About the Cover
Our cover design by Nanette Black features Edith, Danville, Virginia, 1970 by Emmet Gowin, professor of photography at Princeton University. A retrospective of his work, Emmet Gowin / Photographs: This Vegetable Earth is But a Shadow, was published in 1990 by the Philadelphia Museum of Art. His award-winning work is represented by Pace Wildenstein MacGill Gallery in New York.
As I write these notes The Kenyon Reviewis planning a very special event. In October 1998 KR will sponsor a three-day Celebration of Robert Lowell in Gambier, Ohio, thanks to a grant from the Shiffman Foundation. We will gather a distinguished group of poets and scholars from around the world, some who knew Lowell, others who have been influenced by his work. They will give individual readings, and we will offer symposia as well. It promises to be an exciting literary event, and we hope you will join us. For exact dates, program details, and further information, please write to our offices, The Kenyon Review, Gambier, OH 43022, or phone 740 427-5208.
Lowell, who came to Kenyon College in 1939 along with Peter Taylor, Robie Macauley, and other talented young men to work with John Crowe Ransom in the same year he founded this magazine, was among the first and the very rare undergraduates ever to appear in the Review. He finished summa cum laude and first in his class, a classics major.
In the next issue of KR, Summer/Fall 1998, and coincident with the celebration, the Kenyon Review Classic will be poems by Robert Lowell that first appeared in these pages, along with a Critical Revaluation by the poet and critic Richard Tillinghast.
Although we are a bit tardy in making the eightieth anniversary of the poet’s birth (that was in 1997), this is an appropriate moment not to merely celebrate but to work toward a reassessment of Lowell’s place in twentieth-century American poetry. Burdened by a famous name and early success, burdened too by psychological problems that haunted him to the very end, Lowell remains elusive, uneven, tantalizing.
In a Hudson Review article a couple of years ago, “Mistah Lowell: He Dead,” Joseph Epstein argued that much of Robert Lowell’s celebrity was unearned, a master of that famous name and felicitous timing in his choice of subject and style, a sort of literary equivalent in that regard to the Beatles or Andy Warhol.
The attention of other critics seems to have drifted away from Lowell as part of a more general reapportionment of glory to his contemporaries (and friends) such as Elizabeth Bishop and James Merrill.
What we envision for our Gambier event, then, is not so much a belated reenactment of funeral eulogies of twenty years ago, nor an attempt as recanonization, but an energetic conversation. By remembering Lowell, by considering his work and his legacy, we hope to locate him more accurately as a man of his moment as well as a poet for ours, and thus better to understand ourselves as well.
The Kenyon Review has launched an Internet Web site at KenyonReview.org. By this time you read this, many of the inevitable early glitches will, I trust, be smoothed away and the site will provide an elegant and easily accessible source of information. I urge those of you inclined to surf the Net to visit us by this route.
Since becoming KR‘s editor in the spring of 1994 I have spent a fair bit of time wrestling with the issue of electronic publication. Obviously this is a timely if not trendy topic, and it quickly shatters into myriad of facets. Few are my colleagues, friends, and correspondents who lack strong opinions. During the course of discussions we have even contemplated the possibility that ultimately The Kenyon Review might be solely “virtual” — snared by readers on the Web and nowhere else. One significant temptation would be financial; in an era of ever more challenging budget constraints, escaping the burden of paper, ink, and postage would go no little way in relieving fiscal pressures.
Happily, I’m now able to say that no such apotheosis awaits our magazine. The Kenyon Review will remain a printed artifact, handsome, and, I hope, distinguished. You will hold it in your hands, folding the spine—gently—to read. Paper and ink, it will arrive in the mail or be plucked from a bookstore shelf, the very thinginess of it a pleasure.
I’ve come to believe that readers, our readers, are not likely to summon up serious stories and essays and poems for lengthy study or languorous delight on a glowing screen. Nor are they likely to download a magazine’s worth of material to their personal printers. Yes, I’ve been briefed, heard prophecies of the next brave new world of hand-held, reader-friendly, book-like computers that will boast vast library hoards on compact disks or effortlessly snatch literature from the microwaves fluttering about our ears. Perhaps. Perhaps.
But a printed page offers pleasures physical as well as spiritual. One step further: it may be that only on that page (and more rarely in public reading or performance) will serious stories, poems, and plays survive in our culture. Outmoded, imperiled, even an indulgence, the book as book will survive only because we need it to.
What point, then, KenyonReview.org? The World Wide Web is the great avatar of the Information Age, and information it shall provide. Browsing souls who score a “hit” on our site will be able to subscribe directly or order back copies; they will discover our guidelines for prospective writers; if interested in much of the literary history of the last half-century, they will learn much in a short history of the Review. We will also offer special tidbits from each issue, selected poems and excerpted prose—enough for a good tipple.
As we aspire to a future worthy of our past, a great practical challenge facing KR is to help prospective readers find us. To my mind it counts for little if we publish first-class writing for only relatively few eyes. We want our readership to grow. And in this world ease counts forevermore. Given that The Kenyon Review has always possessed an international reputation, we hope that new readers across the globe, Nairobi to Delhi to Lima, will take a first stop toward sampling and subscribing through the web.
We believe that a newly fashionable genre—with an ancient pedigree—has yet to acquire a suitable name, though of late it has come to be called creative nonfiction. KR seeks out for publication and encourages outstanding examples of that genre (which we heretofore were content to identify as essay, a capacious category). Of late the lines between genres have further blurred, often creating confusion: in our Winter 1998 issue Mira Bartók-Baratta’s “The Oracle Bone” seemed to us an essay and we so labeled it. Ms. Bartók-Baratta, however, while acknowledging that much of “The Oracle Bone” is fact-based, prefers to call it fiction. So fiction it is.
Meanwhile we invite your suggestions for a one- or two-word identifier for that fluid, fascinating form blending fact and fiction. Should you be the first to suggest a moniker we adopt, we’ll send you, along with our grateful thanks, a year’s subscription to KR.