Editor’s Notes & Cover Art

About the Cover

Our cover design by John Pickard features “Nightview, NY” (1932) by photographer Berenice Abbott.

Berenice Abbott was born in Springfield, Ohio in 1898 and attended the Ohio State University, but soon moved to New York to pursue journalism.

In 1921, she traveled to Europe to study sculpture and to write poetry. She learned photography in Paris when Man Ray hired her as a darkroom assistant at his portrait studio. Photography quickly became her medium. Her subjects were people in the artistic and literary worlds, including Jean Cocteau, James Joyce, and Eugene Atget. She acquired Atget’s negatives after his death and returned to New York to promote his work.

The city’s architectural landscape inspired a series of photographs over six years, resulting in the publication, “Changing New York.” In 1935, the Federal Art Project hired her as a supervisor. The following year, she and Paul Strand started the Photo League where she taught many others to become photographers until it closed in the late 1940s.

Berenice Abbott continued to teach at the New School for Social Research from the 1930s until 1958. Due to lung disease, she left the city and moved to Maine where she lived until her death in 1991.

This photograph has been reproduced by permission of the Columbus Museum of Art, Columbus, Ohio, from their Photo League collection. The acquisition of this photograph was made possible with funds provided by Elizabeth M. Ross, The Derby Fund, John S. and Catherine Chapin Kobacker, and the Friends of the Photo League.

Editor’s Notes

Although I can certainly be an impulsive guy, I rarely accept a story or poem for The Kenyon Review after a quick first reading. Oh, I can reject a piece early on (more swiftly than I might care to admit). Defects, shortcomings, wrong moves, usually reveal themselves with immodest haste. But it pays to reread good work, to savor and contemplate it. For, sometimes, what sparked my initial enthusiasm may seem rather more brittle after lying open to the air for a little while. On the other hand, truly fine achievements of language and wit, of surprise, delight, and mastery, wear well. They remain fresh. Indeed, with each rereading something new almost always reveals itself.

This editorial experience mimics or condenses our larger experience of art across years, across a lifetime. Or at least aspires to do so. Perhaps it will turn out that what remained vibrant for me across a few days or weeks will not wear so well across decades. I sometimes wonder whether winemakers, having taken early sips from a cask, make a similar leap of faith when sending their bottles out into the world.

I hate to resort to the banal, the “test of time,” yet the usefulness of that formula transcends its very familiarity. The strange capacity of great art, be it literature, music, drama, or visual art, to remain enduringly fresh has always struck me as marvelous, as true mystery. How is it that we can greet something long loved like an old friend, Dickens’ Great Expectations perhaps, Pip head over heels on the very first page, or Brahms’ Fourth, its soaring sadness, and yet, and yet, be caught up in the suspense as it progresses, the surprise, the drama, the exhilaration?

I experienced a corollary truth very late or very early one winter night last year. In the darkness I came awake and, after tossing and turning, wishing for sleep to draw me away for a few more precious hours, instead I was soon lying fully and irresistibly alert. Resisting the temptation to impose my grumpiness on my wife, I clumped down the cold stairs in my robe and wrapped a further blanket around myself on the couch. At least I could grab the chance to watch a video of Ian McKellan playing King Lear, a production that had opened in England just after I’d left the year before.

Now Lear, like Pip, like Brahms’ Fourth, is something of an old friend. I wouldn’t say “pal”—it’s too thorny, too gnarled for that. But I’ve studied and wrestled that play, fought it for decades. I’ve taught it and loved it and in some ways feared it. Feared precisely because I could teach it and sound like I knew what I was talking about. And yet, in my heart of hearts I felt that something essential to Shakespeare’s play was always eluding me.

Surely a magic was conjured by McKellan’s masterly performance. No doubt it was abetted by the silence and suspension in the night as well. But in that moment between darkness and dawn King Lear finally opened itself to me. Simple, inexorable, cruel, quite beautiful. This wasn’t merely an intellectual engagement but something that rang deep in the bone. But it was also made possible by all those decades of reading, of watching, of considering—it came of my age. So then, another mystery and a compensation. My knees may be wrecked by the squash court. My hair, well, it no longer flourishes either. But just as art remains fresh across a lifetime, so it may occasionally reveal itself, fully, only after a lifetime. Compensation.

Not all of what Ransom chose as editor of KR endures. But the Lowell, the Stevens, the O’Connor, youngsters then—their poems and stories, now old friends, surely do. Here in this first issue of a new volume year we offer pieces by Rosanna Warren, Khaled Mattawa, Franz Wright, Victoria Chang, and so many other talented authors. May some remain your friends for years to come.

—D. H. L.

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