Here are five reasons why High Desert Journal continues to be one of the best “regional” literary magazines around.
1. It incorporates a striking variety of approaches to its subject area, the interior American West. This issue includes a stunning photo portfolio by Jim Leisy of objects collected over a decade in the Great Basin; an essay by Linda Hussa that will make you pay serious attention—if you don’t already—to Cowboy Poetry; and a prose poem, “Probability Clouds,” by Christopher Cokinos, that not only spans the Perseids meteor shower, an old love affair, the Manhattan Project, cave painting and quantum mechanics, but actually connects them all, beautifully and accessibly.
2. It’s a pleasure to hold and look at. The oversize format on high-quality glossy paper does justice not only to Leisy’s rich and sad photographs of old books, beer and oil cans, and a spice tin, but also to Karen Shimoda McAlister’s “Letters” and to Quintana Ana Wikwso’s “Wupatki, Houses of the Enemies.” This fiery photo/essay/prose poem bears witness to the artistic potential of adventuresome cross-media/cross-genre work when carried out in the right hands. Wikwso’s photos of sandstone pueblo towers were taken on “salvaged antique military and battlefield film cameras and typewriters . . . The chemistry and optics of these war-torn instruments record better than anything I can think of what spirals and coils at these sites—what remain, what lingers, what still exists.”
3. The writing maintains the high quality I’ve come to expect from High Desert Journal. Two favorites in this issue are Josh Beddingfield’s essay on a desolate corner of southwest Colorado, “Unsettlement,” and Lisa Wells eponymous essay on a similar place further west, “Fields, Oregon”—illustrated with black and white photographs by Bobby Abrahamson. Fields is home to less than a dozen people and is a quick stop to “middle-age liberal types” who complain about the price of gas and ask dumb questions before heading off “to another frontier, to scale the next mountain in their Gore-Tex. To pose and sip vitaminwater and condescend to earth.”
4. The magazine’s regional mission doesn’t stop it from publishing just plain great writing with only a tenuous connection to the High Desert. Case in point is Mary Jane Nealon’s “Amenable,” a wrenching essay about a homeless man who gets his life back from a mistaken HIV diagnosis—only to lose it intervening in a bakery shop robbery. The essay’s action takes place in New York City and its lovely epiphany in New Zealand. The connection to the West? Nealon now directs a health center in Missoula.
5. In addition to the high quality work already mentioned, High Desert Journal includes even more variety. There are poems by Terry Tempest Williams, Linda Hussa, Laura Winter, Scot Siegel, H. L. Hix and Jane Carpenter; an interview with singer-songwriter Martha Scanlon by HDJ editor Charles Finn; short stories by Russell Rowland and Erica Olsen, both about love and/or sex gone wrong; a whimsical essay about the Occupy Movement by Jack E. Lorts, the mayor of Fossil, Oregon; and book reviews by Jamie Hougthon and Kim Stafford.