NEWTON The story of American Culture at the mid-century, beginning with "The Poetry of War," 7 p.m., Thursday, Feb. 24, at the Newton Unitarian Universalist, will be presented by the Sussex County Arts & Heritage Council, with support from the New Jersey Council for the Humanities. Speaker Edward Cifelli will discuss the decade of the 1950s and how it has long been disparaged as a low-water mark in American Culture. Cifelli will dispute the claim by identifying master works by Ralph Ellison, Flannery O'Connor, Saul Bellow, John Updike, and Jack Kerouac. In poetry, he'll show mid-century formalists like Richard Wilbur and John Ciardi who were challenged by upstart poets like Allen Ginsberg and Lawrence Ferlinghetti (the Beats), Charles Olson and Robert Creeley (the Black Mountain School), and John Ashbery and Frank O'Hara (the New York School). In painting, he believes the era was marked by the "modern art" of Abstract Expressionists like Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning. Even in the world of pop culture, Cifelli sees the tension between an outer veneer of happy television families and a threatening rock-and-roll underworld represented by the "Blackboard Jungle" beginning to develop. Following last year's theme on the "Emergence of Modernism in American Culture," the series will continue 7 p.m., March 31, with "Pop Culture of the 1950s: Anxiety or Serenity?" speaker William Chemerka; 7 p.m., April 28, "Novel Tensions in the 1950s," speaker Pat Verrone; and 7 p.m., May 2, "American Art Comes of Age: Abstract Expressionism," speaker Barbara Tomlinson. For information, call 383-0027; or e-mail email@example.com.