My favorite part of North Dakota Quarterly is the “sea changes” – poetic little narratives about books that changed the reader’s (now the writer’s) life (way of thinking). This issue is swimming in fine poems, stories, and essays, nonetheless, I am most taken with these musings about “books that matter” and appreciate the chance to engage with something that is part personal essay, part “lit crit” of a sort, part book review, and part something new, a kind of “moment in time” memoir, for as the editors explain in their note, “the impact of a book depends not only on how it is read but when” (emphasis theirs). Fred Arroyo discusses V.S. Naipul. Robert Lacy explores his relationship with Joyce. Richard C. Kane considers Bruce Chatwin. Engaging, too, in the same way is Patrick Madden’s “Divers Weights and Divers Measures,” an essay of observations and musings about encounters with people in Montevideo, bookended by a consideration of the work of the prolific, insightful, and influential Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano.
Poems this issue reflect a generosity of vision, rather than narrow editorial predilections, from long narratives (Paul Mariani) to prose poems focused on landscapes (Gary Rainford) to Annie Boutelle’s “Quick,” taut couplets whose small images are larger than life (“and the ankles of girls swell // ravenously into those of old women // who putter around kitchens, consume the priest’s time”).
This issue of the magazine is heavier on prose than poetry, choices no less eclectic than the poetry, from Christine Hale’s family memoir, “Heavy Sex,” to “Starfall,” a story by Steven Yates about white/American Indian relations in a19th century village, to a chapter from a novel-in-progress by Sandra Hunter, a consideration of class and race embedded in a story of family relationships, to serious, full-length essays of analysis and criticism, Michael Faherty on Paul Blackburn and Erica Olsen on George Caitlin’s portraits of bison (American buffalo) – Caitlin’s paintings are truly worth contemplating.
I’ll close this review with advice offered at the beginning and conclusion of Joseph Bathanti’s tender and effective poem, “How to Bury the Dog”: “Put to bed the children early / the moon refuses such toil.” And “Let the earth do its work.” Put the kids to bed, pick a quiet spot where you can spend a long time without being disturbed, and let this journal do its work.