Apocalyptic Indeed

Review of Green Mountains Review, 20th Anniversary 2008 by Kirsten Feldman


Celebrating its twentieth anniversary with a double issue entitled American Apocalypse, the Green Mountains Review explores uniquely American dread, tempered with spare, yearning shreds of hope only toward the end. In stark contrast to its last double issue, Comedy in Contemporary American Poetry, ironically readied for publication just before the Towers fell in New York, this issue confronts head-on the changes in the American psyche since that fateful day as exemplified by the work of thirty-six poets and short story writers. Not for the faint-hearted or laugh-seeking reader, this group of writers as collected and edited by GMR's insightful staff found little to applaud and much to lament. With that said the work is well written, thoughtful, and provocative.

Throughout the collection the American evils, and they are many, run the gamut from big-box stores, television, immigration quotas, discrimination, haste, the President, this endless war, and all the previous wars to frivolous lawsuits, breast implants, religion, the lack of religion, the plethora of plastic bags, microwaves, and rock concerts. The gloom sets in right away; in Ellen Bass's "Birdsong from My Patio" she laments "Everything/ Is drenched with loss."

One theme that particularly resonated involved the loss of the written word, obviously meat and potatoes and maybe also manna to the writers involved. In Allen C. Fischer's "An Unspeakable Art" words have lost their meaning: "this metaphor is haunted, compressed into wordless/ annals"; in Cheyenne Nimes's downright funereal "Last Testament," "Someone will write the last word ever read." In William Pitt Root's "The Day the Sun Rises Twice" he acknowledges the futility of even writing but does it anyway: "I therefore make these black marks on the silence now/ knowing none shall remain to speak/ and none shall hear." For Sam Taylor in "Past Tense," "all the words/ fell out of the bibles" before the end came. And finally, at the nadir of the collection, in Richard Terrill's "The Last Great Places (North)" the time comes for "the last word."

It cannot be a coincidence that this marks roughly the middle of the collection; from here the tone trends upward ever so slightly. In Michelle Chihara's "Counting" the wife finds cause for celebration in her mute veteran of a husband not leaving the room when she discusses having a child, "[h]e's still sitting there". Sometimes naïve and even simplistic, Michael J. Nasser's "The Waiting Unknown²"offers a vision of a tentative new society eking out its existence among the truly apocalyptic dregs of the old. As if feeling the weight upon the reader up until now, the editors also proffer "The New Plague" by Elizabeth Rollins in which a doctor announces "only so much capacity for dread" exists.

In the deepest realm of the dreadful, in this case a resurgence of the plague, the reader finds instead a bit of humor, a twist of fate, and an escape for its protagonists, one of whom breezily admits: "We'll die, but first we will have this," meaning life.

Finally, the truth dawns that all living things exist doomed anyway, so really what is new about that? The world would suffer the loss of bats, but humankind could pass away, and a wave of endless cheering would surely arise. As Kevin Wilson put it so beautifully in the final piece of the collection "Till the End of the World Rolls Round," "all the things we'd made and thought for some strange reason would last don't." The collection begins with references to the angels we aren't in Nin Andrews's "The Last God" and ends with the reality that people leave no lasting mark upon the earth in the long run, true and sobering as that is.

Published out of Johnson State College in Johnson, Vermont and ably edited by Neil Shepard and his talented staff, the Green Mountains Review showcases the work of varied literary artists, some known and some not yet, in a soft-cover, easily readable format. They focus on poetry and short fiction but also accept creative nonfiction, interviews, literary criticism, and book reviews, though did not for this issue. The cover art coordinates with and highlights their themes nicely.