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.
At the Sewanee Review, we don’t think Christmas decorations should go up before Halloween. Conversations about what will win Best Picture should be reserved for afternoon coffee breaks after the New Year. And we, like many of you, are suspect of best-of lists that appear eight weeks before the ball drops on Times Square. We’re also not thrilled that the first snow flurries fell on the Mountain yesterday afternoon; it all keeps happening too early, too soon.
But we’d be lying if we didn’t admit that all of this over-eager preparation doesn’t excite us because this time of year also means we have the chance to reflect on an incredible year for the Review—one that’s been even better for previous contributors to our magazine.
As a poet obsessed with death—the death of my ancestors and my own—I’m continually coming back to Nicole Sealey’s “The First Person Who Will Live to Be One Hundred and Fifty Years Old Has Already Been Born” for how the poem conjures questions about how we measure a human life and the human experience. Particularly, I enjoy how each line explores the space between “ourselves and oblivion,” which is how I think of our connections to the natural world. Oblivion is the natural world, and poets must give over our bodies to oblivion or death.
Here on the Mountain, we’ve been locked in what seems like the unbreakable grip of an historic heat wave.There’s been no rain either, so the foliage isn’t vibrant, the desiccated leaves are shriveled on the branches, they disintegrate in the palm like ancient clay. It isn’t pretty. Nor is it to avoided or ignored. Best that it is beheld. Otherwise, change will never come.
It’s the duty of art to be similarly unflinching.
Many poets write on memory, its desire and despair, but few writers write so well of it, and fewer still are able to successfully foster it toward not only narrative but also toward beauty, where it belongs.
For me, characters are often generated from place. The protagonist materialized amid the sensual details of Chinatown. This setting induced a sense of hyperreality into the process of composition along with the potential for anything to happen. This is the perfect place for the narrating persona (and the writer) to be.
Back when I started, the poet Michael S. Harper told me, “Youngblood, you’re gonna get it from both sides,” meaning I'd be criticized for being “ethnic” by the white literary establishment (I was, especially for having published a long poem on the Japanese American internment) and for being “literary” and having “white values” by movement-oriented cadres, and I was. I think I still am. And, as Vito Corleone says, “I don't apologize.”
What better way to spend Labor Day weekend than with visions of the French Riviera in your head?
In a scene from Ovid’s first book, Cupid draws two arrows from his quiver. With one, he shoots the god Apollo, making him fall in love. With the other, he shoots the nymph Daphne, making her feel repelled by the god’s desire. Daphne only escapes Apollo’s violent passion by transforming into a laurel tree. This episode inaugurates one of the chief motifs of this two thousand-year-old epic: rape or attempted rape.
Anna Burns’s Milkman is outwardly a novel about the Troubles in Northern Ireland. But this scene, in which the unnamed heroine stumbles across a cat’s head in the rubble of a bombed-out building, unites the political with the deeply personal. Here, we see an eighteen-year-old girl caught up in the building pressure of an ethno-nationalist conflict—a war—threatening to erupt at any moment. On impulse, she picks the head up.