Elder Mountain, published at Missouri State University-West Plains, will feature “manuscripts from all disciplinary perspectives (particularly anthropology, economics, folklore, geography, geology, history, literature, music, and political science), as well as interdisciplinary approaches; and high-quality short stories, poems, and works of creative nonfiction and visual art that explores the Ozarks.” Work must be “carefully wrought” and “free of common Ozark stereotypes.” This first issue includes the work of 8 poets, 3 fiction writers, 6 essayists, and 2 visual artists, one of whose photographs, a black and white image of house looking solitary and solid (by Barbara Williams) is reproduced on the back cover.
Member of the editorial board C.D. Albin introduces the journal with a note explaining that this region of the country is “too often overlooked or misunderstood,” and I must admit that I really do know very little about the Ozarks and seldom hear it referred to. Maribeth Sisco, a journalist, public radio show host, and teacher (among other professions cited in her bio), and a graduate of MSU, who named the journal, contributes the opening essay, “Making Enough to Get Home On,” in which she describes outmigration from the Ozarks to other regions of the country and recounts a personal story of outmigration and migration back home. The desire to leave and the yearning to go home may be a common story in the Ozarks, but it may also be what this region shares with so many others and what may make these regionally based works both particular and universal.
With all the weather-related disasters lately, including tornados in the Ozark region over the last few days, I was compelled by Andrea Hollander Budy’s poem “After the Tornado”:
in the otherwise untouched
paper sky a thick chip
of purple pigment imbedded
like a shard in the vacant page
above the king’s unsuspecting shoulder
where, as the real sky grew gray and wild,
the child must have pressed down hard
The nature of the place (literally) is central, too, in Budy’s poems about the seasons in the Ozarks; in Matt Brennan’s poems, “Remembering the River,” and “Biking in the Ozarks” (“into the plenitude of pines and maples”); Jo Van Arkel’s short story “Floodwater”; and Gary Kolb’s black and white photographs of the Shawnee National Forest.
Kristine Somerville’s personal essay “My Swedish Cousin,” recounts a childhood memory of a relative’s visit and first encounter with her Ozark home. Zachary Michael Jack explains how he came to own the swathe of Ozark land he now calls his own in his essay “The Iowa-Ozarker: A Creation Story.”
The work that engaged and interested me most is Matt Meacham’s essay, “A Metaphorical Geography of John Hartford’s Musical Career.” Meacham is an adjunct faculty member at MSU, and a public folklorist with the West Plains Council on the Arts. John Hartford (1928-2005) was a professional songwriter and recording artist who was born and raised in St. Louis and later moved to Nashville. Meacham calls this piece “an interpretive essay.” He explores Hartford’s development as a songwriter and musician against the context of his regional affiliations, the musical tendencies of the times, and the record industry and development of the country music scene. The essay is informative and readable, a good example of well researched scholarship not burdened by academic jargon or the need to legitimize the endeavor with arch language and obscure references. I hope the journal will continue to publish humanities writing of this sort, there is far too little of it written and/or published.