dramatically unfinished—history of the marriage equality movement. Winning Marriage: The Inside Story of How Same-Sex Couples Took on the Politicians and the Pundits—and Won, written by Marc Solomon, national campaign director for Freedom to Marry, is the state-by-state chronicle of Solomon's tireless work on the front lines of the battle to ensure that all people have the right to marry anyone they choose.

Publishers Weekly calls the book "a manual for how to craft a successful political movement in the future."

Slate's Mark Joseph Stern says it's "the book that leaders of the movement deserve, and that latecomers to the movement need to read...[and it is] the only account of the gay rights battle yet written that will still be read in decades to come. It's the timeless story of a fierce and vital fight, fast-paced and marvelously detailed."

Writing for the Huffington Post, Julie Enszer is impressed with Solomon's "commitment to recognizing multiple people—activists, lobbyists, and just plain interested citizens—and their role in the struggle for marriage equality. In Solomon's hands, the story of marriage equality is multi-vocal, even cacophonous, with an array of people working with commitment to achieve the goal."

This is what Freedom to Marry's national map looks like today, after state after state began allowing same-sex marriages as a result of last June's overturning of the Defense of Marriage Act:



Tomorrow, Friday, January 9, 2015, may present new milestones in the path toward that ultimate goal. In New Orleans, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals will hear cases out of Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi. Also tomorrow the Supreme Court will meet to consider taking up one of five marriage cases that could lead to a nationwide freedom to marry by June. With every hope for justice for all, tomorrow will be a momentous day.

And with any luck, by June 2015, Marc Solomon—and the untold scores of activists and organizers who have fought this fight for so long—can close the book on the hard-won story of marriage equality.

In the New Year, Eat Healthy for Yourself, Your Community, and the Environment

By Lars Plougmann (Flickr: Austin downtown farmers' market), via Wikimedia Commons

by Lisa Chase, coauthor (with Vern Grubinger) of Food, Farms, and Community: Exploring Food Systems

Ring in the New Year with a new twist on an old resolution. The most common New Year’s resolution is to lose weight and eat healthier. In this era of global climate change, big box stores, and corporate agriculture, it’s time to expand on that resolution. Don’t just eat better for you. Eat better for your community and for the environment. You can do all three at the same time.

Here are 5 ways to eat healthier for yourself, your community, and the environment:

1. Eat your veggies.
Like Mom always said. She was right then and she’s not only right now -- she’s righteous. You can reduce your carbon footprint and your waistline with a diet high in organic vegetables and whole grains. Fruits and veggies are loaded with vitamins, antioxidants, and all sorts of good things that scientist have yet to figure out how to replicate in the lab.

http://www.upne.com/1611684216.html2. Buy local and organic when you can.
Be picky about your veggies. Pay attention to where they come from and how they are grown. Fresh produce tastes better and is better for you. Plus supporting local farms gives back to your community and the working landscape. Don’t stop at produce; choose eggs, milk, cheese, meat and other staples that can be produced locally.

3. Cook at home.
Proponents of home cooking argue that this lost art is a way to combat obesity, save money, and have full control over what you eat. Opponents say it’s not realistic and we should look to processed food that is healthier as the solution to America’s obesity epidemic. You get to decide for yourself with every bite you take. If you don’t enjoy cooking or don’t have time for it, buy prepared foods that are fresh and wholesome.

4. Go ahead and splurge.
Denying yourself can backfire and lead to binging. Enjoy those French fries and chocolates every now and then. Look for the Fair Trade and Food Justice Certified labels so you can support fair treatment for workers even while you indulge. When you eat out, choose restaurants in keeping with your values. (If you're in Vermont like me, visit www.DigInVT.com to find out where to eat meals made with fresh, local ingredients.)

5. Remember those less fortunate.
One in seven families in the U.S. doesn’t have enough to eat. Give to a food bank. Better yet, volunteer at a food shelf by bringing in gleanings from farm fields or helping in the kitchen. Then you can lend a hand creating wholesome meals that nourish your community, literally.

