Since 1956, the Colorado Review has been dedicated to publishing the best in contemporary creative writing from both new and emerging writers, and the Spring 2012 issue is no exception.
The latest issue is rife with conflict, tension, and humanity from, quite literally, cover to cover. Starting with the artwork that wraps around its spine—a photograph by Regine Cloet—this issue of the Colorado Review puts relationships, characters, and everyday life under the microscope. The effect is an issue that is both heartbreaking and thought-provoking.
All of the writing in this issue is of the sort that makes you think long and hard about your own humanity and makes you wonder if you are actually the kind of person you think you are. Editor Stephanie G’Schwind remarks in her opening comments that the stories contained within fit well into the category of characters with whom trouble is visited. She calls the fiction section “On Our Best Worst Behavior,” but that distinction may well suit the rest of the issue just as well.
The fiction selection includes stories from Andrea Dupree, Antonya Nelson, Charles Haverty, and Heidi Diehl. All four stories center on discontented domestic scenes—marriages strained by infidelity, disease, or depression and a daughter struggling to connect with her mom. My personal favorite, though, is Haverty’s “Tribes,” in which a failing television comedy writer loses his wife when he bets $10,000 that Jimmy Carter will get re-elected. Tasked with getting his nephew back home to Maryland from New York City, the protagonist hatches a plan to reconnect with his wife with a little help from his son. Haverty’s characters are real, honest, and heartbreaking—especially the son, Allen, who is simultaneously seeking his father’s affection while also beginning to understand what a bumbling screw-up his father might be.
In keeping with the theme of “Our Best Worst Behavior,” the issue also offers two non-fiction essays. One is a meditation from Contributing Editor Charles Baxter on “undoings”—both in his own friendships and relationships and in those of the characters of some well-known fiction, non-fiction, and plays. The real standout, though, is Regina Drexler’s “Landslide” which juxtaposes the way both natural disasters and our own relationships have the capacity to upend our worlds in ways we never saw coming. Her essay, about a stay-at-home mother searching for companionship outside of her own tumultuous marriage, examines just how desperate people can be for connection and just how easily they’ll betray it to preserve themselves.
The poetry section of the issue features the work of 29 different poets, and, although the poems range comfortably from the narrative to the experimental to the surreal, the pieces included here seem to mirror the conflict and character in the journal’s first half.
Daniel Gutstein’s elegiac “Leaves” tows the line between nostalgia and lament as its narrator looks back at autumns past: “I walk the runoff to the river / find the cove / among rain-filled rock / where Warren and I used to spit chew.” The narrator’s ruminations along the water leave the reader with a poignant sense of contented resignation: “This, another year I’ve come alone / to watch the leaves light up the river.”
And there’s Erica Anzalone’s “Tentative Forward,” a poem told in three fragmented, stream-of-consciousness moments about what it means to exist in a world where so many people move in and out of our personal lives and spaces. She writes, “The world wants us to be different / faster, younger, perfect / as a little girl in a snowsuit / in the snow—”
My personal favorite is Bruce Bond’s “Crossfire,” which details the last moments of a hunted woodcock’s life with precision and curiosity: “The woodcock tilts his head / the world a puzzle.” Bond leads the reader through the Woodcock’s flight with drama:
When he stares ahead into the future,
it looks right through him. When he is hit,
it is one voice, one animal that cries,
to break the pool of heaven where he falls.
Though the pages of this issue are certainly filled with surprises and eye-opening moments, altogether the journal comes across as pensive. There are no big, happy endings or whimsical twists in the pages of this issue. But the sense of reflection that runs through each of its sections left me with a greater sense of what it means to be a resident of the world—and that, after all, is what good writing is supposed to do.