Our essay issue features travel in the literal and metaphorical senses. The road trip, that distinctly American pilgrimage, is the central event in Robert Lacy’s poignant essay about traveling with his mother, and—despite his not having a car—the chosen mode of travel for Warner Berthoff, who recounts hitchhiking around the South.Catharine Savage Brosman tests John Donne’s famous dictum "Every man is an island" in her essay on life, travel, and a sense of self. Voyeurism, stormy seas, and danger unite in Richard O'Mara's recounting, while Robert Ashcom remembers a different kind of oceanic peril, writing about his adventures at sea as a young man in the fifties. Travel back in time to New York City in 1911 to reexamine the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire, then stick around to explore New York City through the writing of Elizabeth Hardwick. In an essay that’s as quirky as its subject, Earl Rovit sketches his friend Klaus, whom he met while teaching in Germany. The academic life abroad is also the milieu of G. D. Lillibridge’s essay about living with his family in France following WW II.
I was living through a moment of singular pause, when everything, all the mighty forces, held still: the wind stopped like sucked-in breath; the sea was seized in a slack-water calm, though the waves, unaccepting of this stasis, continued to caress the shore with the lethal tenderness of one who nuzzles a beloved animal about to be put down.
Writers revise and shape; and to praise the page for its freedom and spontaneity, not its appearance of freedom and spontaneity, is naïve, and maybe wistful.
—Sam Pickering, review of Essayists on the Essay:
Montaigne to Our Time
Spring 2013VOLUME CXXI, Number 12
Poetry and the Critical Eye
(essays on the Oregon Shakespeare Festival,
reading poetry at the breakfast table, and Phillip Larkin;
poems by Debora Greger contain a woodthrush,
a letter to a naturalist, and weapons-grade plutonium) Contents Books Reviewed
It is by virtue of laws that forbid theft and murder that we walk free and keep what is ours; and in poetry, as in conversation, there are formalities to observe. Without formality, after all, there could be no informality, no intimacy, no laughter, no surprise; and we should lose far more than poetry in losing all that.
—George Watson, “Rhyme and Reason”
Winter 2013VOLUME CXXI, Number 1
The Literature of War
(Fiction by Michael Beeman, Charles East, and Phillip Parotti; poetry by Jonathan Greene, Daniel Hoffman, David Moolten, F. D. Reeve, Stephen Bluestone, Bruce Bond, Austin Smith, and Michael Spence; reviews by Ann E. Berthoff, Sam Pickering, George Poe, and Samuel R. Williamson, Jr.; essays by Warner Berthoff, Jonathan Bloom, Sanford Pinsker, John B. Hench, Jonathan Rose, and others.) Contents Books Reviewed
Fall 2012VOLUME CXX, Number 4
Bound by the Cause of Words
(Poetry by Barry Sternlieb, X. J. Kennedy, Billy Collins, Jonathan Greene; George Watson in memoriam to Frank Kermode, Elizabeth Moulton in memoriam to Emilie Jacobson; essays on publishing and book collecting by W. Brown Patterson, Richard O'Mara, Cushing Strout, Richard Wentworth, Fred C. Robinson, Catharine Savage Brosman, Merritt Moseley, Edwin M. Yoder, Phillip Parotti, and others.) Contents Books Reviewed
I have seen him draw from a shelf a fine quarto volume bound in honey-colored leather, caress it, open it, and speak about it as though the letters were printed in gold before him. He is truly the ideal book collector, or rather the collector of the ideal, the titles shining on the shelves of his mind.
—Catharine Savage Brosman, "Four Modes of Book Collecting"
Summer 2012VOLUME CXX, Number 3
Biography and Autobiography
(Biography by William B. Dillingham, Henry Hart, and Hilary Masters; Autobiography by Franklin Burroughs, Maurice L. Goldsmith, Robert Lacy, Richard O'Mara, and Earl Rovit; Essays by Harry Lee Poe and Myles Weber; Poetry by William Harmon, X. J. Kennedy, and Wesley McNair; Fiction by William Trevor) Contents Books Reviewed
When he prayed he linked the thick, calloused, nicotine-stained fingers and thumbs of his hands into what resembled a single large fist pressed against his forehead. He did not pray the way the up-front crowd chose to worship, their hands pressed flat, one against the other, pointed heaven-ward . . . Father searched for God on the floor.