Celebrate the local bounty wherever you are, at home or while you’re traveling. Whether you’re buying carrots, corn, coffee, chocolate, or cheese, pay attention to where your food comes from and how it is produced.


To learn more about eating healthy for yourself, your community, and the environment, read Food, Farms, and Community: Exploring Food Systems by Lisa Chase and Vern Grubinger. 


Wednesday, December 10, 2014

HOLIDAY SPECIAL: 35% off Select Books


Season's greetings from UPNE!

It's that wonderful time of year when we must remind ourselves that it is a time for giving. To give is the season's true meaning, we keep hearing.

And no one's denying that. Books, for instance, make excellent gifts to give. To friends and family...and to yourself. We think a book is one of the few things in life that's worth bending the rules of the season in order to get.

So in the conjoined spirit of giving and getting, we're thrilled to offer a 35% discount on the following selection of books published by UPNE and our imprint ForeEdge this year.

To receive the discount, click on the book image or title and use discount code E114EW when placing your order on UPNE.com. The discount will extend through the end of the day, December 31, 2014.

Share this post with friends and family! And happy reading!


Winning Marriage: The Inside Story of How Same-Sex Couples Took on the Politicians and Pundits—and Won, by Marc Solomon

A no-holds barred, from-the-trenches account of the campaign to win and protect the freedom to marry in America.

Selected by Slate as a Best Book of 2014, calling it "a timeless story of a fierce and vital fight, fast-paced and marvelously detailed."

Hardcover, $27.95 $18.20






Bernard Cornwell calls this book "by far the best account of Revere's life...beautifully written, exhaustively researched, judiciously fair.:

And be sure to brush up on the 7 reasons everyone hated Paul Revere.

Hardcover, $29.95 $19.50






Dog Whistles, Walk-Backs, and Washington Handshakes: Decoding the Jargon, Slang, and Bluster of American Political Speech, by Chuck McCutcheon and David Mark

An entertaining election-year (or any year!) guide to the language of the electeds, spin-meisters, and flacks of American politics.

Paperback, $19.95 $13.00





With ingenuity born of desperation, President Truman overcame the doubters (within his own party), the haters, and the infamously do-nothing Congress to recapture the presidency and, perhaps, save America.

The Wall Street Journal calls White's "a far more compelling account of just how Harry gave 'em hell—the campaign's war cry—than the gauzy version that has hardened into legend."

Hardcover, $29.95 $19.50



Ice Ship: The Epic Voyages of the Polar Adventurer Fram, by Charles W. Johnson

"Ice Ship is as splendidly composed a biography of the magnificent vessel Fram as it is a portrait of the courageous men who sailed her into the daunting Arctic," says bestselling novelist Howard Norman. "Through impeccable research and evocative prose, Charles Johnson brings the last true age of exploration fully alive."

Hardcover, $35.00 $22.75






Dirigible Dreams looks back on a bygone era of when the future of exploration, commercial travel, and warfare largely involved the prospect of wingless flight. Hiam celebrates the legendary figures of this promising technology and revisits many of its triumphs and, of course, its spectacular failures.

Hardcover, $29.95 $19.50






Victura: The Kennedys, a Sailboat, and the Sea, by James W. Graham

"Victura is more than Graham recounting the sailing experiences of the Kennedys. In this well-researched but warmly written book, Graham sometimes goes several pages describing an election, a Kennedy family intrigue, and then gracefully brings the story back to the sea, showing how, in the best and worst of times, the family pulled together around sailing."—Sailing magazine

Hardcover, $29.95 $19.50


Before today's safety-minded structures of wood and plastic, America's playgrounds were full of tottering seesaws, dizzying merry-go-rounds, and towering slides. Once Upon a Playground is a visual tribute to these iconic structures, celebrating their place in our culture and the collective memories of generations.

Hardcover, $29.95 $19.50



The Science of Play: How to Build Playgrounds that Enhance Children's Development, by Susan G. Solomon

Poor design and wasted funding characterize today's American playgrounds. A range of factors have created uniform and unimaginative play structures, which fail to nurture the development of children or promote playgrounds as an active component in enlivening community space. The Science of Play is a clarion call to use playground design to deepen the American commitment to public space.

