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.
SPASM THE FIRST: TWO DIFFERENT WORLDS, ONE A FRENZIED GALLIMAUFRY OF THE FANTASTIC
I have little patience with some of the heroes called Avengers and a steady appetite for others. Which enemies of evil fall into which of those categories is likely a function of my generational tastes and my own twisted eccentricities, and yet, though this be madness, thereâ€™s some method to it. I was weary of the graphic versions of Thor, Ironman, the Hulk, Captain America et al before they came to the giant screen, but I can binge with the most fanatical fans over John Steed and Emma Peel. I even harbor some fondness for Peelâ€™s antecedents and successors like Cathy Gale, Tara and Purdey. If this is a little cryptic to some readers, The Avengers was a British TV series about a team of blue-blooded agents back in the sixties, and at least three of the four women who took the lead female role would be familiar even now to most American pop culture followers. Honor Blackman quit the show to become Pussy Galore in the film Goldfinger, three years later Diana Rigg (as Mrs. Peel, the brightest star of the whole series) stepped away to become James Bondâ€™s only (and very temporary) wife Tracy in the big screenâ€™s On Her Majestyâ€™s Secret Service. Those too young for that film may well know Rigg from her Emmy-nominated performances in Game of Thrones. Joanna Lumley, a widely successful actress perhaps most remembered for the BBC comedy Absolutely Fabulous, was the last of the sixties femme-Avengers.
Now that weâ€™re straight on the players, just what is it that leaves me cold about the Hollywood Avengers, beyond the possibility that much of the production is aimed at gamers and comic fans perhaps too young to drive? Despite the few attempts at off-color humor or drive-by high culture allusion (a quotation from Nietzsche, reference to a Eugene Oâ€™Neill title), the stories resemble evidence in a repetition-compulsion case study. Heroes from the Marvel Avenger team â€“ one a Norse God, another an inventor, yet another an indestructible WWII G.I. altered in the kind of experiment sci-fi writers have been cooking up since Wells â€“ engage in endless fights (building to the most recent Mother of All Brawls) with a few misguided mortals and legions of cyberthingies (none of which can chill me like Hal). These bouts involve a magical Viking war hammer, zap rays, Glocks, fists, exploding arrows and the hurling of everything from furniture and vehicles to whole plots of urban real estate. Irresistible forces meet immovable objects again and again, things fall apart, and â€œthose that build them again are gayâ€ (â€œgayâ€ in the Yeatsian, near-obsolete sense; that is: â€œmerryâ€). These durable combatants include computer programs, glittery facsimiles of the aurora borealis, robots and to some degree humans, the superheroes being more than resilient than mere mortals.
I understand that this spectacle is all unfolding in the video-arcade post-realistic mode and with metaphorical implications with apocalyptic overtones, but Iâ€™m not stirred by the mix-tape version of which laws of physics are to be trusted and which not, when gravity works and what color button makes which items levitate or dissolve, all in the service of fleeting and sometimes indistinguishable steps in the tangled but plodding plot. In short, I donâ€™t believe the creators of these Avengers are very interested in physics, astrophysics, metaphysics, phys ed or curative physic. And if the plot lines and character complications resemble WWW Raw, the cosmology is not too far off from the Scientologistsâ€™ version of our origin and destiny. Though I suspect that devotees of this kind of inventiveness may rush to the fore with charts, tables, Smart phones, cross-references, hard-drive burdening statistics that argue au contraire (and perhaps Tasers), Iâ€™m compelled to maintain that the boundaries and limitations of powers and faculties are viable only to the degree that they are systematic and successfully dramatized, which would require more clarity and less velocity than Stan Lee and his cadre are addicted to.
A central tenant in my impatience with the crew that Tony Stark funds and Nick Fury inspires is best caught in Coleridgeâ€™s phrase â€œthe willing suspension of disbelief.â€ After all, if the aphorism that â€œreligion is what we believe, even if we know itâ€™s not soâ€ carries any witty wisdom at all, then Iâ€™m prepared to suspend my skepticism and practical sense in order to entertain conceits like Marquezâ€™s Macondo, Bondâ€™s marksmanship, Erewhon, the magical Forest of Arden, Hannibal Lector, and certainly Renfield, if the improbabilities are marshaled meticulously and presented with originality and verve, which do not result from mere scale, volume, number, color and wholesale destruction. In other words, the film makers have to â€œsell it.â€ So the StanLeevengers leave me cold on a couple of counts: the plots are chess without rules played by characters whose physical limits are inhuman or superhuman but blithely undefined. I donâ€™t even want to think about the psychology and motivation of gods, cybots, spybots, green Jekyll-Hulks and James Spaderâ€™s voice. Yet Iâ€™m sure theyâ€™re all calibrated just right for the comic books from which they leap with hands (or claws) outstretched to seize our admission fees.
Thatâ€™s all my wind and energy for now, but in a few days, Confessions of a Nostalgic Em-appeal Geezer. Enter at your own risk.
