The Fugitive Poets Revisited, the Language that Unites and Divides the Arab World, and the Scandalous Victoria Woodhull
Good morning. I’m sure you’re as tired of the American Dirt fiasco as I am, but let me encourage you to read Stefan Beck’s piece in the latest issue of The Washington Examiner as a sort of final word: “American Dirt can be almost touchingly amateurish. Cummins’s syntax, metaphor, and imagery are tortured . . . Yet the book is too earnest to come across as truly mercenary. And the fact remains that many books fated to be megabestsellers are at least this awful. Real writers tremble with rage before the success of books such as The Da Vinci Code, Twilight, Fifty Shades of Grey, and (whet your battle-axes, nerds) the Game of Thrones series. Cummins’s fatal error was to profit from a book whose most rabid foes could plausibly disguise their resentment of her success as a principled stand . . . The first book with a Mexican protagonist published in the U.S. was The Life and Adventures of Joaquín Murieta: The Celebrated California Bandit in 1854. Like American Dirt, the novel was an honest attempt to explore injustice. Like American Dirt, it was full of racially insensitive caricatures and is damn near unreadable. Its author, John Rollin Ridge (who published as ‘Yellow Bird,’ his Cherokee name) was not Mexican. When it appeared last year as a Penguin Classic, no one complained. Hardly anyone even noticed. After all, dead men cash no checks.”
The “scandalous and pioneering” Victoria Woodhull: “She was the first woman to run for president, the first to address a congressional committee, and the first to own a brokerage on Wall Street. She was also a con artist, a gold digger, and a scandal magnet. When she ran for president in 1872, she sat out Election Day in a Manhattan jail, arrested on charges of obscenity. Victoria Woodhull was unquestionably a pioneer in women’s rights, yet her legacy is so messy and complicated that she remains an outlier in feminist history.”
Gerard Baker reviews Charles Moore’s “authorized and authoritative” biography of Margaret Thatcher.
Patrick Ryan reviews a new book on the complexity of the Arab world and the language that both unites and divides it: “Not all Arabs are Muslim, and not all of them understand each other when they speak; the many regional dialects of Arabic make an illiterate Arab farmer in Egypt unable to communicate easily with one in Syria. But both probably know that there is a language that unites them—and, at the same time, divides them. No one ordinarily speaks what is called al-fuṣḥȧ, the most elegant version of the language, but all educated Arabs recognize it as the best example of Arabic eloquence. The nationhood of the Arabs precedes the era of Muhammad in the development of Arabic oral literature, especially pre-Islamic Arabic poetry. As Mackintosh-Smith aptly remarks, however, ‘written Arabic is no one’s mother-tongue: speakers of Arabic have to learn to read and write in a “foreign” language.’”
The late Cleanth Brooks is inducted into the Kentucky Writers Hall of Fame: “Since its formation in 2013, the hall has inducted 44 writers. Among its inductees are Hunter S. Thompson, Sue Grafton, Barbara Kingsolver and many others. Brooks joins fellow Purchase Area natives Bobbie Ann Mason, of Mayfield, and Paducah’s Irvin Cobb as hall inductees.”
John Wilson reviews a book on how a Chicago neighborhood has and hasn’t changed—and how neighborhoods shape our “sensibility.”
Essay of the Day:
In The Hudson Review, Mark Jarman writes eloquently about his love for the Fugitive poets:
“Here’s a story about never becoming a Southern poet, even after 40 years of living and writing poetry in the South. It is also about loving the poetry of the Fugitives, the poets who in the 1920s lived in Nashville, Tennessee, and formed a private workshop for themselves, where they could share their poetry and speak seriously about being modern and not throwbacks to the nineteenth century. There is no doubt that they were Southern poets, born and raised in the South, two conditions which to this day define a Southern poet, whose regionalism, white or black, is essential. The Fugitives included Vanderbilt University faculty John Crowe Ransom and Donald Davidson, and Vanderbilt students Allen Tate and Robert Penn Warren. These four are the most famous of the group, but those whose names are not as well-known were as serious as they about writing mainly in classical meter and rhyme, like W. B. Yeats and Thomas Hardy, while recognizing the innovations of T. S. Eliot and Ezra Pound. That such a group existed in Nashville in the 1920s is notable in itself. This essay, part memoir, is about knowing their poetry and admiring them as poets long before I knew I would live where they lived and teach where they taught, while recognizing they left a particular legacy to the South and Southern poetry that I would never be able to claim. Now that I am about to retire from Vanderbilt University, the school where some of them taught for many years, I think I owe it to the Fugitives and to whatever we might call Southern poetry to declare my love and my outsiderness. Never having been of them, I think I can speak about them in a way others from the same background may not be able to. The Fugitives are not so close to me that I have to apologize for them, but they are close enough as poets that I can express my gratitude.”
Photo: Saint John at Kaneo
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