This year this nation observes the 200th anniversary of its birth under what is now the world’s oldest Constitution. And this spring, John Seelye looks back to an early opus in praise of our Republic and of its discovery in a New World by Columbus, a discovery whose cinquecentenary we are approaching. The epic is Joel Barlow’s The Columbiad. It appeared in 1807, the same year Barlow’s friend, Robert Fulton, launched the Clermont, the world’s first successful steamboat. With the latter America began a transportation and technological revolution destined to link its major centers in the East and the Midwest and finally the Pacific Coast by rails, rivers, or canals. “Nothing similar,” Mr. Seelye observes, “followed upon the launching of The Columbiad, an ambitious work on which Barlow had labored for years only to watch it sink below the waters of public acknowledgement with barely a ripple.” Yet, Mr. Seelye contends, The Columbiad should not be consigned to a full fathom five of obscurity. “There is therefore,” he writes, “something down below worth saving . . . buried in the sheer bulk of Barlow’s poem and in the collective works of his fellow poets of the Revolutionary and Republican era we can detect elements of a unique if not entirely new poetic genre, a form that was not only suited to the regnant spirit of the Republic during the last years of the 18th century but which recommended itself to Whitman’s far greater talent a half-century later.”
A former member of the English faculty of the University of North Carolina, Mr. Seelye is now Graduate Research Professor of American Literature at the University of Florida in Gainesville. He is completing a study on rivers in the early American Republic, one which is a continuation of his book Prophetic Waters: The River in Early American Life and Literature published in the late 1970’s by Oxford. Eventually Mr. Seelye projects a three-volume trilogy on the role of rivers and oceans in our life and literature. An earlier essay by Mr. Seelye on a triumph of the early Republic appeared in VQR’s Winter 1987 issue, namely “Beyond the Shining Mountains: The Lewis and Clark Expedition as an Enlightenment Epic.”
The career of New York intellectual Irving Howe has been as varied as it has been distinguished, or as Sanford Pinsker notes in his discussion of that career, its “long arc” has encompassed being a political radical, a polemicist, an editor, an educator, a literary critic, and, in Mr. Pinsker’s phrase, “not least of all,” a writer. It is this colorful, often controversial, and ever courageous career that Mr. Pinsker salutes in his latest VQR essay.
A native Pennsylvanian, Sanford Pinsker received his B.A. degree from Washington and Jefferson College in 1963 and his Ph. D. from the University of Washington in 1967, the year he returned to his native state to join the English faculty at Franklin and Marshall College where he was promoted to associate professor in 1974 and to full professor in 1984, the year in which he also became a Fulbright Senior Lecturer in Belgium. The prolific Mr. Pinsker writes poetry as well as prose, and his books include The Languages of Joseph Conrad, Still Life and Other Poems, Philip Roth: Critical Essays, and Memory Breaks Off and Other Poems. In addition, he has two books forthcoming, Three Poets of the Pacific Northwest: William Stafford, Richard Hugo, and David Wagoner, and The Uncompromising Fictions of Cynthia Ozick. He has written hundreds of articles and reviews for such journals as Southern Review, Georgia Review, The Journal of Modern Literature, Saturday Review, and American Book Review. His poems have appeared in such journals and magazines as Harper’s, New York Times, College English, Kansas Quarterly, and Salmagundi.
For more than four decades Nancy Hale was both a contributor—and a loyal friend—to this journal, and VQR is honored to publish the last essay she wrote before her death in September 1988 at age 80. “The Toimi” was supposed to be the start of a series of essays about her New England Aunt Ellen. Instead it marks the end of a long and distinguished career in American literature that began with the publication of her first novel, The Young Die Good, in 1932. Miss Hale was the first woman news reporter for the New York Times and also served as an editor at Vogue and Vanity Fair in the 1930’s. Her many books include Prodigal Women, The Sign of Jonah, The Empress’s Ring, Dear Beast, a series of essays on the realities of fiction, a biography of Mary Cassatt, as well as several works for children. Her short stories appeared in more than 40 anthologies including the Foley and O. Henry collections. Miss Hale, who was the wife of the noted scholar Fredson Bowers, willed all her royalties to the McDowell Colony.
