On the Hunt for the Best Front-to-Back Issue of The Kenyon Review, Ever

Tyler Meier
August 2, 2011
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The bids are in for the best single front-to-back issue of the old series, and the competition is heated! Kudos to Grant Johnson, Kate Kremer and Hannah Withers for souring the stacks of back run issues, sizing up the 60s, 50s, and 40s, respectively, and choosing what they identified as the best issue of each decade. After the jump you can find quotes and the tables of contents for each issue. You can visit the full post of each finalist issue as a link that leads off each section. Think it over, and be sure to visit our facebook page and vote! Grant, Kate and Hannah will continue the quest with the three decades of the new series next, and we’ll square off old versus new in a showdown of literary greatness in the coming months.


The contenders for best of the old:

Spring 1943: A real humdinger. Here is the table of contents:

Hannah points to these choice lines as indicative of this issue’s status:

“All this amounts to the life of a man, these things he tells, his pride in saying them, his honest power.” (Jean Garrigue “Mr. Haszka”)

“the patient bares his arm at dawn
to suck the blood’s tranfusing glow
And then when all the blood is gone
(For the Day of Jubilo)

Salt serum stays his arteries
Sly tide threading the rib of sand
Till his lost being dries and cries
For that unspeakable salt land
Beyond the Day of Jubilo.” (Allen Tate, “Jublio”)

“There is only one way to conquer the monster: you must eat it, bones, blood, skin, pelt, and gristle. And even then the monster is not dead, for it lives in you, is assimilated into you, and you are different, and somewhat monstrous yourself, for having eaten it.” (Robert Penn Warren “Pure and Impure Poetry”)

Summer 1956: Golden. Here’s the table of contents:

Kate picks these choice lines as great-making:

“The first day of Creation
All things, love, alone were,
Darkness the lonely creature;
Clove us then Love with good light
For two can be together,
And partly we were bright
Each other so to look on.” (W.S. Merwin “The Nine Days of Creation”)

“The beauty of a bouquet of flowers; the puddle in the lower parts of our being
Out of which loves drinks; that on a sunny day, if we listen, we might hear
Gathering the offertory beneath a hollow ringing in its steeple.” (Theodore Holmes “A Prayer for Rain”)

Autumn 1960: Flannery and Sylvia. Enough said. Here’s the table of contents:


Grant picks these two heavyweight authors as what makes this issue tops. Here’s a bit of each:

“In burrows narrow as a finger, solitary bees
Keep house among the grasses. Kneeling down
I set my eye to a hole-mouth and meet an eye
Round, green, disconsolate as a tear.
Father, bridegroom, in this Easter egg
Under the coronal of sugar roses

The queen bee marries the winter of your year.” (Sylvia Plath, “The Beekeeper’s Daughter”)

“Thomas loved his mother. He loved her because it was his nature to do so, but there were times when he could not endure her love for him. There were times when it became nothing but pure idiot mystery and he sensed about him forces, invisible currents entirely out of his control. She proceeded always from the tritest of considerations–it was a nice thing to do–into the most foolhardy engagements with the devil, whom, or course, she never recognized.” (Flannery O’Connor, “The Comforts of Home”)

Okay people–there you have it. Time to vote! Do it on the KR facebook page.


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