—Richard O’Mara, “Brothers”
Spring 2012VOLUME CXX, Number 2
The Human Scene and the House of Fiction
(Fiction by Thomas Bontly, Ross Howell, Richard Jacobs, Robert Schirmer, Austin Smith, Mark Walling; poetry by Catharine Savage Brosman, Eamon Grennan, Barry Sternlieb and others; essays by Robert Benson, Gladys Swan, Sam Pickering, and others; Merritt Moseley on the 2011 Man Booker Prize; Cushing Strout on Mark Twain.)
At the lip of the blueberry field behind my barn in Nova Scotia, a breeze churns buttercups, and blossoms wrap pink twigs of laurel. Yellowthroats flit through alders along the lane, and at the edge of the drumlin overlooking Gulf of Maine, a great black-backed gull coasts the air. Fall will be heavy with wild raisin.
—Sam Pickering, "Field Notes"
Winter 2012 VOLUME CXX, Number 1
Stitching and Unstitching Poetry
(Poetry by Peg Boyers, Ben Howard, Warren Leamon, Stephen Malin, Sarah Rossiter, Don Welch; Essays by Ann E. Berthoff, George Bernstein, Henry Hart, David Yezzi; Fiction by Fred Chappell) Contents Books Reviewed
For Heaney, Hughes was not only a wounded king; he was also a Merlin-like dreamer, healer, magician, and prophet who mythologized himself in poems, and, for better or worse, was mythologized by others.
—Henry Hart, "Seamus Heaney and Ted Hughes: A Complex Friendship"
Fall 2011 VOLUMECXIX, Number 4
The Sinews of War (Fiction by Kathleen Ford, Jeffrey Johnson, Philip Parotti, John Woodington; Poetry by Kemmer Anderson, Floyd Collins, Robert Cooperman, David Moolten, Thomas Reiter, John Ridland, Austin Smith, Michael Spence; Essays on Churchill, WWII)
For the most part we kept out pacifism low key and out of sight. It was one thing to hate war (who didn't?) but quite another to declare out loud that you would not die for your country.
—Wilfred Stone, "Redemption"
Summer 2011VOLUME CXIX, Number 3
The Human Scene and the House of Fiction (Essays on Carver, Dickens, Faulkner, D. H. Lawrence, O'Connor, Stryron; Poetry by Marc Hudson, R. T. Smith, Rose Styron, Ronald Wallace, William Wenthe; Fiction by Wendell Berry) Contents Books Reviewed
I marvel now that he lasted as long as he did, with the pain and injury of the years—and that muse of his, chasing him across the landscape of his soul like a pack of sharp hounds.
—Robert Ashcom, "Hunting Mr. Faulkner"
Spring 2011VOLUME CXIX, Number 2
(Earl Rovit on literary biography; posthumous story by Elizabeth Hynes; autobiographical essays by Stephen Miller, Russell Fraser, Sam Pickering; Gerald Weales on Tennessee Williams; our regular contributors on Alice Thomas Ellis, Allen Tate, Ernest Hemingway, John Berryman, Hugh Trevor-Roper, Richard Gilman, and more) Contents Books reviewed
And this slow, lowly, artful,
necessary work receives
the validation of beauty. The work, itself
beautiful, is made more so
by swallows whose flight dips and winds
round and round the mower.
—Wendell Berry, "Sabbaths 2009"
Winter 2011VOLUME CXIX, Number 1
Idioms of Poetry (Scott Donaldson, Baron Wormser, and
Mark Royden Winchell on Robert Frost;
Wendell Berry on William Carlos Williams;
Peter Makuck on Donald Hall) Contents Books Reviewed
Blood is running down the creek,
Pooling along the shore.
Those stalking birds know what to seek,
What to pass on from beak to beak
Until there is no more.
—R. S. Gwynn, "Landscape with Lone Figure"
Fall 2010 VOLUME CXVIII, Number 4
Excursions and Passages (Derek Cohen on Zimbabwe and South Africa,
Seymour I. Toll on Alexander Calder in Paris,
George Watson on Hugh Trevor-Roper,
Earl Rovit as amateur anthropologist in Asia and Europe) Contents Books Reviewed
Gunga Din has now become Gunga Dell, not fetching water but providing solace for sahibs in London and New York thirsting for answers to their computer problems.
Fiction: Our Spectacle, Our Suspense, and Our Thrill (essays on Charlotte Brontë, Trollope, Henry James, Dickens,
Melville, Elizabeth Bowen, Solzhenitzyn, and Richard Yates;
fiction by newcomer Brock Adams and old hand Ernest J. Finney) Contents Books Reviewed
There is always that which lies beyond speech or syntax, a form of reality not to be ascertained by discourse or politics but to be intuited on the other side of these inadequacies. Moby-Dick, more than Melville’s other fiction, brings out in him the doomed frustrated metaphysician, the man for whom words are never right, never enough.