In his third Poetry Chronicle Peter Harms examines new work by poets Ira Sadoff, Christopher Bursk, and Nobel Laureate Roald Hoffmann. An associate professor of English at Colby College in Maine, and a Melville scholar, Mr. Harris will spend the academic year 1989—90 teaching American poetry in the English department at University College Cork in Ireland. He will serve as director of the Colby-in Cork program there.
Tom Andrews is a resident of Ann Arbor, Michigan. His poems have appeared in recent issues of Field, Missouri Review, Ironwood, and Antioch Review. His chapbook, Hymning the Kanawha, was recently published by Alembic Press.
Jane Mead is a recent graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. She has had poems in Ploughshares, Ironwood, and Pequod, and her poems have appeared in the 1986—87 Anthology of Magazine Verse and Yearbook of American Poetry.
A member of the faculty at the University of Houston, Lynn Doyle is the author of Living Gloves, published by Dutton as part of the National Poetry Series. She has two poems forthcoming in the anthology Under 35: The New Generation of American Poets to be published by Anchor/Doubleday.
A professor of English at the University of Vermont, T. Alan Broughton is a poet, novelist, and short story writer. His latest works are The Jesse Tree, a story collection to be published by Juniper Press, and Preparing to be Happy, a poetic work to be published by Carnegie-Mellon. The author of four earlier books of poetry, Mr. Broughton has also published three novels, Winter Journey, A Family Gathering, and, most recently, The Horse Master.
Lance Olsen is making his debut as a VQR contributor. A member of the English faculty at the University of Kentucky, he received his Ph. D. degree from the University of Virginia. His specialties are contemporary experimental fiction and critical studies of postmodernism. Mr. Olsen and his wife spent the fall semester at Oxford University, where he taught for four months as part of a semester-abroad program and became acquainted with Thatcherite Britain.
Peter La Salle’s books include a novel, Strange Sunlight, and a story collection, The Graves of Famous Writers, and he has contributed stories to many magazines and anthologies, including The Best American Short Stories and Prize Stories: The O. Henry Awards. He currently teaches at the University of Texas in Austin.
A native of Arkansas, Bill Berry is director of the honors program and a member of the history department at Arkansas State University. He earned his Ph. D. in history from Princeton University, the locale of his essay, where he also taught for two years. His doctoral dissertation was entitled, “Growing Up in the Old South: The Childhood of Charles Colcock Jones, Jr.” His essays and reviews have appeared in The Journal of Southern History, Arkansas Times magazine and elsewhere.
A native of Boston and a graduate of Yale University, Christopher Tilghman now resides in his home town with his wife and two children. His latest VQR story, “On the Rivershore,” won a 1988 Massachusetts Artists Foundation Fellowship in Fiction. “I had submitted it to the Artists Foundation the same day I first it submitted to you,” Mr. Tilghman recently wrote. “I had rather given up on the Fellowship application. Whatever, it means $9500 for me, and I hope, a small feeling of satisfaction for you.”
After serving on the faculty of Emory University, Greg Johnson joined the University of Mississippi in Oxford last summer and now teaches English and fiction writing there. A short story writer, as well as literary critic, he has had stories in VQR, Prairie Schooner, and The O. Henry Prize Anthology (1986).
Noël Valis is a professor of Spanish at the University of Michigan and the author of The Decadent Vision in Leopoldo Alas, The Novels of J.O. Picon, and co-editor of In the Feminine Mode. She has also had poetry, stories, and translations appear in several literary reviews.
Stephen J. Whitfield holds the Max Richter Chair in American Civilization in the department of American studies at Brandéis University. His latest books, both published last fall, are A Death in the Delta: The Story of Emmett Till (Free Press) and American Space, Jewish Time (Archon).
An anthropologist by profession, Richard Handler is a member of the faculty at the University of Virginia. His avocation is modern music.
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