Having somehow never heard of Willow Springs prior to this issue arriving on my doorstep, I was excited by the caliber of the authors listed on the cover: Amorak Huey, Kathryn Nuernberger, Roxane Gay, and even an interview with one of my all-time favorites, Tim O’Brien!
I’m happy to report that my excitement was warranted. Starting with an absolutely beautiful cover—a colorful, intriguing, slightly creepy painting with a bright orange background—the journal jumped out of the pile begging to be read.
The work featured in the issue was just as alive and vibrant as the colors on its cover, and there’s not a single piece of poetry, fiction, or nonfiction in the issue that doesn’t stand out on its own, begging to be read again.
One of my favorite pieces was Julialicia Case’s “Growing Like Houses” in which two young women in Philadelphia must navigate both the trajectory of their young lives and the disrepair of the apartment they share where mushrooms sprout overnight in the bathroom. The short reflection is filled with wit and insight and moments that make you eager to keep reading and to find out what else this narrator knows, such as this one, where the narrator is helping a student at an adult literacy center:
I go over to the man to see how he’s doing. His paper is filled with letters, lined up, squished together, no punctuation, no spaces, no recognizable words: “bympazinjhg,” he’s written.
I sit beside him. “Will you read me what you’ve got so far?” I say.
“I want to be a better man,” he begins.
The fiction also sings with the same kind of intuition and craft. Two of my favorites were Miranda McLeod’s “Mrs. Schafer Gets Fit”—a pointed portrait of a woman tasked with discovering her identity now that her young adult daughter has moved out without leaving a forwarding address—and Jess Walter’s “Eating Human Flesh,” in which an excited young writer makes a pitch made for a movie about the Donner family (earnestly titled Donner!). Both stories exhibited a sense of control in seemingly uncontrollable situations—McLeod in Mrs. Schafer’s pursuit to move forward while making peace with the past, like in this passage, where Mrs. Shafer weighs in at home:
The shower is heating up, the air around her growing warm and moist. Jessica, of course, would not find two-hundred-and-seven acceptable. If anything, it would make her angry. That Mrs. Schafer weighs this much to begin with, that Mrs. Schafer does not care. That, by cruel logic of genetics, Jessica herself could weigh two-hundred-and seven someday.
And Walter’s narration is a careful balance of ambition, naiveté, and cheese.
. . . Now we go closer again, and you see between the Indians, this gaunt creature, practically a skeleton, wild beard, barefoot, his clothes just tattered rags, staggering to the cabin . . .
. . . is William Eddy! The ranchers get Eddy some water. A bit of flour, which is all his constricted stomach can handle. His eyes well with tears. ‘There are others . . . in an Indian village near here’ he tells them, with barely enough breath to power his weak voice.
The issue also features a diverse selection of poetry and poetic voices—from a translation from Chinese to poems in prose to dreams and drinkers and enormous castles. Overall, the collection is full of adventure, moxie, and doggone solid writing. It’s certainly an issue I would recommend and a journal I’ll be on the lookout for in the future.