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.
Paul McCartney died in 1966 and was replaced by a look-alike imposter. He never played the half-time show at the Super Bowl. He was never knighted by Queen Elizabeth. And, he never married or fathered his four children. Actually, the remaining Beatles members covered up his death to keep their band together and on the rise, or so crazed conspiracy theorists believe. These theorists point out that the remaining Beatles started hiding hints in their music that the real Paul was dead. They believe every song on the Sgt. Pepperâ€™s Lonely Hearts Club Band album is full of clues suggesting Paulâ€™s death. In this album, The Beatles had assembled a new band with an imaginary member named Billy Shears. Believers of the conspiracy think that this fictional member was named for Paulâ€™s replacement. In the song â€œA Day in the Life,â€ the lyrics say: â€œhe blew his mind out in a car.â€ When you play the song â€œIâ€™m So Tiredâ€ backwards, you hear the lines â€œPaul is dead, miss him, miss him.â€ At the end of â€œStrawberry Fields Forever,â€ John Lennon sings, â€œI buried Paul,â€ though he later claims to have said â€œcranberry sauceâ€ and â€œIâ€™m very bored.â€ Believers in the Paul-is-dead conspiracy also find their proof in the backwards loops of songs and on album covers, which show things like raw meat and doll limbs (1966â€™s Yesterday and Today). Finally, on the cover of the Sgt. Pepperâ€™s Lonely Hearts Club Band, there is a yellow wreath of flowers in the shape of a bass guitar, which believers think stands for a memorial to the real Paul McCartney.
This famous conspiracy was developed in the 1960s but resurfaced after several websites claimed that Ringo Starr admitted to hiding Paulâ€™s death in a recent, secret interview, according to United Kingdomâ€™s The Mirror. Other prestigious publications, Time magazine being one of them, have published articles on this famed conspiracy. When I hear about things like this, I wonder how people find time to comb over everything Beatles in search for proof that todayâ€™s Paul McCartney is actually one lucky phony named Billy Shears. Apparently, because the Paul McCartney on the cover of the Beatlesâ€™ album Abbey Road is barefoot, means that he had died three years earlier.
Think these Paul-is-dead believers are off their rockers? Beatlemania sparked some even crazier conspiracy theories over the years: All of the Beatles died and were secretly replacedâ€”except for Paul McCartney, several different imposters have acted as the real Beatles over the years, and my personal favorite, the illuminati formed the band in attempt to hypnotize youth listeners with subliminal messages advocating drug use which would alter their personalities. Others believe that the band members murdered their original drummer, Pete Best, and that the band has several songs that theyâ€™ve kept hidden in the event that they ever need more money,
Reading up on the madness that surrounds Beatle conspiracy theories, I began to wonder, are there any equally wild conspiracy theories about what we consider â€œclassicâ€ literature? So naturally I typed â€œliterary conspiracy theoriesâ€ into a Google search and not shockingly came across about 683 thousand results about classic literary characters, plotlines, settings, authors, and just about anything else you could think of.
According to Norwegian filmmaker Nine Grunfeld, J.K. Rowling, author of the beloved Harry Potter series, does not exist. Grunfeld believes that no average working mom could become this idolized author, who published seven novels in ten years and sold over 250 million copies internationally. According to Grunfeld, there is no possible way that a nobody of an author could accomplish what â€œJ. K. Rowlingâ€ has accomplished. Instead, the face we all know as the author of Harry Potter is just an actress who is the face for an entire team of writers.
Some theorists believe that J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, two of the most famous fantasy authors of all time, were both members of the Occult and were using their fantasy novels to prepare the world for the New World that was coming. Tolkienâ€™s Lord of the Rings series is claimed to have been an adapted version of a Wiccan text called The Book of Shadows. And Lewis, whose famous lion character Aslan is often called a Jesus-figure, is actually alluding to pagan deities. Theorists argue that in order to practice witchcraft, one must read all of C.S. Lewisâ€™ works.
Itâ€™s only fitting that nobody knows how Edgar Allan Poe died. He arrived in Baltimore on October 3, 1849 wearing someone elseâ€™s clothes and acting delirious and strange. He mysteriously died four days later. One of the most widely-believed theories surrounding Poeâ€™s death claims that Poe was kidnapped during election season. The kidnappers beat him and got him drunk, then took him to the polls and forced him to vote for their preferred candidate multiple times. The kidnappers then swapped around all of their hostagesâ€™ clothes so that none of them would be recognized and jailed for rigging the elections.
