After six decades as a prominent print journal, Washington and Lee's acclaimed literary journal Shenandoah is available at shenandoahliterary.org. The digital version - Volume 62, Number 2, is now online. The homepage also includes a Poem of the Week, an Archive Feature of the Month, audio files of contributors reading their work, an essay on featured artist, William Dunlap; brief and extended reviews and a rotating series of 100 arresting quotations. Those seeking information about submissions, prizes and the publication's history - from Tom Wolfe through Flannery O'Connor and W. H. Auden up to Rita Dove and Charles Wright- will find a wealth of information on the site. Further links reveal a description of the WLU English Department's Internship in Literary Editing program, along with comments by both the winter 2013 interns and recent graduates. All aspects of the journal are interactive and invite reader comment. Finally, Shenandoah's blog "Snopes" will introduce provocative topics and encourage readers to engage in discussion. Bloggers will include staff members, interns and special guests.
For over half a century Shenandoah has been publishing splendid poems, stories, essays and reviews which display passionate understanding, formal accomplishment and serious mischief.
Founded in 1950 by a group of Washington and Lee University faculty and students, Shenandoah has achieved a wide reputation as one of the country's premier literary magazines. Work from the magazine's pages has appeared in Best American Short Stories, Best American Poems, Best American Essays, Best American Spiritual Writing, The O'Henry Prize, New Stories from the South and The Pushcart Prize, as well as numerous other anthologies and quite literally thousands of collections by the original authors. Recent issues have featured Pulitzer winners Natasha Trethewey, Claudia Emerson and Ted Kooser, as well as fiction by James Lee Burke, George Singleton, Alyson Hagy, Chris Offutt, Bret Anthony Johnston and Pam Durban.
The prospect of a Greek tragedy set in the nineteenth century American West appealed to me at first, even if the play in question were Sophoklesâ€™ unpopular Women of Trachis. Iâ€™m a fan of both westerns and what Flannery Oâ€™Connor (referring to her own work) called â€œlarge and startling figures,â€ which also populate the plays of Fifth Century B.C. Athens, and I could well imagine how the essential elements of the dramas (caveat lector: Iâ€™m a long way from an expert) might be preserved, even if the circumstances and means of expression were transformed, spun, subverted.
The translation in question is Keyne Cheshireâ€™s Murder at Jagged Rock (The Word Works, 2015), a rendition of the story of Heraklesâ€™ demise at the hands of his jealous wife, who actually intends to resurrect his passion for her with a garment charmed by the blood of the centaur Nessus, who wishes to have revenge on Herakles and, knowing his hydra-tainted transfusion is toxic, lies to the young Deianira and claims heâ€™s doing her a favor. But before the fatal poncho episode, the story of Herkâ€™s destruction of the town of Selgun (the translationâ€™s full of word play like this) to grab the lovely Violet Fatts (no kidding) has to come out, followed by speculation, windy messengers, hand-wringing worry, righteous indignation and choral odes that arenâ€™t quite yippie-yi-yo-ki-yay must unfold.
Meanwhile back at the ranch. I was disappointed by MaJR for several reasons, and it all began with the translatorâ€™s and editorâ€™s prefaces. The form of the original configuration is pretty much retained, and the translation is pretty much line-by-line. But thereâ€™s also an unsettling literalness of vision in Cheshireâ€™s project which is consigned to the category of â€œexperimentâ€ from Deannaâ€™s opening speech. The tragedies of Sophoklesâ€™ era depend for their emotional impact upon a belief in the ritual of the goat song, or tragedy, which may have received its genre name from sacrifice or from the dedication of the theatrical mode to Dionysus, who tends to keep company with Pan, satyrs, other bucolic wine aficionados. Itâ€™s all a religious ritual, with appropriate ceremonial atmosphere (spectacle of dance, music, costume, scene), and since that element wonâ€™t translate effectively to a western vehicle, I think the attempt to follow the form is a mistake. Better to let the original text cast a strong and guiding shadow over a carefully told and vaguely similar story, wrought with bold originality. But that wouldnâ€™t have actually been a â€œtranslation,â€ so I think the original miscalculation really limits the enterprise, or my eccentric appetite limits my willingness to suspend belief.
