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The Kenyon Review – Winter 2009

A glorious 70th anniversary issue. “Within these pages we offer a model of what KR has aspired to across those decades,” explains the editor’s note, “remarkable stories by friends of long-standing…and emerging authors who offer vibrancy and freshness right now and who may well come to take their own places among the renowned.” Long-standing friends in this issue include Joyce Carol Oates, E.L. Doctorow, and Carl Phillips. This issue’s “New Voice” is poet Kascha Semonovitch, introduced by Kenyon Review poetry editor David Baker. The edition also features the winners of the magazine’s short fiction contest (limited to writers under 30 with submissions of no longer than 1200 words, selected and introduced by Alice Hoffman); poems by a roster of “poetry stars,” in addition to Carl Phillips (Linda Gregerson, Michael S. Harper, Rachel Hadas, Carol Muske-Dukes, among others); and essays by Rebecca McLanahan, Wyatt Prunty, and Alfred Corn.

A glorious 70th anniversary issue. “Within these pages we offer a model of what KR has aspired to across those decades,” explains the editor’s note, “remarkable stories by friends of long-standing…and emerging authors who offer vibrancy and freshness right now and who may well come to take their own places among the renowned.” Long-standing friends in this issue include Joyce Carol Oates, E.L. Doctorow, and Carl Phillips. This issue’s “New Voice” is poet Kascha Semonovitch, introduced by Kenyon Review poetry editor David Baker. The edition also features the winners of the magazine’s short fiction contest (limited to writers under 30 with submissions of no longer than 1200 words, selected and introduced by Alice Hoffman); poems by a roster of “poetry stars,” in addition to Carl Phillips (Linda Gregerson, Michael S. Harper, Rachel Hadas, Carol Muske-Dukes, among others); and essays by Rebecca McLanahan, Wyatt Prunty, and Alfred Corn.

Both the short fiction contest winners’ selection and the poetry “New Voice” section are introduced and championed by the writers/editors who chose them. Of Semonovitch, David Baker writes, “[she is] a real scholar of philosophy and a real poet. And quite the opposite of new poetry that drains itself of personhood or presence, her poems give voice to an engaged, connective, and even buoyant sense of a human being vividly alive in the world.” Here is a sample of this fresh and appealing work, an excerpt from a poem titled “Postcards” in which each section begins with an identification of location (“Belgium, outside Liege,” “Athens, in transit,” etc.):

Fruit in Europe is sweet
But not sweeter. The flowers
Are petite; not smaller.
I tell you this my niece
Who was just born because
You cannot be born in more than
One country. One has
One langue maternelle and one little school.

Alice Hoffman describes the very short fiction of the newcomers she has selected for the magazine’s fiction prizes as works which are “surprising and beautiful,” “evocative” and “elegantly written,” which weave plots effortlessly, by writers of “great promise.” The short form (fewer than 1200 words) has, indeed, generated stories that are tightly and deftly constructed.

Absolutely not to be missed is Rebecca McClanahan’s essay, “The Tribal Knot: Ties that Bind and Break Us,” a beautiful and memorable essay about reading the diary of a “long-dead,” “long-lived aunt,” which changed my thinking about the imaginative power and potential of personal family stories (they can be interesting!), the value of diaries, and the possibilities of the personal essay (okay, I never really doubted this, but McClanhan reminds me about why a great personal essay can really be the most satisfying sort of reading). This is a stellar issue of the journal. Let’s hope for another 70 years!
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