Â Finally, and most interestingly, some people actually believe that author Stephen King murdered John Lennon. In a book called Stephen King Shot John Lennon, author Steve Lightfoot argues that Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan hired King as their henchman to kill John Lennon and end his peace protests once and for all. According to the conspiracy theorists, Mark David Chapman, the man who was blamed for killing John Lennon, was just an actor who was paid to take responsibility for the murder. There is a famous picture of John Lennon giving his alleged murderer, Chapman, his autograph mere hours prior to his murder, which is one of Lightfootâ€™s biggest supporting arguments. Lightfoot says that he has received multiple threatening letters from King to keep him from spreading information about the murder.
Conspiracy theories are mind-boggling and make me wonder how people come up with these crazy ideas. In the end, however, I guess you could ask the same question of fiction writers because, as I found in my research, reading about these conspiracies is like reading a flash-detective story, where all of the clues are laid out to justify the outcome of the mystery.
I recently finished two collections of essays by magician and libertarian firebrand Penn Jillette, God, No! Signs You Might Already Be an Atheist and Other Magical Tales and Every Day Is an Atheist Holiday (spoiler alert: Mr. Jillette does not like religion). In both books, Mr. Jillette discusses his love of collecting recordings produced by â€œsong-poemâ€ companiesâ€”essentially, scam companies that you could pay to take your poetry, have it set to music, and recorded by otherwise out-of-work musicians. Most of these recordings, Jillette informs us, are completely unlistenable, though he does admit that a few are truly beautiful.
Jilletteâ€™s odd choice of hobby aside, the notion of these â€œsong-poemsâ€ fascinates me, in no small part because it highlights the odd relationship between what we call â€œsongsâ€ and what we call â€œpoetry.â€ Where does one begin and the other end? Are all song lyrics poems, or does the presence of music accompaniment automatically exclude a set of lyrics from being High Art and thus Real Poetry?
Iâ€™d imagine that if you were to ask any random person on the street if songwriters can be considered poets, they would respond that most do not, though they might concede that a few favorite artists are creative and intelligent enough to earn that title. Bob Dylan in particular has often been called a poet; he has been repeatedly nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature, and no less an authority on poetry than Allen Ginsburg declared the lyrics of Dylanâ€™s 1975 track â€œIdiot Windâ€ to be the â€œgreat disillusioned national rhyme.â€ Andre Codrescu, himself a poet and commentator for NPRâ€™s All Things Considered, even praised Dylan as â€œthe best living American poet there is, man!â€
Dylan himself is surprisingly obtuse about whether he considers himself a poet. In his memoir Chronicles, Volume 1, he notes at one point that in his early years â€œI wasnâ€™t yet the poet musician that I would become.â€ When explicitly asked the question â€œDo you consider yourself primarily as a singer or a poet?â€ during a 1965 press conference, however, Dylan replied, â€œOh, I think of myself more as a song and dance man, yâ€™know.â€ Frustratingly, when the interviewer asks why, Dylan only responds, â€œOh, I donâ€™t think we have enough time to really go into that.â€
The New York Times ran an entire Sunday Book Review feature on the topic of whether Dylanâ€™s lyrical genius qualified him as a poet. In the article, one of the columnists, Francine Prose, rejects the notion that Dylan can be categorized at all, explaining, â€œHeâ€™s the heir, the unlikely offspring of Arthur Rimbaud and Walt Whitman. But heâ€™s neither Rimbaud nor Whitman. Heâ€™s Bob Dylan. Is he a poet or a songwriter? The same answer applies: Heâ€™s Bob Dylan.â€
Complicating this issue are those rare artists who wear both hats: they not only write their own song lyrics, but they also take on additional poetry projects on the side. The prolific and influential musician Leonard Cohen is famous for his moving and deep lyricsâ€”if I had to name any single musical artist whose song lyrics I consider to qualify as poetry, I would have to choose Cohen. Interestingly enough, however, Cohen does appear to make a distinction between when he is creating art as a songwriter and when is being a poet. He told Rolling Stone in a recent interview that he writes a good deal of poetry that is not suitable for song lyrics, but that he creates simply because he enjoys the process. This does not mean that Cohen keeps all his poetry for himself, however. In between putting out albums, he has released twelve books of poetry, perhaps the oddest of which is his third collection, entitled Flowers for Hitler.
So does the fact that Cohen releases books of poetry mean that his songs cannot be poetry? The fact that Cohen himself sees them as different pursuits has to carry some weight; Iâ€™d personally feel uncomfortable calling a work of art â€œpoetryâ€ if the artist himself did not consider it to be so.
