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182 Western American Literature Back in Keith County. By John Janovy, Jr. (New York: St. Martins, 1981. 208 pages, $10.95.) At one point in this collection of essays, Janovy likens his work to “a rich nutrient broth,” which is a fair description. His interests are wide and eclectic and his eye for detail excellent. His territory is the Nebraska Sandhills and he exhibits a deep fondness for people and places in the area where he serves as director for a university field station. The problem in this otherwise likeable book is one of assimilation. For an essayist as much as an amoeba, the presence of nutrients must be accompanied by the ability to digest and integrate the raw stuff of life. It is death for an amoeba to fail in this, while for an essayist the result is that the reader comes away perplexed, unsure of what the writer’s intentions may be. For example, in the essay “Disturbed Areas” Janovy opens with a brief portrait interspersed with thoughts on grasshoppers, then jump-cuts to a local reservoir for a portrait of a water-wary waitress and observations on unlimited hydroplane racing, thence to the Arapaho Prairie Research Area and an affectionate portrait of a colleague, with a look at the succession of prairie grasses, back to a female journalist and more unlimited hydroplanes, and finally concludes with an attempt to weave these threads into a theme and summary. The effort doesn’t quite come off, Janovy admitting at one point in the essay that he is prone to overextension. In this case, recognizing the problem doesn’t resolve things for the reader. Given his considerable talent and intellect and an often marvelous choice of words, Janovy best displays him­ self and his subjects in the shorter, simpler essays such as “Owls.” CLEM RAWLINS, Cora, Wyoming So This Is the Map. By Reg Saner. (New York: Random House, The National Poetry Series, #5, 1981. 95 pages, $5.95.) Reg Saner’s second book, So This Is the Map, furthers the voyage of discovery so well begun in Climbing into the Roots. For those who have not read the first book, one poem in the new collection serves as a distillation of Saner’s prime experience: RETURN TO TUNDRA AT BIGHORN FLATS, for Anne 4 years back, far from the lines of your hand, this mountain was it. I hiked into dead rock till stone spoke more deeply than anyone. Stunned on packweight, blank sun, thinned oxygen, I took talus piles for insane civilizations drawing me in, out of the lines of your hand, Reviews 183 prophesying my name as ruin, till granite held me at gunpoint and wind was a thug with stone propositions deeper than anyone’s. Climbing to keep my misery pure I knocked at odd cairns, bone eclipses spelling dim wreckage into the lines of all hands. But this is not where I am, with mountains that emptied a house. That was then — petrified smoke drawing me deeper, further than anyone, into iron seams like mean blue mouths sewn shut. How could blind rock go deeper than anyone? The plan of its temple iswind. No slabs spell my name. Only the lines of your hand. This poem is Saner’s “Tintern Abbey.” It reconstructs the Colorado Rockies as they then were for Saner, but it also raises the central question for all those who have entered holy ground and discovered in its shattered stone an analog to the shattered self— how to return, how to translate an experi­ ence with the ineffable, and make it sing in a human context. So This Is the Map is the next book in Saner’s odyssey; it is more wideranging and ambitious precisely because it accepts the imperative to return from “the stillness where all words are kept” and attempts no less than to encompass the paradox — that the ascent into the mountain is a descent into the “blue-eyed abyss” of the self— which is both its burden and its potential vehicle for transcendence. In “Mountain of the Holy Cross: San Juan Range,” he achieves a moment of integrative awareness: Within its nimbus of granite broken somehow into...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1948-7142
Print ISSN
0043-3462
Pages
pp. 182-184
Launched on MUSE
2017-10-04
Open Access
No
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