Hunger Mountain announces itself quietly. The cover looks like a mixture of a chess piece and a road map. Reading the issue’s first poem, Annie Lighthart’s “White Barn”, prepares me for pieces featuring a home on the range, or of lives lived under a guise of simple lives and simple times. There are no flashy mechanics to the journal itself—the art is in black and white, the poetry and fiction well-worded and sometimes blunt, and the creative nonfiction as well as the young adult offerings all carry voices frank and honest. Fiction editor Barry Wightman even states it in his foreword letter: “You may ask yourself, ‘what’s this all about?’ . . . Horses. Horses. Horses. Horses.” I was prepared for horses. But what I received was much more than that.
The fiction was the star of the show for me here. While the subject matter varied wildly—from starlings in an attic to a bus stuck in a bridge to a father and son exchanging blows—each piece is marked by intimate character perspective. In Kendall Klym’s “Pavlova,” we begin with a recipe for a passionfruit meringue, and are led through a series of perspectives that all lead up to the reason for a deception in a Midwest ballet company. It reads easily, the characters’ individual voices are strong, and the story winds up presenting a 360 degree view through six voices of decisions and consequence. Alternatively, Patrick Dacey’s “Remember This” keeps us in the first-person perspective of a boy who’s looking to seek revenge on a grizzly bear. Despite a staunch hunt and razor-sharp focus on revenge, the voice often branches into memory, and we see the recollections of his father and the change of the area where the grizzly made its mark.
“Homing Instincts,” creative nonfiction by Dionisia Morales, brings readers in close with a family’s difficulty to accept change after a major house fire. We see a mother that has always wanted to own a house, and moving closer to her daughter not only gives her that chance but eases the burden of caring for her husband with Alzheimer’s. Through the rebuilding of the burned home, the daughter recognizes that “understanding the opposing forces that shaped [her] parents’ sense of home gave deeper meaning to their terse arguments . . . it revealed how ingrained people’s impulses can be about the nature and purpose of shelter.” That security and concept of shelter not only played a main role in the rebuilding of this particular story’s characters, but also arched into the issue’s poetry.
Carrying the same blunt voices as in the fiction, Hunger Mountain’s poetry strays contemporary as we dive into why “The Pope Does Not Reply to My Tweets” by Brandon Amico. He is “lost in the middle of everything,” and his “fingers worry the keys” as he searches for a home he may never find. Kathleen O’Toole’s “Medium” explores bird watching as “hoping for a medium—four months / and I still can’t conjure your voice . . .,” and Catherine Freeling’s “A Short History of Ironing” is indeed a short history of ironing. Everyday occurrences and items guide these poems into a territory that makes them accessible, simple even, but buried in each are great nuggets of voice, scenery, or word play.
The realistic nature of the literary offerings in Hunger Mountain, along with the exaggerated realism juxtaposed with clean lines that are displayed in the art sprinkled through the pages, makes this a go-to for solid stories and surprises.