Tuesday, January 01, 2013

`Bound By the Cause of Words'

At the suggestion of Helen Pinkerton I’ve subscribed to that venerable survivor of happier days for American literature, The Sewanee Review, founded in 1892 and published by the University of the South in Sewanee, Tenn. The theme of the Fall 2012 issue is “Bound By the Cause of Words,” and all of its contents – poems, essays, reviews – are dedicated to books, reading and writing, which ought to be a redundant way of describing a literary journal but of course that’s not the case. The issue’s theme is taken from these lines in “Sole Impression" by Barry Sternlieb: 

No matter how far over the hill
we get, this workhorse press
and I are still on the same page,
throwbacks lying low, bound
by the cause of words.”

Sternlieb is a printer in Richmond, Mass., who since 1986 has published handmade, limited-edition letterpress poetry broadsides and chapbooks. It’s a slow, painstaking, labor-intensive art. So is writing. As printer and poet, Sternlieb celebrates “what doesn’t / change, changing hands.” That strikes me as a useful way to think of tradition, literary and otherwise. Some essence, including dedication to craft, remains the same across generations. A serious poet today shares kinship, however attenuated, with Sappho and Dante. Sternlieb tells us a book he prints is “a newborn / relic, grandfathered in,” and we admire his dedication to a marginal, archaic art. On this date, Jan. 1, in 1751, Samuel Johnson wrote in The Rambler #83: 

"Learning confers so much superiority on those who possess it, that they might probably have escaped all censure had they been able to agree among themselves; but as envy and competition have divided the republick of letters into factions, they have neglected the common interest; each has called in foreign aid, and endeavoured to strengthen his own cause by the frown of power, the hiss of ignorance, and the clamour of popularity. They have all engaged in feuds, till by mutual hostilities they demolished those out-works which veneration had raised for their security, and exposed themselves to barbarians, by whom every region of science is equally laid waste."
Happy New Year to readers of Anecdotal Evidence and all who are “bound / by the cause of words.”


Chuck Kelly said...

Happy New Year. I've enjoyed the posts about the Battle of Fredericksburg. I visited the site a couple of years ago.

B.R. said...

Thank you for your fine work throughout the past year in your service to the cause of words - well set.
Cheers on the New Year.

Roger Boylan said...

Bound I am. Bound I will always be.

Happy New Year, Patrick.