Another songwriter who blurs the line between performance artist and poet is inimitable Tom Waits. Tom Waits’s lyrics are both bleak and beautiful, and I would have no problem declaring them to be â€œreal poetry.â€ Iâ€™m hardly the only oneâ€”after the simultaneous release of two Waits albums, â€œAliceâ€ and â€œBlood Money,â€ The New York Times declared Waits to be â€œa poet of outcasts.â€ Waits, however, would probably not take so kindly to being labeled a poet, telling an interviewer in 1975, â€œPoetry is a very dangerous word [ . . . ] I donâ€™t like the stigma that comes with being called a poetâ€”so I call what Iâ€™m doing an improvisational adventure or an inebriational travelogue. â€œ
Perhaps Waitsâ€™s attitude toward poetry has calmed somewhat since then, as in 2011 he collaborated with photojournalist Michael Oâ€™Brien to create Hard Ground, which unites Oâ€™Brienâ€™s photographs of homeless individuals and excerpts of Waitâ€™s poetry to powerful effect. That same year, Waits released a limited-run chapbook containing a single extended poem called â€œSeeds on Hard Ground.â€ The poem meditated on themes of poverty and homelessness, and the proceeds from the sale of the book went to homeless services.
At the risk of sounding like a snob, I think itâ€™s fair to say that most music you hear on the radio today would not under any definition qualify as poetry. But amidst all the sound and fury, I believe that true poetry can be found in the best lyrics of talented songwriters like Dylan, Cohen, and Waits.
Mark Twain wrote in his novel Puddâ€™nhead Wilson, â€œApril 1. This is the day upon which we are reminded of what we are on the other three hundred and sixty-four.â€ April Foolsâ€™ Day has been popular since the 1800s, but pranks themselves have been around since at least the Middle Ages. Some famous jokes throughout history have been literary in nature, while others were carried out by well-known authors and poets of the time.
One widespread April Foolsâ€™ prank had to do with the origin of the holiday itself. In 1983, Joseph Boskin, a history professor at Boston University, made up an explanation about the beginnings of the day. He said that the holiday started in Constantineâ€™s time. In his version of the origin, a group of jesters challenged the emperor, saying that they could run the empire better than he could. Constantine then let a jester be king for a day, and that jester passed a law saying that for that day, everyone should act absurd. That law then turned into an annual tradition. Boskin said of the story, â€œIn a way, it was a very serious day. In those time fools were really wise men. It was the role of jesters to put things in perspective with humor.â€ When the Associated Press got wind of this explanation, the word spread, and many newspapers printed the story. It wasnâ€™t until a few weeks later that they realized their story about April Foolsâ€™ Day was an April Foolsâ€™ joke itself.
Not all pranksters throughout history have stuck to April Foolsâ€™ Day to pull off their hoaxes. At the age of 16, Benjamin Franklin posed as a woman and wrote letters to the newspaper his brother ran, The New England Courant. Under the name of Silence Dogood, and using forged handwriting, Franklin played the part of the middle-aged widow for a six-month period. His brother never caught on. In his autobiography, Franklin wrote of the arrival of each letter: â€œThey read it, commented on it in my Hearing, and I had the exquisite Pleasure, of finding it met with their Approbation, and that in their different Guesses at the Author none were named but Men of some Character among us for Learning and Ingenuity.â€ Franklin eventually came clean after writing fourteen of the letters.
Famous poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, husband of Mary Shelley, also partook in pranks in his youth. His wife once wrote of him, â€œFrom his earliest years, all his amusements and occupations were of a daring, and in one sense of the term, lawless nature.â€ He attended Eton as a teenager, and while there he acted on this â€œdaringâ€ nature. He enjoyed setting fire to trees on campus, but one time he took his prank a step further by using gunpowder. Needless to say, the tree blew up, and Shelley got into trouble. Shelleyâ€™s fellow students, however, found the incident amusing, so much so that they wrote a poem about it.
More recently, Willie Morris, editor of Harperâ€™s Magazine in the 1960s and bestselling memoirist, pulled a prank involving his dog, Skip, when he was younger. While driving one afternoon, he ducked down beneath the dashboard and propped Skip up against the steering wheel, so it would look to passersby as if Skip were driving the car. This caused one man to fall out of his chair, and Morris liked the reaction so much that he repeated the joke one Sunday morning as people were leaving church. A hush fell over the crowd as Morris and Skip drove by, and Morris later wrote of the incident, â€œIt was as if the very spectacle of Old Skip driving that green DeSoto were inscrutable, celestial, and preordained.â€
And of course, no list of pranks would be complete without what The Museum of Hoaxes considers to be the greatest April Foolsâ€™ joke of all time: the Swiss Spaghetti Harvest. On April 1, 1957, a British news show broadcasted a segment showing the harvesting of spaghetti in Switzerland. A family was picking spaghetti right off of trees, and the video clip included the phrase, â€œFor those who love this dish, thereâ€™s nothing like real, home-grown spaghetti.â€ Viewers immediately responded, some wondering where they could buy their own spaghetti tree.
So, this April Foolsâ€™ Day, use some of the above pranks for guidance or come up with your own practical jokes to play on friends and family members, and continue this tradition that so many literary greats have participated in.
— Cara Scott