We’ve all said or heard from time to time: “old friends are the best.” This adage is certainly true with the Fall 2011 issue of Prairie Schooner. I’ve known this magazine for a long time—it has been published for longer than most of us reading it have been alive—and the current issue is just as lively and alive as the issues from the 1970s when I first subscribed in graduate school. Its generous collection of poems and prose is at once rich, exciting, challenging, and refreshing as the ample section of reviews is enlightening.
Although the Contents page errors (in my opinion, or suspicion) in describing Bethany Maile’s “Ladies’ Night at the Shooting Range” as an essay, this more aptly described short story is one not to be missed. Full of character development and stage setting, the protagonist has the reader in the palm of her hand through every load, cock, and shot on the range. She enlightens, beginning with her eighth birthday gift from her father—a BB gun—and takes us on an adventure with Wyatt Earp and Butch Cassidy “through hayfields and horse pastures”—to “ladies’ night at the Marksman Pistol Range.” I found a poet’s sensitivity in Bethany Maile’s work as much as I found an author’s keen articulation of craft in plot development.
“In a Small Room” is one of three poems featured by one of the 20th Century’s finest poets, David Wagoner. A poet who edited the magazine Poetry Northwest out of Seattle for decades, and who taught with Theodore Roethke on the faculty at the University of Washington for many years. Wagoner’s sense of place in his poems is a recurring trademark, and one worthy of visiting in these pages. In Wagoner’s second contribution to this issue, his poem “Lumber” is a shaped piece “to a perfectly horizontal / elegance.”
There are other remarkable poems in this issue, perhaps most notably three by Linda Pastan. Her “Counting Sheep” will do nothing toward putting the reader to sleep with “errant / images of sex” and “the dangers / of sunstroke, / riptide, jellyfish.” And in her poem “The Hired Mourner,” the reader finds “that silk-lined boxcar to eternity.” In Pastan’s poetry, metaphor is the reader’s constant companion.
Reading several of the earlier poems in this issue is like taking a Sunday stroll through an art museum: “Picasso’s Eyes” and “At the Rothko Chapel” by Alice Friman are but two fine examples. As are the run of Georgia O’Keeffe inspirations: “At the Magnolia Hotel,” “Retreat into Night,” “Ranchos Church, Taos, 1929,” and “Black and White” by Lavonne J. Adams. Tim Suermondt also envisions us with Van Gogh’s sunflowers in his fine poem, “All the Answers.”
In all, this issue of Prairie Schooner delivers from cover to cover, with poets and authors new to the reader, as well as the tried and true.