There’s something undeniably Faulknerian about this issue of the University of Montana’s literary journal CutBank. You’d think that the publication would cater to luminous pieces of prose and poetry that highlight the golden beauty of the Rocky Mountains, work that showcases rugged mountain people born with a heritage of adventure and manifest destiny. While CutBank does feature poetry and prose that praise the glory of the Midwest, this issue’s selection of contributions seem to be fascinated with the darker elements of human nature, of greed and tainted love, sad-eyed people searching for a savior.
Right off the bat, a perfect example of this display of twisted and aching humanity can be seen in Laura Kate Resnik’s “Homespun.” A powerful piece of fiction, “Homespun” tells the story of a cynical and unforgiving female narrator who is ashamed of her less-than-pristine family background and thus invents a web of lies for her oblivious boyfriend. From the very first paragraph, Resnik crafts a narrative voice that is believable and wounded, her festering bitterness functioning as a defense mechanism. The initial insight into the narrator’s past is alluring and effective:
I told him my parents are dead. It’s not exactly the truth. My father left when I was thirteen. He could very well be dead, but last I heard he was in Pittsburgh. My mother, as far as I know, lives in a dilapidated little house in eastern Pennsylvania. The house’s name is painted on a piece of two-by-four and hangs above the front door: Madeline. It’s always been Madeline. This is the house I grew up in, the house my father left, the house my mother was becoming.
Similarly, Bradley Harrison’s poem, “Diorama of a People, Burning,” paints a gruesome portrait of small-town residents drowning in the sea of unrelenting misery. Harrison doesn’t have any problem making his characters suffer, as grief and despair serve as the threads that link each individual. In one line, the efforts of a local pastor are praised and in the next, she “buys a gun and swallows it wholly, brains in the bookshelf.”
If you tend to favor poetry over prose, then you’ll surely enjoy combing through CutBank. While the journal does contain fiction and nonfiction pieces, the bulk of the issue consists of poetry, a mixed offering of the eclectic and eccentric juxtaposed against the compact and lyrical. Many of the featured poets are not afraid to play with page layout and structure; such experimentation diminishes the possible monotony of back-to-back poems.
Although the journal may not pander to everyone’s taste, the strong collection of voices creates experiences that touch upon varying locations, cultures, and perspectives. Additionally, Nikki Witt’s line drawings add an interesting aesthetic. Keeping with the unofficial theme of the issue, Witt creates bare-bones figures that showcase the relationships described in certain works.