â€œTis a tale told by an idiot,â€ and yet, â€œMuch Madness is divinest Sense.â€ Iâ€™ve been trying to contact Shakespeare with my spirit board. Why not? Even if, at best, the device invented as a parlor game but taken supernaturally seriously by a happy few provides a vehicle for my own buried impulses and crackpottery, it might still be of some value. After all, I may know something I donâ€™t know I know.
My friends are, generally, tolerant but unenthusiastic, so Iâ€™ve had to go it on my own, as the spooky-boo movies tell you never to do. The Ouija covenant, after all, is not a marriage but a mÃ©nage a trois, though still less a pack activity than sÃ©ances. Besides, I wanted to get the jump on Shakespeare 2016, WLUâ€™s celebration of the Bard in special events (Chanticleer performance, art exhibit, features on Shenandoah), lectures and courses.
If youâ€™re not familiar with this form of communication, Google â€œOuijaâ€ and select images from the margin menu. Lots of pictures, most of them pretty much the same â€“ a board with the alphabet and single digit numbers spread out like a magicianâ€™s deck of trick-ready cards (or Eva Greenâ€™s on Penny Dreadful). Youâ€™ll also find yes in one upper corner and no in the other, though the name of the device is really yes-yes, French-German. Most common graphic details include a moon and sun, and at the bottom of the board thereâ€™s usually FAREWELL, which sounds more ominous than the common goodbye or later.
The other element in the tool kit is called a planchette, a heart-shaped wooden pointer with a hole (or eye) in the center. Most sets come with a plastic planchette, but I have little faith in their numinous power and prefer cedar. The process itself is simple: you utter a mystic rhyme, usually of your own making (Iâ€™m not telling mine; itâ€™s like the cosmic pin number); then with the pair of you (or you solo, if you dare) place fingers on the planchette, swirl it around the board and attempt to summon with your mind and voice, any spirit whoâ€™s been drawn by the whisper of the pointer skating across the board and by your salutation (or salivation). The spirit is supposed to direct the planchette until the eye is over one letter (or answer) after another. For detailed instructions, you can do the little research and hear it from an expert.
All I wanted to do was commune with Shakespeare, and only briefly. The spirits are supposed to know everything that can be known, as well as everything else, but I just want to ask Will if heâ€™s really who my high school English teacher Miss Eliot said he was (gloverâ€™s boy, scribe with little Latin and less Greek, bold appropriator, bed-willer, polymath, fast learner, shifty wit) or one of the other candidates I think of as the Unlikelies, for reasons of location, timing, lack of cerebral voltage, flabby rhetoric or obvious stamps of crackpottery that put mine in the shade. Now that itâ€™s widely known that the prominent Shakeman Mark Rylance-Cromwell (Wolf Hall) is a Doubter in the matter of Shakespeare being Shakespeare, inquiring minds want to know more than ever, and I can find no way to contact The Most Interesting Man in the World for assistance, despite the tease on the Dos Equis website. Therefore: Ouija.
Candles, a flat table, full moon, concentration to the heartâ€™s deep core (Georgie Yeats used a yes-yes). So far, no cigar, and I wonder if, alas, my efforts are foiled by misinformation. I mean, what if Shakespeare is an alias? Do spirits respect aliases, noms de guerre, traveling names, etc? Will the board traffic in such shifty nonsense as re-naming?
So I tried calling up the usual suspects: Bobby Devereux (Essex), Kit Marlowe, Manners, Oxford, Derby, Bacon, Burbage, Jesus Alou, assorted cabals and cadres, Drake and the Freemasons, Various & Sundry, Mary Sidney Herbert. No soap.
Iâ€™ve begun to think Iâ€™m using the wrong bait, if bait is called for. (â€œ. . . with a little shuffling, you may choose/ a sword unbatedâ€¦.â€), ( â€œunbated and envenomâ€™d.â€)
Should I try the more common search tactic of FaceBook to lure the dead? That way madness lies. But Iâ€™ll give it one more shot tonight, setting an extra glass of whiskey on the table. I believe Elizabethans were more inclined toward wine, ale, mead, sack or maybe even flip than toward whiskey, and I know that the Gaelic phrase from which we get â€œwhiskeyâ€ translates as â€œwater of life,â€ which might be distasteful to ghosts. Yet thereâ€™s some logic in it â€“ spirits attracted to spirits. And after all, improvisation has always been a trait of specter speculators.
Iâ€™ll report back if any important discoveries ensue.
And if I donâ€™t succeed this time? Flights of angels, silence, etc. I have Avengers to consider and will call in the pros. Mrs. Peel, youâ€™re needed.
Yesterday, as I was driving down the snaky and rut-rippled gravel road I live on, I encountered one of my farmer neighbors steering what appeared to be a new tractor, red as a fire engine and large as a triceratops. Tractasaurus. We each put right tires on the rim of the ditch and waved as we passed, slowly, and I realized that just a couple more coats of paint and we wouldnâ€™t be able to complete that maneuver without scraping.