Excursions in Prose (essays on hunting and old Westerns;
Wendell Berry on the relative merits of
"God, Science, and Imagination") Contents Books Reviewed
Gradually, almost reluctantly, the narrative approached the kill. We both understood the obligation to make each other see as clearly as we could, and if we had hunted well and spoken well, the shot seemed both inevitable and right.
Poets in Their Kind (essays on RPW, John Haines, David Bottoms, Brendan Galvin, and Hayden Carruth) Contents Books Reviewed
Divine authority penetrates human language: the result is a persistent, oddly compelling, robust amalgam of the sacred and the profane. Whence comes the Comedy's weird, unsettling matter-of-factness, as if human language could reach the level of the divine.
—J. T. Barbarese, "Recent Translations of Dante's Inferno"
The Capacious Vessel of Fiction (nine stories in all, one of which was chosen for Best American Short Stories 2009; Updike remembered) Contents Books Reviewed
In Updike I recognized the individual's baffled search for God, the stubborn clinging to faith, the persistent doubts and carnal thoughts of the average believer. Sin abounded. Epiphanies were few. This was a fictional world I could believe in.
In honor of Wendell Berry's "The Dark Country," featuring Burley Coulter, feast your ears on Burley Coulter's Song for Kate Helen Branch, an original song by bluegrass star Laurie Lewis, with lyrics written by Berry himself!
But it is surely their connections with our own lives that give the play much of its power, just as our efforts to back off and laugh, condemn and disclaim create much of the tension and most of the dark but pervasive comedy.
I must love a heroine who has come to such terms with tedium and disregard—not through a false angel-in-the-house piety but by taking a rigorous interest in her own private longings and equivocations, her affections and her fears.
—Dawn Potter, “In Defense of Dullness, Or Why Fanny Price is My Favorite Austen Heroine”
I speculate Berry could sit down and negotiate with Satan, hold his own, and earn the Devil's respect. I want him on my side. I would feel fortunate to have him testify on my behalf, and in these essays he does.
The bar was half buffet, half bar, sweltering with the smell of cooked corn and jammed with sweaty men, most of them looking like they'd come here to convince themselves that being divorced was their idea.
Raymond had never known that psychic phone lines existed, and certainly wouldn't have guessed that a phone psychic could be as confident and specific as Pearl. "You will quit your job and move to Detroit," she told someone. "You will find love, but the man will have no thumbs." She was honest to a fault. "You are not following your dreams, nor will you ever."
The Compactness of Anecdote
And the Generalized Impression
From George Core on our first issue of 2007 Henry James, despite the complexities and complications and prolixity of his late style and his late fiction, greatly admired "strong brevity and lucidity," the "ideal of economy." What James says about the "concise anecdote" not only applies to fiction but to the essay in reminiscence and reflection. The stories presented in this issue all possess the virtues of the "compactness of anecdote" that James praises for its marvelous brevity, "like the hard, shining sonnet," "one of the most indestructible forms of composition in general use." James goes on to explain that his procedure in developing "his little situation" is "to follow it as much as possible from its outer edge in, rather than from its centre outward."
Click here for a list of books reviewed.
I would remind my students . . . that, as human beings, we are all, in some profound sense, composed of words; that, to be more fully sentient and aware, we had to recognize ourselves as words; and that we ought to be reading ourselves constantly as we struggled to write ourselves into richer and more coherent texts.
(With criticism devoted to American poets from E. A. Poe and E. A. Robinson to W. D. Snodgrass and Robert Siegel) Contents Books Reviewed
People who say that words are good for nothing are fools. Words are blunt tools and sometimes fine ones. They can’t heal, however, what doesn’t wand to be healed. They can’t cut through habitual disappointment.
Adrift on the Miraculous Stream
Of Irish Letters (With theater and poetry chronicles by Ed Minus and Mary Zwiep) Contents Books Reviewed
A spirit of imaginative daring now prevails in Irish writing, tempered by artistic tact and conservative literary form. With only a little exaggeration it might be said that contemporary Irish writers have been standing on the table and slapping their teachers (and priests and politicians) for the past two decades.
Withered Garlands of War (Dedicated to the memory of Lawrence Lader [1919-2006], cultural critic, man of letters, and political activist.) Contents Books Reviewed
A harder story to tell . . . involves the living—those who attend the veteran’s awakening. That story—told too often by psychiatrists and others who know only secondhand what really goes on in the minds of the men and women who come home—is a story about misfits.