But a translation thatâ€™s an exercise in superimposing one culture over another is not necessarily a mistake. I think the other source of my objection, however, is more serious. Both editor and translator claim this version takes place in â€œthe Wild West.â€ Trouble is, thereâ€™s no such place. Thereâ€™s the Sedalia Trail and Abilene, Santa Fe and Denver, the Missouri Breaks and the Badlands. Thereâ€™s even Medicine Bow (â€œWhen you call me that, smile!â€) And thereâ€™s the 1840â€™s, 1870â€™s, 1890â€™s, or more to the point: just east of Durango in the fall of 1877. And the people who live in these places and these times speak â€“ according to their class, ethnicity, education, age, profession, gender and so on â€“ in specific and identifiable ways. When fictional or historical versions of them appear on the page, the degree to which they echo that speech plays an important role in both authenticity and a unity Aristotle doesnâ€™t give much ink to.
In her editorâ€™s introduction, Barbara Greenberg says that the characters of Murder at Jagged Rock speak â€œstylized cowboy lingo,â€ but anyone whoâ€™s read newspapers and letters from the nineteenth century has to be a little puzzled by this term. What we get on the page is, in fact, closer to what the script writers for Buffalo Billâ€™s Wild West Show would have contrived for ticket-buying eastern and European dudes, a language which ignores the entire notion of dialect â€“ vocabulary, metaphors, syntax, inflection, rhythm â€“ and substitutes for it grammatical errors, phonetic spellings of hickish pronunciation, the whole arsenal of homogenized errors meant to establish authentic ignorance, or draw a guffaw. The result here is closer to SNL than Roughing It or even an episode of Rawhide from the Sixties.
Why does this matter to me, given the Jamesian rule of the â€œgivenâ€? The story of Deianiraâ€™s apprehension and suffering and Heraklesâ€™s folly and destruction is serious, though not without room for some mischief. Any story unfolding through Cheshireâ€™s vaudevillian â€œstylized cowboy lingoâ€ is going to elicit less empathy (and catharsis) than amusement and irritation. The translation has been performed, and the translator writes â€œthe crowd was soon swept up in the story.â€ I wonâ€™t question his word, but I suspect that the dramatic trappings of live theater, a home crowd and a string band made crucial contributions. And to give him credit, Cheshire admits that â€œthe Wild West has its hokey side,â€ but Jagged Rock has far more hoke than grit, spit, sweat, dust, hash and real slang.
But Iâ€™ve gotten to this point on thin ice, without citing examples of the troubling passages, which abound. In fact, the problem is compounded when a single speech by one character features language which has the force and dignity we associate with Sophokles, accompanied by the stylized palaver. In one choral ode the Girls of Jagged Rock say, with poignancy and antique gravity, â€œBroken, she sees only hell,â€ but on the next page offer, â€œWeâ€™s a-telling you,/ that ainâ€™t the thing to do.â€
Itâ€™s not impossible to swallow a slave or stranger saying, â€œYou ainâ€™t heard the truth of none of what you ought to./Now I â€“ Iâ€™s got full knowledge of it all, I does!â€ However, when the wife (based on a queen in the original) of the hero says, â€œI wonâ€™t be pilinâ€™ no more/ trouble top the pain sheâ€™s got already. Reckon/ sheâ€™s had enough,â€ it does stick in my craw.
The play contains some attempts at period diction, as when the chorus chants that â€œAphrodite played the empire,â€ but even that seems off key to me.
If my objections seem unduly harsh, the source is my love for the music and poetry of the many strands of vernacular available for writers to explore. I also appreciate a writerâ€™s willingness to do research in linguistic matters and to employ with some consistency and craft the levels of diction and range of trope he chooses. Not that I want Sut Lovingoodâ€™s speech, which is twisted as sweetgum grain and attempts to duplicate non-standard pronunciation, turns of phrase and butchered grammar until the reader stops laughing and cries for mercy. What I miss in MaJR is, rather, what Twain recommends, that the writer employ enough of the tongue of actual people to render on the page the impression of the dialect. A version of Women of Trachis that capitalized on an opportunity to convey ancient Greek sentiments in the argot of some genuine time and place in the West may have found in me an enthusiastic advocate. Jagged Rock, for all its admirable intentions, did not.
