I opened the third volume of Elder Mountain: A Journal of Ozarks Studies with some trepidation. I have limited knowledge of the Ozarks and literally no exposure to Missouri’s highlands, so I worried about reading and reviewing a journal dedicated to publishing poetry, fiction, and nonfiction about an area which was completely foreign to me. But, I need not have worried so: this volume is rich with details that help reconstruct the Ozarks in terms of place, people, and culture.
The emphasis here really is on the people of the Ozarks, and I’ve found that, even with such a definitive landscape, they are people I can identify with. Through sixteen poems, three stories, and two essays, their stories provide insight that is at first localized but then expands into something universal.
This volume of Elder Mountain begins with a civil war era story, “Tell Me a Story That I Might Love You” by Steve Yates. The story begins with Leighton and Patricia “as they rolled toward a marriage that seemed a capital idea in a ledger book, but took as yet little account of anyone’s heart.” As they ride together, the disagreeable couple recount stories from their past, of friends and family, more anecdotal than personal experience, and, through their storytelling, a subtle spell of love, or the beginnings of love, is cast. Similarly, the two other fiction pieces, “Rest” by James Fowler and “Pancake Mornings” by Iris Shepard, reveal how stories can create bonds between disparate people.
The essay “Why I Am Trying to Learn to Fly Fish” by Jack Emerson, probably my favorite piece in this volume, turns a story about fishing into a thoughtful piece about parenting and family. Emerson is sentimental—in a good way—heartwarming, and quite funny at times: as his father says to him, “You know how to put a worm on the hook, don’t you? . . . You put ‘em on so they don’t come off.”
This volume also includes three scholarly essays. Lynn Morrow traces the history of the term “Ozark” in “The Vernacular Ozark(s): Our Placename Revisited”; Bonnie Stepenoff unearths the anti-war sentiments of an Ozark poet in “The Anti-War Poetry of Mary Elizabeth Mahnkey”; and Brian C. Campbell brings an agricultural aspect in “Seed Swap in the Ozarks: A New Old Approach to Agricultural Biodiversity Conservation.”
I have to say that the three scholarly essays at first seem a bit odd next to the poetry and the short fiction. The essays are interesting in and of themselves, well written and highly informative, but it is somewhat jarring to go from reading poetry to reading an academic essay and then back to poetry again. For this reason, I think this volume is best read in pieces, rather than from start to finish. Thumb through and read what catches your eye, then come back and do the same later; it shouldn’t disappoint.