Concho River Review is a traditional literary magazine, offering the old-fashioned pleasures of text and comprehensibility under the motto “Literature from Texas and beyond.” Published twice a year in paperback by Angelo State University, and part of the Texas Tech University System, the contents are mostly from Texas, with little from beyond. They are neatly arranged in sections for fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and book reviews, with roughly equal amounts of each, with no graphics or artwork.
The Texas flavor comes through in rural settings and agricultural subjects. “A Silver Belt Buckle” by Vivian Witkind Davis, is an essay about “my career as a cowgirl” riding horses at summer camp in 1959. “The Blizzard at the Monkey Ranch” by Donald Mace Williams is a story about cattle ranching, a blizzard, and two rhesus monkeys. “Weekend Morning” by Lowell Jaeger is a poem in which two people soak in a hot tub “sipping rich coffee / and talking about raising chickens.” And Grant Sorrell contributes an “Ode to the Texas Heat,” which strings together images of hot weather, “the kind that builds you up / as it boils you down.” Regardless of genre, these pieces successfully place readers in the middle of rural Texas.
The setting especially evident in the nonfiction, “The Texas Stream” by Donley Watt is a memoir that begins: “In 1952 Daddy bought a 160-acre piece of land in Henderson County, a perfect square of a farm that was, at that time, the last stop on a deep-sand road.” Daddy buys adjacent land and grazes cows on it, though “Daddy was no cowboy,” and the son suffers through chores and verbal abuse. After Daddy dies of a heart attack in 1979, the son sells the ranch. “But the land forever will hold hostage the hearts of those who care enough to name it,” the essay proving this sentiment.
There’s some Southern debauchery in this issue, from drinking, in a poem titled “Fight Night at Miller’s Tap” by Robert Lee Kendrick, to sex in the story “Knick Knack” by Larisa Harriger. Sung to Booger, “the big old hound lying on the kitchen lino,” the story reminisces on “this old man,” former and current husbands who are long-haul truckers, a quick, creative read.
And true to Southern form, there is God, the Devil, and church-going. In her poem “God’s OCD,” Maureen Sherbondy humorously speculates “after the nuclear explosion” on God’s habit of sending disasters in threes—bolts of lightning, earthquakes, floods. In more serious of a poem, “Predator,” C. S. Fuqua quotes an aggressive evangelist: “My friend, God has you in his sights,” and the poet answers: “When did God become the predator?”
Even petroleum comes up, in the essay “Fuel” by Gaynell Gavin. Though Gavin lives and teaches in South Carolina, and though her essay is set partly in Alton, Illinois, it deals with the hot topic of fracking, the extraction of shale oil. Buttressed by two pages of notes, she takes aim at related issues such as water pollution, global warming, toxins that cause cancer, and legal challenges to oil companies.
Concho River Review shares with its readers a unique aspect of Texas: the way it soaks into the language. You can hear the rhythms of Texas speech, the vocabulary, and the humor. In the poem “Tacos After Reading Updike,” Bob Gaskin addresses a line of internal dialogue to a waitress (also bringing religion back): “You’re so beautiful / It’s almost a sin to be you.”
The ten small press book reviews are brief and to the point, including poetry, fiction and The Native American Renaissance, a book of academic essays from the University of Oklahoma Press. Some of the authors or reviewers have connections to Texas as well.
All in all, Concho River Review shows how good a regional literary magazine can be.