Named after the Philosopher’s stone used in alchemy to create gold and unite matter and spirit, the Water-Stone Review does exactly what its name suggests – with paper and ink, it unites language and soul, words and spirit. This multi-genre review is diverse, fresh, artful, and exceptionally crafted. At the risk of sounding the fluff alarm, I have to say that the Water-Stone Review is truly golden.
One of the reasons this review is so darn good, is the beautiful and flowing way it is put together. It’s aesthetically pleasing, from its thick cream-colored pages to its glossy center photography spread, but it’s also pleasantly integrated. There are no separate genre sections. A poem flows into a story, which then flows into an essay and back to a poem, or maybe an interview. To me, this design says that all writing is an art form and equally valid. And if you’re wondering if you’re reading a fiction or nonfiction account, just flip back to the glossary.
The title for this volume is “In the Frame,” named after a nonfiction piece of the same name by Dinah Lenney. As the editor’s letter will tell you, thematically this is issue has a lot to do with the concept of “seeing.” I’ll go further and say that the pieces are not only about seeing and observing, but about perspective, how we all see things in different ways, and how perspective is intricately related to memory.
One of my favorite pieces in this volume is a short nonfiction piece titled “If I Had a Heart I’d Die In It: Writing the Midwest” by Ander Monson. It is both a humorous and poignant response to an Amazon.com reviewer who disliked Monson’s depiction of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula in his book Other Eccentricities. The reviewer states that, although not even having finished the book, he/she is outraged at the depressing way Monson has depicted the region.
Partly, I was absolutely tickled to read about the UP, having just spent my first winter on the Keweenaw Peninsula, but I was also impressed with Monson’s eloquent rebuttal to the anonymous reviewer. Monson says “It is not about a place. It is a place,” and later “I can’t write about your place. I don’t write about your place. There isn’t any such place.” He means that our perspectives are varied, and our experiences are even more so. Thousands of people grow up in live in the same town, but your memory of it is affected by what happened to you as a child, who dumped you in high school, what job you were fired from after college. We each have our own lens with which to view the world. Even a beautiful place can be haunting. Monson intelligently points out that he’s an artist, and his place is inside his mind.
The nonfiction is great, but so is everything else, from interviews to book reviews. The fiction and poetry also embody the themes of seeing and memory, as well as questioning and wonder. In “This Desire Stands Apart,” Eleanor Lerman says of desire: “It has been with you from birth and now it has decided not to let you sleep / Soon it will deny you food and a place to live until you achieve whatever end it seeks.” She asks, “How much more can you stand? / You can stand all of it, and there is no turning back: / the horizon creates itself in the image of / your desire and counts the hours until you cross.” The sentences in this poem do not end; they have no defining punctuation. Here, desire is continuous and open-ended. The poem ends with unanswered questions. Is this the speaker’s desire, particular to a specific person or place? Or is it the universal Desire? Big “D?” Most likely, it is both desire and Desire. We’re all human. We’re not told why we have desire and what will become of us because of our never-ending passions, only that we were made to survive, that we will survive. It is depressing and hopeful, overwhelming and accessible. In this poem, we’re asked to share an experience; our perspectives on desire may be very different, but we are all affected by it.
Last words. I wish I could write about each and every piece in this review. It’s not a magazine. It’s a behemoth of thoughtful, well-crafted, authentic works of literature. It’s worth the slightly higher price, and it only comes out once a year; don’t miss it. Check out their website for submission guidelines; you’d be honored by the gods to see your name printed in this one.