Weber: The Contemporary West, published by Weber State University, highlights literary and artistic talents from its home state of Utah and along the Wasatch mountain range. Among outstanding work included in this season’s issue is David Lee’s lengthy poem, “Postmortem: After the Obsequies,” which blew me away. It’s a mixed-form narrative in which a woman thinks back to her teen years and her first boyfriend, who:
[ . . . ] won me in a Gin Rummage game,
a man who had the commanding presence
to fill any room he entered
like the effluvial waft
of digested butter beans
[ . . . ] And, with the end of magic in my life,
I became his wife.
rain crushed through the live oaks
in a wild sprint, then circled
into the meadow like a band of Comanche warriors
flashing bows and spears, come in bright warpaint
to carry me away to join Cynthia Ann Parker . . .
Cynthia Ann Parker? Her name didn’t immediately click in. After looking up her amazing story of being kidnapped by the Comanche and adopted by them I saw just how beautifully Lee ties her into “Postmortem.”
Nancy Takacs pinpoints worries in a trio of poems from her book The Worrier. In “The Worrier: yellow-headed blackbirds,” the speaker is in conversation, asking and answering in an eye-catching format:
Will they arrive this year?
No, not this year.
[ . . . ]
What were their voices like?
Catmint and poppies.
Iron caught in the throat.
Among the fiction in Weber is Phyllis Barber’s “Adababa—an excerpt.” It’s 1856 in Osawatomie, Kansas, and the piece opens with this attention grabber that keeps its hold throughout the rest of the story:
Drying one hand on her apron as the horsemen thundered into the yard past the corral, she must have lifted the other hand to tell them to wait. “Please,” he heard her shout [ . . . ] The next word seemed timed to come out of her mouth as the bullet sank into her chest.
Another attention-grabber, featured artist Pam Bowman’s unusual cover installation combines rope, string, vinyl, steel, wood, paint, and caulking cotton. At first glance, it looks like a large, warm bootie. She says of her works: “The repetitive and labor-intensive processes I use to manipulate my materials reflect the tasks of living and the steady, continual efforts of life.” Her fascinating and slightly spooky work called Aggregation employs cotton fabric and batting, thread, found objects, and steel to create a man’s face.
Conversations with prominent writers take up a good deal of Weber. Simon Winchester, with a couple dozen books to his credit including The Professor and the Madman, converses with Christy Call of Weber’s English Department. Winchester delves into his views on climate change:
Whatever we do to it, the planet will recover. So, in a sense, our concern for the environment is ultimately selfish. We want to preserve the world as it is for us. [ . . . ] My own feeling is that humankind, just like any other species, will wipe itself out. [ . . . ] the planet will recover, but we won’t.
He mentions building New Orleans fifteen feet below sea level, and building San Francisco between continental plates, asserting: “we have this arrogant assumption that we can cheat nature, and our post-Voltaire understanding of the forces of nature haven’t taught us humility. [ . . . ] we tend to live in places that are beautiful, as we ought to,” says Winchester, adding, “with beauty comes savagery.”
Pulitzer Prize winner and 16th U.S. Poet Laureate Kay Ryan is interviewed by Weber professor Gail Yngve. When asked about the size of her poems, most of which fit easily on a page, Ryan replies with a good point, “I think apparent size is so completely superficial that it doesn’t matter. Something that appears big is not significantly big; something that appears small may not in any way be small. It’s just a little outside dressing.”
Ryan also offers insight into Poet Laurate selection for curious readers and writers: “[ . . . ] the ones who get it aren’t necessarily the ones who are best at it, and the ones who don’t get it maybe would have been marvelous. It’s as random as any other prize.” While in that role, instead of focusing solely on poetry, she used her influence to champion community colleges.
Not all entries in this issue are from western writers or even pertain to western issues. Australian Kathryn Hummel writes about her third trip to Bangladesh in the essay “Purusher Desh—Men’s Country,” where, “Seldom in the company of women and men together, I began to see Bangladesh as polarised by gender [ . . . ]” Elsewhere in the magazine, Irish writer Colm Tóibín is interviewed while at Weber, addressing the “hundredth anniversary of Ireland’s Easter Rising.”
The inclusion of wide-ranging contributors to Weber: The Contemporary West adds to the magazine without detracting from the spirit of its focus region. This literary mix of even more articles, stories, and poems than previewed here is an inspiring choice for your summer reading.