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82 Western American Literature The Forgotten Language: Contemporary Poets and Nature. Edited by Christopher Merrill. (Salt Lake City: Gibbs-Smith Publisher, 1991. 176 pages, $14.95.) Reviewing an anthology always presents special problems. With so many authors (93) and works (149), what does one praise or blame? A reviewer must look instead at how well the editor’s purposes are realized. The editor’s intro­ duction here makes his purpose clear: “. . . what these poems suggest in their various ways is the need to respect the earth, which has suffered so much at our hands.”His program is environmental; his medium is poetic. He acknowledges “a political component embedded in the tradition of nature poetry,”but this is more implicit than overt. Does the anthology succeed? For the most part, yes. It contains fine poems that provide insights into our relationship with nature. One might mention Sandra Alcosser’s bear poems, and A. R. Ammons’s “Corson’s Inlet,” about form in nature and art. Philip Booth’s “How to See Deer,”Joseph Bruchac’s “Cattail Wind,” Christopher Buckley’s “Sparrows,” John Daniel’s “Common Ground,” and James Dickey’s “The Last Wolverine” are notable. Hayden Carruth’s “Essay” looks both at nature and nature poetry. Gary Snyder’s and William Stafford’s poems are wonderful as usual. Some few selections, however, seem out of place, out of harmony. Aga Shahid Ali’s “Leaving Sonora,”Ralph Angel’s “It Could Have Been More,”and Douglas Crase’s “The Revisionist” use natural images, but they are not nature poetry. Wendell Berry’s delightful “Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front” is not nature poetry. Compare it with Michael Pettit’s “Neat New Eng­ land Fields,”with the same theme but looking directly at humanity’s relation­ ship with nature. Norman Dubie’s “Elegy to the Sioux”is not a nature poem, in contrast with Louise Erdrich’s “I Was Sleeping Where Black Oaks Move,”which is a nature poem, from a Native American angle of vision. One might question why Donald Hall’s poem about draft horses, or Maxine Kumin’s about selling a domestic lamb for slaughter, are included. Such lapses in focus are distracting. Nevertheless, for those who care about humanity’s relationship with nature, and feel the power of poetry, this is a worthwhile and sometimes moving book. PAUL T. BRYANT Radford University Nightsoil. By Levi Peterson. (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1990. 192 pages, $14.95.) There is a quiet movement afoot in western literature to forge a missing link, and perhaps without even knowing it or wanting to be, Levi Peterson is one of the strongest forces in that movement. Reviews 83 The complaint heard for years when Utah writers got together was that mainstream publishers wouldn’t take “Mormon writing” seriously. Of course, “Mormon writing”too often meant writing that was theologically correct: good books too often bearing the flaw of imposed doctrine—so that when the final turn came, the author was too willing to leap to faith in ways unearned by the narrative. Now something else is happening as Mormons are appearing in books that are gaining wider audiences. Franklin Fisher’s Bones, Judith Freeman’s The Chinchilla Farm, and Walter Kirn’s My Hard Bargain all take tough, human, realistic looks at Mormons. But it is Levi Peterson who is writing of that rare place: Mormon Utah. In his new collection of stories, Nightsoil, Peterson shows us an earthy, untutored world where people are people first and Mormons sometime after that. This is the best writing about rural Utah since Stegner’s Recapitulation. Peterson’s characters are full of questions and he’s a better writer than to give them pat or easy answers. In the most poignant story in the book, “A Wayne County Ro­ mance,”the “bulky and bald”rancher Wallace has a midlife crisis. He yearns for the exotic and elegant—and what he has is Wayne County. It’s the day Wallace decides to leave the place forever, a day laden with the uneasy and complex compromises of literature. Every story in the book centers on the romantic and mundane problem of living a good life. In “The Third Nephite...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1948-7142
Print ISSN
0043-3462
Pages
pp. 82-83
Launched on MUSE
2017-10-04
Open Access
No
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