Saturday, June 9, 2012

An Elevated View: Colorado Writers on Writing, edited by W. C. Jameson

As I was reading the essays in An Elevated View, I didn't think the pieces had much in common. That wasn't surprising, given that the editor had told the writers "not to feel bound or restricted by anything." Yet, as I sat down to write this review, I started to see patterns in how the essayists had responded to such questions as: Why do you write? What motivates you? How do you persevere? What are your joys? How and why are Colorado writers different from writers elsewhere?

One group of writers focused rather specifically on writing--Margaret Coel writing about the interactions among inspiration, research, and imagination; Kym O'Connell Todd and Mark Todd talking about writing as a team, Larry Meredith on the necessity of writing about interesting people doing interesting things; Mara Purl talking about evolving from a nonfiction to a fiction writer; Kathy Brandt on the agony of writing. The best of the essays in this category is Dan Mason's "Opening a Town," in which he ruminates on writing his verse novel Ludlow. In just a few pages, he manages to entertain the reader with a story, teach the reader about poetry, and challenges the reader to think about why "the ordinary is extraordinary."

A second group of writers emphasize the personal journey to a place (both literal and metaphorical) where their writing "worked"--Dan Guenther, a Vietnam vet, reflecting on how both he and Denis Johnson, who was not in Vietnam, find and share meaning through writing about the war; Mario Acevado on the writer's need to overcome obstacles ("Cowboy Up"); Susan Tweit on finding the landscape that allows you to do your best work. My favorite in this category is Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer's "From Pretty Pink Bows to Chicken Manure: Embracing Poetry as Practice." Trommer describes how her life transformed--not always with her consent--and how letting that transformation happen showed her the value of letting her life and her poetry "break open."

The third and smaller group of writers tell stories of spiritual journeys--Joe Stone, himself a shamanic priest, writes about "The Writer as Shaman" while Laurie Wagner Buyer, whose essays lends its title to the collection, writes about landscape, spirituality, illness, and writing.  The following sentence from Stone's essay encapsulates for me why I did not enjoy the articles in this group: "And the energy waves of possibility you generate by contemplating these words resonates into the world and brings us that much closer to the new reality of unitive consciousness." I either don't actually comprehend what they're talking about or I find it to be nonsense clothed in the word.

It is not a coincidence that both of the essays I particularly admired--Mason's and Trommer's--included extensive excerpts or examples of their work. Perhaps it is also not a coincidence that both are poets. Their essays were both substantively and stylistically rewarding. If you put your hands on this slim volume, I recommend reading these two essays and skimming the other entries to see if anything appeals to your particular taste.

Favorite passages:
From Dan Mason:
My own need for intimacy is implicated in what I write--a desire to be known or understood or simply touched. Writing is a regression to vulnerable states as well as an assertion of powers beyond ourselves.

A poet is more than throbbing wound. A poet is also a drummer on the road, trying to open up a town.

From Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer:
Letting go has been the theme of most of my recent poems. It's as if the poems are proofs for me as I try to learn these new geometries of family and place. I'm trying to learn what all treasure hunters know: clues are everywhere. I just need to be willing to notice, to see beneath the tarnish of expectation

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