Wednesday, December 15, 2010

What I'm Reading: Third Coast Fall 2010

47º ~ close, hovering gray skies, the barest misting rain comes and goes, and still the wind ~ a day when the difference between the high and low will be 3 degrees, something that always startles me -- this lack of heating or cooling, stasis

To be specific, while I did read / skim the rest of the issue, what I want to write about here is Third Coast's Symposium on Writing and the Midwest, which appears in the Fall 2010 issue.  I've long admired the poetry in Third Coast, as the editors manage to publish a variety of voices and styles, but always with near-perfect pitch.  However, when I got the new issue and saw the announcement of the symposium on the cover, I knew that would be my target this time around.

One overarching idea that sticks with me is that there is a lot of negative description in terms of region here; in other words, we Midwesterners seem to identify ourselves as writers by what we are not and also by a certain blankness of canvass.  For example, Marianne Boruch writes in "Doubt, Shrug, Shadow":

"never really a regional voice, like the South's haunted, wily O'Connor or Welty or Faulkner.  Never the self-congratulating East with its historical weight such a burden, or -- in reverse -- the blow-it-off-don't-look-back (yahoo!) of the West.  But an ache, a doubt -- too many doubts -- a shadow a shrug, a feel for hope and desperation in equal amounts.  So we apologize without reason, or because we're prophets, or because we're bored, or because we really are sorry about everything and haven't a clue what to say.  Or because we're just curious and that might open up a new trapdoor to yet another cellar of pain or discovery.  We're never that far from the dark."


In "Not Much Will Have Happened," Nancy Eimers adds:

"Anywhere place doesn't get in the way, or, to say it another way, place lends itself out ... to thought, to association, OK, frankly to absent-mindedness."  And of Midwestern landscapes, she writes, "They leave ... more room than, say, the Rocky Mountains.  Or the ocean.  Perhaps I mean that I like living in a place where 'not much will have happened.'"

Finally, Michael Levan includes this bit in his essay "The Midwest, A Found Text":

"Lacking the antiquity of the East, the tragedy of the South, or the destiny of the West, the Midwest is most often conceived of as an enduringly average region in the American imagination: a vast flat land to fly over where, despite rusty factories and troubled farms, small towns and neighborhoods persist and family values remain intact."  And later, Levan adds this: "The Midwest is hidden in plain sight."

All of this resonates with me and helps to crystallize the difficulty of defining this region, a region where many people, in fact, dispute boundaries on all sides. 

Other wonderful notes from this collection of mini-essays:

David Baker, "Native Colors"
"And I also tire of a regional poetry that is content to valorize place, that feels akin to the school-spiritedness that makes me cringe just as I cringe at much of the hip new crowd's work."
(ahem...I may have been a bit guilty of this myself but agree anyway)

Monica Berlin, "Your Slow Pulse"
"You think of the Midwest as this landscape that says, Stay.  A geography of Stay.  A topographical map that roots you here.  The horizon, that line, stretching out and again, just so, convinces you to stay because it asks that little of you."
(Although I did not stay, I love this version of the horizon line.)

Lee Martin, "Gravel Roads"
"...the soybeans and cornstalks cast green skeins across the fields, growing in straight rows, the straighter the better because a man who sowed a crooked row was suspect."
"We lived on ground that was right and true, and if I was to be any kind of man at all, I'd be the same."
"Straight talk in a straight land.  Say it plain.  Put your head down and go.  Tell a story that runs true."
(I grew up on those ruler-straight gravel roads, watching those row crops out of car windows and from a bicycle seat, mesmerized by the way they measured the distance to the horizon without swerving.  The dust is still in my mouth.  The unending straightness embedded in my spine.)

Eula Bass, "Short Talks on the Midwest"
"If you think the Midwest is flat, push a baby carriage up the bluffs in Dubuque.  You will reach a pitch at which the baby is looking directly into your eyes.  At that point, tell the baby the Midwest is flat and continue telling him this until he grows up or leaves or looks away or believes you despite everything."
(don't even get me started about 'flat')

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Third Coast
Fall 2010 
Western Michigan University


Kathleen said...

I love their honesty, and I love yours.

Ah, I know so well those rows of corn and beans.

And the wild variations, the rolling beauty, and even the mimosa (!) of southern Illinois....

Sandy Longhorn said...

Down here in Arkansas, the mimosa is a 'trash tree.' I love its beauty no matter what.

Kristin said...

I love the snippets you provide--wonderful!

It's interesting to have settled for the last almost 13 years in a place where almost everyone is a recent immigrant. In fact, having lived here 13 years gives us a certain (odd) rootedness. Very different from some Southern towns where I've lived, where when I went to rent an apartment, people would ask me about my people--and they really wanted to hear details about my grandparents and all their community connections.

I feel seeds germinating in my brain's soil, and I'm looking forward to my writing time tomorrow! Thanks!!!!

Sandy Longhorn said...

Kristin, my very Iowan grandmother even wanted to know about my husband's people, even though he's from Arkansas and she would have no idea about their connections. In my experience, roots happen quickly, slowly, and sometimes never at all. Glad you found a welcome spot.

Molly said...

Fascinating to me, another midwesterner, but from the third coast (Michigan's lake/dune country) which is such a different landscape than, say, farm country in Iowa. Thanks for calling my attention to this issue.

Sandy Longhorn said...

Molly, I highly recommend the journal overall and this issue in particular. Hope you are warm!