Where We've Been

Fall 2013                                                         VOLUME CXXI, Number 4

Innocents and Others Abroad:
Biography and Memoir

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.

Richard O’Mara, “The Sea"

This issue is packed with reviews, short and long. Sam Pickering alone takes on nine books! Casey Clabough (recently featured in the Oxford American) delivers an omnibus review of recent books on Southern writers. Nancy Revelle Johnson, our expert in memoir, gives a brief review of Motherhood Exaggerated, Kevin Gardner revisits L. P. Hartley's novel The Go-Between, and George Core reviews Colum McCann's new book Transatlantic.

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 2013                                                  VOLUME 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)
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 2013                                                  VOLUME 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.)
Books Reviewed

Fall 2012                                                           VOLUME 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.)
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 2012                                                                     VOLUME 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)
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 2012                                                                 VOLUME 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)
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                                                VOLUME  CXIX, 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 2011                                        VOLUME 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)
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 2011                                                    VOLUME CXIX, Number 2

Literary Lives
(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)
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 2011                                                       VOLUME 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)
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)
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.

—Sam Pickering on Kipling Abroad

Summer 2010                                                   VOLUME CXVIII, Number 3

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)
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.

—Denis Donoghue, "Melville Beyond Culture"

Spring 2010                                                             VOLUME CXVIII, Number 2

War's Glorious Art
(essays on Malaparte’s Kaputt, the 9/11 terrorists,
Ken Burns’s The War; Zsuzsanna Ozsváth’s thrilling memoir of the
Nazi invasion of Budapest)
Books Reviewed

This relic of antique belligerence
That nature calls a garden, we a fort,
Where spring, with sublime indifference,
Has flanked the guns with clumps of spiderwort.

—Wilmer Mills, "The Flower Beds of War"

Winter 2010                                                          VOLUME CXVIII, Number 1

Excursions in Prose
(essays on hunting and old Westerns;
Wendell Berry on the relative merits of
"God, Science, and Imagination")

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.

—Robert Benson, "The Old Life of the Heart"

Fall 2009                                                                      VOLUME CXVII, Number 4

Poets in Their Kind
(essays on RPW, John Haines, David Bottoms, Brendan Galvin, and Hayden Carruth)
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"

Summer 2009                                                        VOLUME CXVII, Number 3

The Capacious Vessel of Fiction
(nine stories in all, one of which was chosen for Best American Short Stories 2009; Updike remembered)
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.

—David Heddendorf, "The Pennsylvanian"

Spring 2009                        VOLUME CXVII, Number 2

Teaching and Empires of the Mind
(Paying homage to professors past)

Books Reviewed

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!

Winter 2009                                        VOLUME CXVII, Number 1

Such Friends
(Dedicated to the enduring connections of friendship)
Books Reviewed

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.

—Ed Minus, "Playgoing in Manhattan"

Fall 2008                                             VOLUME CXVI, Number 4

Jane Austen and the House of Fiction
(Featuring our Best Short Story of the Year)
Books Reviewed

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”

Summer 2008                              VOLUME CXVI, Number 3

Poetry and the Quarrel with Ourselves
(With George Watson's reminiscence on Allen Tate)
Books Reviewed

Time trivializes everything; memory toys with horror.

Words, as the poet knows too well, have no shame.

—Baron Wormser, “Meeting the Agony: Three Poems of the Twentieth Century”

Spring 2008                                       VOLUME CXVI, Number 2

Reminiscences and Reflections
(With special attention paid to the work of Wendell Berry)

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.

—Allen Wier, "Reason and Revelation"

Winter 2008                                                          VOLUME CXVI, Number 1

The Balloon of Fiction
(Plus theater review from Ed Minus)

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.


—K. K. Roeder, "Lucky"

Fall 2007                                                                           VOLUME CXV, Number 4

Ancestral Voices of War
(With war stories from Troy to Culloden to London to Vietnam)
Books Reviewed

Thus the long years passed while men as we knew them came to grief.


—Phillip Parotti, “Blood and Wine”

Summer 2007                                                                      VOLUME CXV, Number 3

Literary Peregrinations
(An entire issue dedicated to travel)
Books Reviewed

Lines of blue-black clouds piled up like curses kept
to ourselves.  Quiet helped us imagine
what we rumbled over these desert roads for
and now wouldn't see . . .

—Peter Makuck, "Out of Aravaipa"

Spring 2007                                                    VOLUME CXV, Number 2 

Poetry Taking Life by the Throat
(Featuring newcomers Dawn Potter and Josh Goldfaden)
Books Reviewed

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."


—Josh Goldfaden, "Looking at Animals"

Winter 2007                                                                    VOLUME CXV, Number 1

The Compactness of Anecdote
And the Generalized Impression

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.


—Earl Rovit, "On Teaching"

Fall 2006                                                                            VOLUME CXIV, Number 4

A Salute to British and American Poetry
(With criticism devoted to American poets from E. A. Poe and E. A. Robinson to W. D. Snodgrass and Robert Siegel)
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.


—Baron Wormser, "Weldon's Song"

Summer 2006                                                               VOLUME CXIV, Number 3

Adrift on the Miraculous Stream
Of Irish Letters

(With theater and poetry chronicles by Ed Minus and Mary Zwiep)
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.

—Ben Howard, "Audacious Ireland"

Spring 2006                                                                     VOLUME CXIV, Number 2

Withered Garlands of War
(Dedicated to the memory of Lawrence Lader [1919-2006], cultural critic, man of letters, and political activist.)

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.

—Pat C. Hoy II, from his review of Impact Zone

Winter 2006                                                                   VOLUME CXIV, Number 1

The Rising Tide of Fiction
(Revaluations of modern fiction with some light verse)
Books Reviewed