Hardcover, $40.00 $26.00





Thursday, October 30, 2014

Saving the American Playground From Itself

by Susan G. Solomon
author of The Science of Play: 
How to Build Playgrounds That Enhance Children's Development

The American playground today fails as a resource that could help kids mature or prepare for unidentified future ordeals.

Unlike the exciting playgrounds of the 1950s and 1960s, today’s typical playgrounds are maintenance-free caged areas that emphasize safety more than critical thinking, smart reasoning, hopeful investigations, or thrilling adventures. In the UK, they have a nickname for this standard structure: “KFC”: Kit for low, directional, unchallenging equipment; Fence for the ubiquitous enclosure that cordons off area for kids; Carpet for the expansive uninterrupted flat, squishy surface. Here in the US, we could also add “P”—for Parents who hover and direct how their children experience this limited scope of play.

In addition to the easy upkeep of these boring playgrounds, they’re often prohibitively expensive for schools or communities to purchase.

In my new book examining the link between playground design and child development, The Science of Play, I illustrate several ways to break away from this mold and to create places that allow children to explore, to take limited risks, and to make friends.

And my favorite examples of these solutions are those that use inexpensive or repurposed materials. Even someone’s “junk” can find its way onto the playground and be a revitalizing force!

Here are a few playgrounds—along with some actionable advice!—from around the world that break the playground mold and show how you can create enriching environments for not a lot of money:


1. Re-imagine the swing set.


How much does a sling swing cost? Maybe $50, including the chain. The design firm Carve, in the Netherlands, created an affordable swinging/climbing contraption by varying the height and position of the off-the-shelf swings.


2. Mine a construction site for reusable scraps.


Architects Haugen/Zohar in Trondheim, Norway, took advantage of local wood construction and secured pieces from a nearby building site to erect this conical Fire Hut. In the depths of winter, children enter the hut and surround the fire to chat and stay warm.


3. Use old tires for more than just ground cover.


This twelve-square-meter cube, called the "Cave," is built from preindustrial waste, recycled from the automotive and shoe industries, that would have been placed in a landfill or burned if it hadn't been repurposed. Architects Haugen/Zohar "carved" several exterior niches where children can place their found "treasures." And the interior, which has a secretive, almost spooky quality, allows kids to slither and slide through passages and to constructively get "lost."


4. Turn industrial waste back into an asset.


In Stavanger, Norway, an administrative hub of the booming oil industry, resourceful hometown architects Helen & Hard created an "otherworldly" landscape using an assortment of oil industry implements. This section of immovable balls has become a place to run and jump, do back flips and any number of crazy acrobatics.


5. Remember: one person's junk can be your playground.


Although so-called "adventure playgrounds" have a distinguished history in the UK, they've never gained a strong following in America. One exception is, of course, The Adventure Playground in Berkeley, California, opened in the late 1970s. Composed of a wide assortment of materials, odds and ends, including disused telephone poles, tires, hammers and nails, old pianos and harps, the space encourages children to try many things they have not tried before. Kids have used a board and some logs to create a seesaw from scratch—even though a real fulcrum seesaw is hard to find on the average American playground!


6. Even schoolyards should reclaim waste for play.

video

Take a look at this video, an appeal to British industry to help stock the Play Pods that the Children's Scrapstore provides in England.


ALSO OF INTEREST:

Once Upon A Playground: A Celebration of Classic American Playgrounds, 1920-1975



Monday, October 13, 2014

7 Reasons Everyone Hated Paul Revere




Under the moonlit New England sky, a lone figure on a majestic steed courageously brings the warning of an approaching army to the people of Concord and Lexington.

The myth of Paul Revere, perpetuated by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and others throughout history, has endured to this day, and though the warning was real, the man who brought it was far from the universally admired figure that we think we know today.

Borrowing from his new book on the Revolutionary icon, The Court-Martial of Paul Revere, Michael Greenburg offers several instances in which the so-called hero fell well short of his legend:


1. After the midnight ride, no more free rides. 

After his midnight ride, Revere began submitting bills to the state for courier services which he routinely provided. In nearly every instance his charges were deemed excessive and promptly reduced by the legislature.


