The Sewanee Conglomerate
Named for the uppermost rock formation in Sewanee's corner of the Cumberland Plateau, the Sewanee Conglomerate is the magazine's blog. Check here for short pieces about books and current events written by SR staff and guest contributors.
These serious little songs are colored by the racial and political context of our time, our anxious vacillation between online activism and lived apathy: “I ain’t mad at you, / Assassin. It’s not the bad people who are brave / I fear, it’s the good people who are afraid.” Binaries—courage and fear, sex and death, good and bad, past and future—inhabit many of these poems, because Hayes deals in facts that shouldn’t bear repeating, but desperately do.
Shane McCrae’s fifth collection, In the Language of My Captor, examines a demographic fact foundational to our nation’s identity: that the ancestors of one in nine US citizens were brought to this country as slaves, and today those citizens are still subject to the inheritance of bondage. McCrae first approaches this fact, via metaphor, in “In the Language,” the final poem of the book’s first section, whose speaker we find caged up in a zoo.
In the past year, whenever I return home to San Antonio, I’ve been having lunch with my grandmother and her friend, an elderly woman named Marian. Both suffer from Alzheimer’s disease. Because I didn’t know Marian before she lost her memory, you could say my relationship to her is like that of a reader to a character: I’ve stepped into her life in medias res, unbeknownst to her and without prior knowledge of her history except what I’m told by others.
The Sewanee Review has received word that longtime contributor Earl H. Rovit passed away on April 16 at the age of ninety. Rovit was a contributor of essays and criticism to the Sewanee Review for over forty years. A leading literary scholar of the writing of Ernest Hemingway, Ralph Ellison, Saul Bellow and William Faulkner, Rovit was one of the first in the early 1960s to discern and explore what became known as the Jewish American literary tradition, including writers such as Bellow, Bernard Malamud, Norman Mailer and Philip Roth.
A rusted-out Alfa Romeo, stranded in a grove of cherry trees; a one-armed, amnesiac veteran, estranged from his aristocratic family while living in their home; unshakable visions of an unnamed woman, her face hidden as though from the glow of a crescent moon emblazoned on her forehead—these images would be memorable even in a conventional novel. But place them in post-revolutionary Tehran, then filter them through a psyche that has literally split itself in two, and you get the first chapter of Shahriar Mandanipour’s Moon Brow, the most eye-opening novel I’ve read this year.
About ten years ago, Richard Powers began to try his hand at short stories. His novels, starting with Three Farmers on Their Way to a Dance (1985), had brought home honors of all sorts, including the 2007 National Book Award for The Echo Maker. Praise-singers, among them Margaret Atwood and Colson Whitehead, hailed his ability to wring drama out of hard science, for instance in The Goldbug Variations (1991), which played Bach even as it unraveled DNA helixes. Yet this combination also had its naysayers.
I spent a lot of time last year thinking about the death of rock and roll. This is not a new concern, I realize—critics have been hearing the genre’s death rattle for longer than I’ve been alive. But after David Bowie kicked off 2016 with an elegy to himself, after Bob Dylan reluctantly accepted the Nobel Prize for literature, after Springsteen took up residence on Broadway, and Tom Petty suddenly passed, I found myself truly afraid that rock music was headed for the history books.
In the summer of 1937, Clark Mills McBurney and Tennessee Williams (born Thomas Lanier Williams) set up a “literary factory” in the basement of the McBurney family home. Huddled in the corner by the coal furnace and the washing machine, the factory consisted of two tables, two hard chairs, two typewriters, a bookcase, and a beat-up sofa. The aspiring young writers had been driven underground by unsatisfactory conditions above: the McBurney home was all glass, affording little privacy, and the summer heat had made the attic where Williams usually wrote in his own home unbearable.
Leslie Harrison’s The Book of Endings is a deeply meditative collection, buttressed with images of harvest, death, and other “endings.” Winter especially haunts the volume, whose second poem, “December,” situates those to follow within “this winter of no more miracles/in this season of so much beauty such harm.” Even Harrison’s diction feels iced-over through her omission of punctuation.