Anyone unfamiliar with Barry Moserâ€™s art ought to summon him up on Google before reading this and just gawk at his wonderful prints and drawings of Dickinson, Poe, Quixote, Hawthorne, Faulkner, scenes Biblical and mythic, Alice, animals, birds. Itâ€™s an impressive body of work, would be even without his illustrations for great books by Dante, Melville, Carroll, which are formidable. He works in a mode reminiscent of Leonard Baskin but is alternately fierce and calm, elegant and grotesque in his own way. His balance of gravity and grace will long outlive both todayâ€™s commercial fine art of the NYC scene and the sly graphic play practiced by so many with the tools for perceiving and rendering, but not the heart and spirit for bringing light. No matter how closely he works with texts, â€œillustrationâ€ is too modest a word for his craft and the resulting work.
But We Were Brothers is not primarily about art, though the story of any artistâ€™s life is bound to feature reminiscences of learning the craft and seeking graphic expression without video games or pyrotechnic movies in mind. This memoir, forthcoming from Algonquin in the fall, is one of the two satisfying volumes Iâ€™ve read this month from a genre that usually leaves me cold. Reluctant to indulge in the sentimental or the standard moonlight and magnolias of its place and time, We Were Brothers still warms me with a flame born of friction and fed on candor.
We Were Brothers does not attempt to explore Moserâ€™s laudable career as a professional artist or to catalogue either an artsy tendency toward glamorous misbehavior or a hive of secrets about transgression and rescue. Itâ€™s not quite 200 pages long and tells just enough of the story of the boyhoods of the author and his bother Tommy, two nearly incompatible peas from the same pod. Southern (Chattanooga), not affluent, temperamental, these two misfits scrapped and snarled at each other for years, though the younger Barry usually wound up on the short end.
Who was Motherâ€™s favorite? Who was Dadâ€™s? Stepdadâ€™s? Where did the money come from and go? Why a military school for two so unsuited for regimentation? And twisting through the entire introspective story is the question of black and white, how two of the same blood developed such radically opposed attitudes toward African-American strangers, a black playmate or, more importantly, their motherâ€™s elegant and steely black friend and neighbor, Vernetta Gholston.
Black and white. Ink and paper. These became the primary colors of Moserâ€™s palette, and his nearly-photographic drawings of family, places and planes punctuate the narrative, along with vivid sketches in words, which imprint on a readerâ€™s memory and imagination. Just two examples. As a child in Will Haggardâ€™s grocery, Vernetta weeps when sheâ€™s told that she canâ€™t accompany her white playmates to the picture show. Then she runs to the flour barrel and thrusts her face in, emerging dusty white but unsuccessfully disguised. â€œNow can I go? Now can I go?â€ she pleads. That scene will stay with most readers, as will the unembellished account of a burning B-25 Mitchell streaking across the American sky, itâ€™s crew bailing out as it lost altitude. The pilotâ€™s chute failed to open, and he plummeted to the schoolyard, as the engine smashed through a house â€œbounced ten feet into the air, and then rolled smoking into the street.â€ The prose is spare, and Moser doesnâ€™t spend much time explaining the impression this knowledge and sight of the swath left by the craft left on the boys and the community. But the reader gets it right at the core.
Roosters and TV, segregation and white Jesus, dogs and scuffles, plus ridicule (of Barry for his awkwardness and chubbiness, of Tommy for his eye problems and recklessness) permeate this chronicle of boyhood, but Moser makes certain readers understand that he was raised to be a racist and took some time to realize that his inherited view was unwise, unhealthy and unkind. The sibling rivalry is not unusual for two boys in a household, but the rift about race that amplified their estrangement gives the narrative a torque, underscores and taints many accounts of play, work, family misfortune and petty disputes.
How did the author begin to see the light? What were the benchmarks in this clash of world views as the pair grew older? Like a stone skipping across a still lake, the narrative touches still water, then rises again. Moserâ€™s approach is a chronological sampling, gathering momentum rather than spending it, but headed for a surprising exchange of letters that brings two voices to life, cuts to the quick and, painfully, recalls what brotherhood is all about and how painful is the road to understanding.
What most attracted my empathy and seized my imagination in We Were Brothers is the way Moser achieves admissions of his own shortcomings without falling into a standard confessional mode. He sees himself as neither hero nor victim and recounts even horrifying lapses of humanity with more than a tincture of forgiveness. Itâ€™s a good story, as simple and complicated as most peopleâ€™s lives, and Moser inspires confidence and teaches the lessons that he has learned without assuming the podium or the stage. He can do this partly because of his devotion to the atmosphere and the personalities of those around him, and there are times when you can feel the crackling heat and the mist off the river, see the â€œblizzard of blue and white feathersâ€ that is a shotgunned jay. Overall, Moser has rendered a compassionate view of a passing world, mysterious and complicated as the South we know from the fiction of Welty or the photographs and constructions of William Christenberry.