2. Even his mother? 

Ever the business man, Revere charged rent to his own mother for lodging in his North End home.


3. He once got mad at a hatter—really mad. 

In May of 1761, more than a decade before his famous ride, Revere was charged in the courts of Suffolk County for criminally “assaulting and beating” a hatter by the name of Thomas Fosdick, who was married to one of Revere’s cousins. Revere denied the charge and pleaded not guilty, but after a full hearing on the matter, Judge Richard Dana ruled, “it appears he is guilty.” The defendant was fined for his transgression and ordered “to keep ye peace & be of good behavior.


4. He helped “invent” the Tea Party. 


Revere was an active participant in the Boston Tea Party, which was in fact a meticulously conceived, major act of vandalism conducted by a band of hooligans bent on violent insurrection.


5. And the Boston Massacre, too. 


Following the Boston Massacre, Revere created a copperplate engraving that depicted the event in a generally inflammatory and inaccurate light. Though he profited by the prints that were widely circulated in newspapers of the day and were reproduced innumerable times throughout history, Revere was accused of misappropriating the work of a Boston engraver by the name of Henry Pelham. “I… find myself in the most ungenerous Manner deprived not only of any proposed Advantage but even of the expense I have been at as truly as if you had plundered me on the highway,” wrote Pelham in a scathing letter to Revere. “If you are insensible of the Dishonour you have brought on yourself by this Act, the World will not be so. However, I leave you to reflect and consider of one of the most dishonourable Actions you could well be guilty of.”


6. He didn’t suffer cowards well. 

In an effort to force five deserters to return to his artillery regiment on Castle Island, the fort on which Revere was commander, he gave the order for his cannon to open fire on an American war ship.


7. But he was worse at following orders. 


During the ill-fated Penobscot Expedition, General Peleg Wadsworth, the grandfather of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ordered a barge under the control of Lieutenant Colonel Paul Revere to be launched in the rescue of a besieged American Schooner. Instead of allowing his men to follow the order, Revere indignantly turned to the general and grumbled that his personal baggage and other belongings were stowed on the barge. “Who would thank [me] for loosing that, in attempting to Save the Schooner to the State?” said Revere. Wadsworth would promise Revere’s immediate arrest for the act and Revere would, in fact, face a court-martial for opposing Wadsworth’s order and for leaving the Penobscot River without orders to do so.


This has been reposted from Buzzfeed.com.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

The Ship That (Finally) Conquered the Arctic

The Fram leaves Bergen, Norway, on July 2, 1893


by Charles W. Johnson
author of Ice Ship: The Epic Voyages of the Polar Adventurer Fram (ForeEdge; Oct. 2014)

The golden age of polar exploration is back!

Those glory years of the 1800s and early 1900s when intrepid and sometimes foolhardy adventurers tried to fight their way through the polar ice, north toward the Pole or east-west above the northern continents in search of a shortcut to the Orient—they're back in the news. That era of bold ideas, high adventure, and dramatic failure, worthy of the many tales following in their wake, has come alive for us again, in two new books and an exciting new discovery, all surfacing within weeks of each other.

First, the discovery. One of the most mysterious—and infamous—Arctic expeditions was Sir John Franklin’s 1845 disastrous attempt to find the Northwest Passage (sea route from the Atlantic to the Pacific above North American). Franklin, his crew of 128, and two ships disappeared, stimulating over thirty subsequent but futile expeditions from several countries to find them. Though there has been fragmentary, pieced-together evidence of their torturous journey, details have been shrouded in speculation for over the century and a half. But this September, the Canadian government announced that it had found one of the ships, recently determined to be the the Erebus, lying on the bottom of the Arctic Ocean in 35 feet of water, off King William Island. From this wreck may come important new information about the trials and fates of those unfortunates.

