Small but mighty, Jackson Hole Review makes its debut into the realm of literary magazines. If you’ve ever wondered about the strength and validity of place-based magazines, the lead essay “Almost Paradise” by Kim Barnes will give plenty of proof positive. Telling her own story of growing up near water and having to leave it behind, Barnes lays painfully bare how deeply connected she was and the mental and emotional suffering she experienced with leaving. Barnes turns to Jung and Campbell for the psychology and mythology of these deeper reactions we have to the planet, “You see, it is not simply the place that I miss, but the recognizable stories it contains. […] What I know is that the stories that take place in a particular landscape are what give us a strong sense of belonging, of attachment. They give us a sense of shared history, a narratival investment. […] How can we separate ourselves from the land that holds our stories?” Barnes’s essay is a good lead-in along with the editorial, setting up the theme of the magazine: Connect/Disconnect.
I can never be sure with place-based publications if I’ll be able to connect as an outsider. Place-based writing sometimes leaves me feeling like the party outcast, with authors place-name dropping and providing detail for insiders to make nostalgic connections, but that the rest of us can only read as ‘nice sensory detail.’ However, the place-based content in JHR is so subtle and well infused that I never felt this way. Clearly, the goal of JHR is to be both local and inclusive.
JHR is also inclusive in content, offering a balance of prose, poetry, and art. The prose all makes place-based references and is rich in character development. I had some trepidation that Patty Somlo’s snapshot narrative of a Native American Vietnam Vet’s return “home” in “Warrior” would fall into stereotypes, but the expressive detail and click-clean dialogue doesn’t allow this. Somlo deftly packs every line with external story as well as internal contemplation of the main character; I could not help but get caught up in the story’s final sweep of emotion. I love it when a story does that.
Susan Marsh’s “Gathering Blackberries” shares the difficult decisions families must make regarding the “family home.” At a time when the children are grown into their own lives, they must return and decide the fate of now-empty parent homes and property. Her commentary is practical, but not without pangs of desperate hope to “hold on” to the place, and the final painful reality of having to let the place go, no longer its own member of the family.
Mike Bressler’s “Elk Hunter” is an introspective narrative on the controversial issue of elk management. Bressler’s piece moves quickly from his connection to the issue through his own hunting and guiding hunts, to his disconnect: “Eventually I lost my passion for the hunt, and it was not with sadness, but resignation, that I put my gun away, finally realizing the time of the hunter is long dead.” But, as he continues, not the time of connection with these great beasts of nature.
Tinker Elizabeth Jacobs Duglo’s “Hydraulics” is a must-read piece on the health effects of fracking on a family’s only young child and their decision to move away from the environmental threat while others, out of necessity, must move closer. For all the news stories, it’s narrative pieces like this—the story of the people IN the place (fiction or nonfiction)—that allow us all to connect and to care.
The poetry in JHR is well-selected for its expression of theme and/or place and is, like the prose, strongly detailed and brief. Poems by Devin Murphy and Jenny Minniti-Shippey both tell about places within the larger place, each recounting both character and story, whereas Kirk VanDyke’s pieces provide more on the experience of place alone. Courtney Gustafson, Diana Smith and Caroline Treadwell offer works related well to the theme of connect/disconnect, as these lines from Gustafson’s poem attest: “We detach, detach, diverge, dissolve. / He sounds wonderful, I say. / What a stunning title, you say. / And we both nod and we dissolve.” Meg Daly’s two poems are detail rich in their accounts of connections, each ending with an arc which takes the reader into a greater emotional place.
JHR offers a center section of full-color artwork, showing as much here as in the writing their willingness to consider a wide variety of content: photography, 18th Century Japanese print technique images, solar plate prints, and paintings.
A well-balanced publication with both breadth and depth, both place-based and thematic, and both nostalgic and inviting, Jackson Hole Review is small but mighty, and only just getting started.