The subtitle on the moonlit cover of this issue is “Illumination from the Mountains.” If you’re from the West (Whitefish is in the northwest corner of Montana), if you love mountains, if you’re not afraid of a worldview from the rougher edge of the country, this is a magazine for you. Look for “illumination” throughout.
Not tangentially, the issue is full of art and photography. Thoughtful commentary from the artist accompanies each piece. One of my two favorites is “Underwater Figure Skater,” perhaps because it was photographed near my own home in Utah. But aside from that, it seems impossible—a ballet dancer wearing blades, floating effortless and yet dynamic, thirteen feet below the surface of a pool? Scott Markewitz says, in a revelry of understatement about his piece, that “There are quite a few technical challenges to shooting underwater,” but the result is beautiful. Colors, composition, line—all make you gasp.
My other favorite of the twelve art pieces shown in this issue is “Flower Child,” a primitivist wood carving of a figure like Mother Ginger in the Nutcracker Suite, with many sets of legs under a peasant skirt, by Torin Porter. The presentation is professional and beautiful. The magazine’s commitment to Montana artists is impressive throughout.
Literarily, the commitment continues. Two excellent interviews, one with Tom Brokaw who owns a ranch near Livingston, Montana and the other with two Montana authors, are informative, insightful, and personable. Brian Schott, the editor-in-chief of WR, conducted the interview with Brokaw, and his admission of nervousness puts us in his corner as he presents a “wild”-ish side of Brokaw we don’t usually see. From Brokaw, Schott elicits insights on issues from war and citizenship to writing and wilderness.
Equally insightful are the views issue editor Matt Holloway and managing editor Mike Powers pull from Montana poet laureate Sheryl Noethe and fiction writer David Allan Cates. Noethe’s poetry is represented by three “Greyhound Bus Log” poems earlier in the issue, a series framing stories strangely familiar to anyone who’s waited at a bus station or ridden beside a wanderer from a different world. In the interview, she comments pointedly on the “old boys’ club” of readings and writers’ panels. Her and Cates’s mutual respect informs the casual banter of the interview, which touches on the relationship between imagination and compassion, the American myth, and a poet’s demons.
Of the many fine pieces of creative nonfiction, “The End of the End of Desire,” by Scott Nadelson and Debbie Clarke Moderow’s “Line Dance” are particularly notable. Nadelson, a teacher at Willamette University and in the MFA program at Pacific Lutheran University, recounts his growing anger at the contrast between haves and have-nots in Portland, Oregon. Ruminations on Schopenhauer and the effort to not want underscore his experiences with “collectors” (homeless people) and with a couple spending huge amounts of money to “lift” their home. His voice is reasonable, appealing; the images easy to visualize. Moderow’s briefer piece describes a dogsledding race, a preparation for something like the Itidarod. Informative, excruciating, it allows a vision of the rigor, the cold, the physical hardship, and the relationships between dogs and humans that make such a race what it is.
One other work of creative nonfiction deserves mention. Meredith Stolte, a freshman at Columbia Falls High School (just a few miles south of Whitefish), writes that the cabin her grandfather built is “Not Just A Place” but “a refuge, a gathering spot . . . a reminder of what truly holds any meaning.” That Whitefish Review has published this accomplished piece is a credit to both the magazine and the young author.
Poetry is here, too, and fiction. Melissa Kwasny’s pagan prose poem “The Shaman’s Cave” is striking:
The thresholds appear, arcs stained with hematite, red ochre. Which give way to zigzags and stars. Until the line that divides the worlds snaps . . . We are without shields. Intrinsic lack of the right weapon. To assume closeness that is not there is to feel betrayed: possible bear, possible star figure, possible god.
Jerry McGahan’s story “The Carolina Wren” is terrific, the characters complex and interesting, the plot juicy. The titular bird is hundreds of miles out of its range, and the wife and husband who live on the land it has chosen to occupy must resolve personal and relational issues as it warbles a stream of birders into their lives. Their differences of worldview and opinion in regard to the bird weave a tangled thread of love and loss as the story unfolds. This piece may be the crown jewel of this issue of a very fine magazine. Whitefish, Montana, may not be your native land, but reading this magazine, you’ll wish it were.