Essays and Notes in Honor of his Retirement
from Sewanee Review, Fall 2016
George became the editor of the Sewanee Review in 1973, and from then until the present year his editorial and critical vision has made the oldest continuously published quarterly in the United States also the best. Without changing the magazine's essential character, he made the Review less deliberately southern, and his introduction of issues devoted to specific themes or subjects has given the Sewanee Review an intellectual coherence unique among literary quarterlies. Editing the Review made it necessary for George to postpone or abandon many of his own scholarly and critical projects, works that we are undoubtedly poorer without. He was in his office hard at his editorial business on weekends and holidays for more than forty years.
As an editor George Core was sane and sympathetic. A writer of graceful and precise prose, he had an eye for stylistic blunders and infelicities unmatched in my experience. Even the most sensitive writers profited from George's suggested revisions and critical advice. The very first time George read something I had written, he returned it and said he liked it, but the typescript had so much blue pencil on it I could hardly read what he said he liked. George has continued to be my best and most demanding editor. For that and for his generous-hearted friendship I will always be grateful.
George Core has assured the place of the Sewanee Review in the Republic of Letters, and his critical and editorial wisdom has earned him a prominent and permanent place in the history of American literature. Of his magazine, George once wrote that "over its long life the Sewanee Review has often been nurtured by blind good luck." George Core's tenure as editor may be the best luck this venerable quarterly has ever had.
* * *
The first time I ever heard from George Core—by letter, of course; typed on Sewanee Review stationary, of course—I was living alone in a cabin on a ranch in south Texas trying to finish a long poem. I was somewhere in my twenties, somewhere in south Texas, somewhere just south of sanity. The poet W. S. Di Piero had made the introduction because he knew I was trying to write critical prose, and he had been helped by Mr. Core when he was young. I had sent, by way of introduction, a bunch of book reviews I had been writing for newspapers, which were so bristly, balking, and snarling they must have been something like the monster books in Harry Potter that literally bare their fangs and try to eat their readers. Mr. Core saw light through them, and noticed the grain of good that was in them, and promptly wrote back to give me an assignment on—as I recall—Renaissance poets. He didn't seek credentials or impose restrictions. He didn't ask what I knew about Renaissance poets and try to guide the assignment to some safe shoal. He just read what I sent and said, basically, Go. And then kept saying it. There is no overstating the affection and gratitude we feel for someone who trusts our work before we have come to do so ourselves, someone who leads us to trust our more eccentric impulses—at least when those impulses have turned out to be, as they have in my own case, the main current of the work. I will always be grateful to George Core for giving me room and respect at a crucial time, and for reminding me again and again what a respectable literary life—that there might be such a thing!—might look like.
* * *
I had been a contributor to the Sewanee Review for almost a quarter century before I finally met George at Sewanee in 2001. To celebrate, he decided to take Debora Greger and me to lunch in Monteagle, once home of Allen Tate, Andrew Lytle, and, briefly, Robert Lowell. As we drove through town, we passed a burned-out gas station, then a burned-out store, and one or two other buildings whose existence ended in fire. George caught me eyeing these places, and as we passed yet one more he said, in his slow drawl, "Up here in Monteagle, disagreements are settled by arson."
* * *
You, George Core, sent me your marvelous postcards, densely packed with firm suggestions about what a sixty-year-old beginning poet might do to improve her first poems. "In general," said one, "you have trouble at the end of your poems." While I was too shy to show my work to most (and remain so), I found I could put them in the mail to you, burdening you, I'm sure. I doubt you can imagine what a role your encouragement played in my decade-long existential struggle. In my worst moments, a postcard from you would arrive with comments on one of my poems, and I would once again start scribbling in my notebooks until I wrung out another poem.
I hope you consider all that you have done for others—not just in a literary way, but in a body-and-soul-saving way—and be glad for it, be joyful in it. Your endurance has been monumental and graceful in a world that sees too little of it. I, for one, am a testament to that fortitude and will remain forever grateful for you.
* * *
William Logan's new book of poems, "Rift of Light," will be published in 2017.
Kathryn Starbuck's poetry collections are Griefmania and Sex Perhaps, which was considered for the 2015 Pulitzer; she received a 2016 poetry prize from Bellevue Literary Review for a poem from "Existential Chitchat," her third manuscript.
Christian Wiman's selected poems will be published in November. He was the recipient of the Aiken Taylor Prize for Modern Poetry in 2016.
University of the South, Sewanee, Tennessee
Editor: George Core
Managing Editor: Robert Walker