Though the gleaming piece of agricultural apparatus was impressive, the fact that Mr. Agricola was in the cab chatting away on his smart phone really caught my fancy. I suppose that a driver navigating a back road from a perch ten feet in the air on such a heavy piece of military-strength equipment might not give a lot of thought to the standard hazards of distracted driving. But heâ€™s a bright fellow and seemed in control, so I resisted the thought that his behavior might be routine. Probably, I thought, heâ€™s conducting some agrarian business that requires immediate attention.
But what? I must have been in need of some distraction myself, because even after I left the bendy gravel road behind and was cruising down the asphalt, I couldnâ€™t stop thinking about that tractor and that smart phone. Agribusiness. After all, somebody has to order the feed and vaccines, contact the tax assessor, orchestrate the irrigation, alert the sheriff to the new bear in the area, ask the co-op if those new roles of fencing are in. Or was he calling up his flock of Dorsets to suggest theyâ€™d find a greener pasture across the creek? Maybe he was whispering to the chickens about egg production and yolk density or reminding his herd of Guernseys ruminating on a nearby western slope that milking time was nigh. Inviting the newly planted corn to put the recent rain to good use and break through the fertilized dirt? All manner of chores and inspections have to be done, and a good manager knows how to delegate authority and keep in touch with his troops. But the cell phone is more than a business tool, so he could have been following William Shatner on Twitter or checking to see if Poetry Daily (PoemsOnly.com?, no: poems.com)Â had posted a rousing vernal sonnet. Maybe he was trying to find a synonym for â€œthesaurus.â€
In moderation, speculation is a fine and salutary practice, but I needed to settle on an answer and move on to a more pressing question. Faced with the need to show a little enterprise, I went to my default setting: be swift, arbitrary and obvious. So I decided he was checking his contacts on FarmersOnly.com. After all, itâ€™s a roomy cab, and he â€œdonâ€™t have to be lonely,â€ right?
My motherâ€™s father John (or J. P.; weâ€™re a tribe of abbreviators) taught me how to drive on a tractor in Griffin, Georgia when I was just tall enough to reach the pedals and strong enough to set the hand brake on an orange Allis-Chalmers Type C manufactured in 1947. No cab or actual chassis, the seat a steel kidney shape molded to fit the backsides of no human being. You could see the A-Câ€™s limbs and joints, shafts and axles. The exhaust pipe belched oily smoke, and it hurt my wrists to steer. What it resembled, parked in its hornet-haunted shed or under the bean-dangling catalpa tree with its crawly worms, was a large pumpkin-colored insect that might feed off those black-and-yellow stripy caterpillars. Allis-Chalmers, or Alice Chalmers â€“ it sounded like a third grade teacher but was more belligerent. I loved it. I also loved my granddad, who tended to binge but did not cuss and had what must amount to the carpenterâ€™s version of perfect pitch. I am older now than he was when I watched them lower his casket. I have gardened but never farmed. Iâ€™ve never owned a tractor and have never touched a drop of Old Crow. Iâ€™ve tried to heed his best advice: â€œSon, when youâ€™re ripe, fall far from the tree.â€
What Monsieur Agricola has acquired is an International and not, Iâ€™ve figured out, a popular Japanese Kubota, a Deere competitor marketed a lot on TV lately. â€œKubotaâ€ â€“ sounds like something from the ocean floor resurrected to save us from a more malicious monster: â€œKubota Versus Godzilla,â€ coming soon. But more likely his colossus resembles some vehicle engineered to fight our battles on the next planet out from the sun. I wish heâ€™d bought an A-C, though, as theyâ€™re usually the same fregetable color as our old insect, instead of a maraschino cherry. In the Crayola eight-crayon box of my memory, orange will always mean â€œtractor.â€ (A Japanese poet named Kubota died of food poisoning a few years ago; he ate a bad clam, rather than a tractor.)
One summer I worked at a public driving range, trolling back and forth across the fairway on a sub-standard green-and-yellow Deere (Nothing runs like a) with a chicken wire cage to protect me from golf balls the size of hailstones. The apparatus I was trailing collected the balls from the scabby lawn, and more than a few hookers, slicers and gaffers made it their mission to try to bounce their Titleists, Nikes and Wilsons off my mesh, probably in the hope that some gap in my cocoon would allow a projectile in on occasion and cause me discomfort while affording them amusement. No malice meant, just Southern fun. I had a walkie-talkie and could call off the barrage if I had to exit my coop and finagle the J-Dâ€™s works, but not every duffer with a bucket of rented balls understands a cease-fire order. I never did learn to love a Deere.
Besides, their namesakes gobble our hostas.
Stay tuned for Ouija and the Bard, Thor and Hulk, Steed and Peel, if you dare.