I was disappointed when the U.S. Postal Service recently unveiled its new Flannery Oâ€™Connor stamp, which slightly resembles one extant photo of Ms. Oâ€™Connor as a co-ed but would not be recognizable to many people who are familiar with the most prevalent, and representative, photographs of her as an adult artist. Lawrence Downes in The New York Times has likened the stamp image to Betty Crocker, and Joyce Carol Oates Tweeted that the artist who painted the portrait which was digitalized for the stamp not only could never have seen a photo of Ms. Oâ€™Connor, but must, also, have never read a word the Georgia author wrote. Iâ€™m not sure Iâ€™m convinced of that, but this is certainly a missed opportunity to â€œput a face onâ€ many of the most piercing and sadly humorous American short stories, certainly a dozen of my favorite pieces, genre aside, in world literature. Below are the stamp itself, the closest FOC image to the stamp and a photo from the series by Joe McTyre, one of many in which he saw her spirit:
The picture which artist Sam Weber may have been working from was taken while Oâ€™Connor was a student at Georgia State College for Women, though the pearls may have been imported from one of the 1962 photographs taken at Andalusia by Atlanta Journal-Constitution photographer Joe McTyre. My favorite shot (McTyreâ€™s favorite showed her sitting under a self-portrait with a partridge) displays her on that day (during the warm half of the year, if I read the vegetation correctly) seated in the parlor, smiling, somewhat scholarly in those signature cat-eye glasses, not looking frail at all, her crutches out of sight and an open book on her lap. Iâ€™m a little conflicted on the matter of the crutches, as theyâ€™re not necessary for a photo of a seated person, nor should this occasion be an opportunity to make a point about physical disabilities. Or should it? Iâ€™m of two minds. Oâ€™Connor was stricken by disease, smitten by the love of her God and beloved of the muse and whatever other dieties confer a capacity for sweat and vision. However tempting it is to focus on her process, her domestic circumstances, her struggle and personal steel, the real point is the work, which I think would be more effectively celebrated by an image of the writer during the time she was crafting it. Crafting it almost every morning, I might add, from just after mass till lunch at the Sanford House Tea Room (often shrimp and peppermint pie).
Once lupus struck the young Flanneryâ€™s immune system, it damaged her body, her features, her stamina. The marvel is that it did not decrease her sense of mischief, theological seriousness, cultural understanding, caustic wit, originality of metaphor, allegorical logic, fierce discipline, compassion and instinct for the right words to â€œdraw in large and startling figures for the blind.â€
What I see in the portrait on the stamp is a more ordinary face, an unworldly young woman of the early fifties, somewhat blithe, the remarkableness of the heart and imagination not yet much in evidence in the eyes as she sits for a school picture (though the stamp artist has added some years, I think). I donâ€™t really see the early signs of her vulnerability or her strength, which together with action and humor constitute character. Her Communion Day photo of 1932 reveals more grit and mischief in those windows to the soul than the co-ed shot.
But this is a tempest in a teapot, and I donâ€™t think the trickster, cartoonist and satirist Mary Flannery Oâ€™Connor would have been very interested in either the postal image or my disappointment. We have the stamp (sadly, not the first class one Iâ€™d hoped for), which is a long-overdue tribute, and many who see it will say either â€œWho?â€ or â€œSo thatâ€™s what she looked like.â€ Others will be reminded of Wise Blood, The Violent Bear It Away, â€œRevelation,â€ â€œGreenleaf,â€ â€œGood Country People,â€ while a few smile and suspect that â€œa good likeness is not hard to find.â€ Maybe someone will be moved to go out to the fields and read â€œA Circle in the Fireâ€ aloud, â€œas if the prophets were dancing in the fiery furnace, in the circle the angel had cleared for them.â€ That would suit me.
[R. T. Smith has been editor of Shenandoah for20 years, over70 issues, including the 60th anniversary Flannery O’Connor issue.Â He is the author of several books, including The Red Wolf: A Dream of Flannery O’Connor.Â Smith’s article “Much Mischief Is Divinest Sense: My Flannery Visitation” will appear in the fall issue of The Flannery O’Connor Review.]