Nansen's polar expeditions, 1893-96. Click to enlarge.
The North Pole was a later goal, not to find shortened trade routes such as the Northwest or Northeast Passages, but for the fame and attention it would bring to the explorers and their nations. But the high Arctic had kept its secrets well, for no one had been able to breech or surmount the formidable ice to find out what it really was. Many then believed it to be an open ocean, or on a continent within that ocean. Many, too, had tested their wills to reach the Pole, whatever they thought it was, and all had failed, often in suffering and tragedy. One of these was George De Long, captain of the refitted American vessel Jeannette, whose story Hampton Sides tells in his fine new book, In the Kingdom of Ice. The Jeannette was crushed in the ice-bound waters north of Siberia in 1881 on its quest for the Pole. What followed was a harrowing tale of disaster, death, and chance survival as the crew struggled across a thousand miles of ice and water to reach help of Siberian natives.

But the Jeannette itself did not completely disappear with its sinking. In a cruel yet momentous irony, the Jeannette’s demise—and the lessons from it—led directly to the creation of the Fram, the most innovative, successful, and celebrated ship in polar exploration history. It happens to be the subject of my new book, Ice Ship: The Epic Adventures of the Polar Adventurer Fram.

Three years after the Jeannette went down, bits of it and a few possessions of the crew turned up on a floe off southern Greenland, three thousand miles away across the top of the world. From these battered, translocated clues, Norwegian explorer-scientist Fridtjof Nansen divined what he thought the Arctic was—a vast ocean covered with drifting ice, not the imaginary open ocean or even rock-solid continent the Jeannette was trying to find.

The Fram, under construction.
Over stinging criticism by renowned explorers of the time, he set out to prove his theory, building a ship like no other to withstand the lethal ice and taking it on a one-way trip, locked in the ice for years, across the trackless north polar sea…or, as many believed, into oblivion. This ship, the Fram, was designed especially for life in extreme polar conditions. Its hull was smooth and rounded, to slide up when the ice began to press against it (“like a watermelon seed squeezed between the thumb and forefinger”). But if caught, the massive hull—triple-planked, more than two feet thick, and supremely reinforced side-to-side and top-and-bottom—could withstand the incredible, prolonged pressures of shifting, grinding pack ice. With elaborate insulation of living-quarters, it could keep the crew warm during the coldest times. It could carry enough provisions to keep thirteen men alive and well for five years, just in case they were frozen in that long.

The Fram survived three years locked in the Arctic ice (1893-96), drifting across the Arctic Ocean (to less than 300 miles from the Pole), from north of Siberia, not far from where the Jeannette went down, to popping out east of Greenland. In doing so, it was everything that Nansen hoped and dreamed, dealt with everything he foresaw. It vindicated his controversial ideas and methods. It proved his theory about the true nature of the Arctic and reshaped our knowledge of that vast region. It performed flawlessly and as planned. Everyone returned safely.

The Fram would go on other extended polar voyages and on to further acclaim. From 1898 to 1902 Otto Sverdrup took it on an extraordinary four-year venture in the Canadian Arctic, frozen in four winters, during which over 200,000 square miles lands west of Greenland were discovered, explored, and mapped. In 1910 Roald Amundsen, the first to guide a ship (Gjøa) through the Northwest Passage, unexpectedly took it to Antarctica, staging his famous, triumphant race with Scott to the South Pole.

My book, Ice Ship, follows the absorbing adventures of the Fram’s twenty-five years of active life and 84,000 miles of adventures, from the Arctic to Antarctic and back again. It paints pictures of the tough, resourceful, and often colorful men aboard. It also chronicles how the ship and its visionary Norwegian leaders succeeded where others had failed for so long and so consistently. Nansen, Sverdrup, and Amundsen—all adopting Inuit approaches to survival in the Arctic—showed the way polar exploration should be done: using a ship specially designed (not retrofitted) for the purpose; deploying small, more easily provisioned expeditionary forces; gathering food from land and sea; using furs and skins instead of fabric for clothing; traveling on ice with dogs, sledges, and skis; taking to kayaks on open water.

The Fram, restored and refurbished, now resides in its own museum in Oslo and is visited by tens of thousands each year. Whether you go there to walk its decks, or pick up Ice Ship after you've finished Hampton Sides' book, you will be taken on fantastic, enthralling voyages and adventures of another era, set deep in the vastness of the polar regions.