North Dakota Quarterly is a scholar’s delight. The well-chosen creative nonfiction, poetry, and fiction are bookended by two incisive papers and eight book reviews. All of the work is informed by an interesting frame of reference; the beautiful Great Plains can be found in these pages, as can knowing glimpses of the rest of the world.
Allen Josephs, past president of the Hemingway Society and Foundation, illuminates “The Meaning of Fishing in Hemingway’s Work.” In Papa’s writing, Josephs asserts, “the meaning of fishing, always anchored in a pristine natural world, becomes a spiritual matter of utmost importance.” The piece is revealing and reflects deep research; even better, it inspires the reader to go back to his or her bookshelf and reach for Hemingway’s Collected Stories.
In the issue’s other scholarly essay, Robert Lacy offers a biography of Robert M. Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Lacy points out that Pirsig “was a geek back at the dawn of the computer age, before the Internet, before the likes of Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg made being a geek fashionable.” Now somewhat reclusive, Pirsig seems to live a happy existence, comfortable in the belief that he has achieved his potential.
Andrea Kott’s story “The Guns” arrives at the perfect time, with the American relationship with guns under increased consideration. The first-person narrator is a mother whose teenage son, Ben, is suffering through the loss of his friend. Lucas, a one-time enemy, has died of a brain tumor. Ben is adrift, spending his time mourning, visiting his friend’s grave, and turning his room into a shrine. While away at camp, the narrator finds a rifle and a handgun hidden in the boy’s laundry. Even though they’re BB guns, mother and father don’t like the turn of events. Kott paints the heartbreaking final scene with a great deal of empathy. The story seems to reinforce a truth we sometimes forget: despair can only be countered with empathy and understanding.
I love poetry about historical artifacts and situations. Jeanine Stevens delivers four such poems. The Venus of Lespugue is a small ivory statue that depicts a woman with exaggerated secondary sex characteristics; the statue may be a work of sympathetic magic to invite fertility. Stevens imagines the small piece of art in the hands of a prehistoric man who discovered or created it. (It seems as though the reader may choose between the two options.) The man’s reaction reinforces the true meaning of art:
He could trade
for a fire-hardened spear,
but she is palm size, small
enough for a hunter’s pouch.
The Venus of Lespugue inspires Stevens’s prehistoric narrator, appealing to his need for art. Can’t we all relate to this impulse?
The reviews in this issue of NQR are top-notch, offering extensive summaries of the work in question in addition to critical appraisal. Fred Whitehead’s review of Thomas McGrath: Start the Poetry Now!, a new book of essays about the poet, also serves as an intriguing introduction to one of the twentieth century’s most celebrated American writers. Henry Braun considers the future of poetry in his review of Kevin Stein’s Poetry’s Afterlife: Verse in the Digital Age. Braun’s commentary makes Stein’s book a must-read for those of us who hope to return poetry to a place of importance in American society.
North Dakota Quarterly reflects the feeling of the region in which it is produced. The pieces offer great pleasure for those brave enough to surround themselves with unending horizon instead of skylines and concrete canyons.