Volume 6 Issue 1
Review by David R. Matteri
Whitefish Review takes their readers away from the comforts of civilization and into the wilderness with this issue. Editors Cristina Eisenberg and Brian Schott made a call for submissions that “explore the untamable and wild in astonishing ways.” Over 40 writers, artists, and photographers answered this call, offering literature and art that “explores wildness in all its incarnations and paradoxes.”
Tom Cantwell’s “Eyes Like Sky” is a great piece of short fiction that echoes the works of Jack London and Rudyard Kipling. The story revolves around a young girl hunting with a pack of wolves near Devil’s River, Texas in 1846. We do not know how long the girl has lived with these wolves, but it is clear that she has lived long enough to be accepted as one of the pack: “Lean but muscular, with pronounced forearms and calves, the girl wore skin baked by the sun, cracked with dirt and etched with scars, bloody or scabbed in a handful of places and tough as leather around her elbows and knees.”
Three men on horseback interrupt their hunt and chase off her adopted family. Then they capture the girl and take her home where she is greeted with disgust and fear by their women. It is implied that their intent is to civilize this wild girl, but their words are just noise to her ears. She defecates in the room they locked her in and kills a lizard with her hands before swallowing it whole. The girl is only concerned about the starving pups in her pack and escaping from the den of the “tall ones.” I love how the point of view stays inside the girl’s head; the reader shares in her mistrust of the humans and their strange devices. Cantwell does a masterful job of writing from a truly feral perspective and showing how the civilized world can never stamp out the wildness lurking inside us all.
Neal Brown’s poem “Cape P” is a funny depiction of one man’s hiking expedition at Cape Palmerston. The speaker pushes his way “through salal, / a forest of Bowflex / thick as night” until he deviates from the trail to find an unpleasant surprise: “I break from the trail / onto a deer and bear track. / Bear shit everywhere!” He then finds a quiet beach to contemplate his navel and “go OOOOOMMMM.” The description of the beach is terrific: “a small / beach of black sand / framed / by the Pacific Ocean / and black basalt cliffs.” He urinates into the ocean when he is done meditating. At the same time, a young couple “all decked out in Patagonia wear” shows up. The speaker turns with “dick still in hand” and offers a neighborly greeting. Reminds me of an uncle I know.
Whitefish Review dedicates a good portion to photography and other visual arts. My favorite artist in this issue is Ben Venom, whose specialty is making quilts with heavy metal t-shirts. His work, “Raised by Wolves,” appears on the front cover of this issue and, if you happen to be a metal head, you may recognize certain bands in that quilt. I enjoyed his explanation behind his craft:
The idea to mix Heavy Metal (machismo) with Quilting (a predominantly feminine activity) was a conscious decision. My work is able to operate in three different worlds . . . Fine Art, Crafting, and the Heavy Metal scene. I’ve always liked the idea of combining opposing forces much like the particle accelerator in Switzerland. The concept being that Heavy Metal (Tough! Loud! Bigger than Life!) is shot at near lightning speed towards Quilting (soft, quiet, crafty) and creates something new and different from the explosion.
Venom includes another one of his works in this issue, “Am I Demon?” I was able to recognize Slayer and Ozzy Osbourne in that quilt. Just goes to show you that even the Prince of Darkness needs something warm to cuddle with at night.
This issue also offers essays that touch on various themes on the wild. Brooke Williams’s “That Wildman Cain” examines a painting by Fernand Cormon called “Cain: Flying Before Jehovah’s Curse.” The painting “illustrates the miserable destiny of Cain, the elder son of Adam and Eve, who after the murder of his younger brother Abel was condemned to perpetual wandering.” Cormon’s work inspires Williams to find a deeper meaning behind the painting. He examines the intricate detail put into the muscular bodies of Cain and his clan members and their tools: “I believe that our wild or savage state still exists, buried beneath ten thousand years of civilization. Is living in a natural state still possible?” He wonders if the Biblical story of Adam and Eve “is the mythical retelling of our monumental transition from archaic hunters and gatherers…to civilized farmers.” Williams does a great job of keeping this essay informative without sliding into dryness: “Was that a domesticated apple Eve ate? – a Rome, Jonathan, or Delicious?” Writing an essay that covers so much territory is no easy task, and Williams deserves praise for such an enlightening and entertaining piece of writing.
Another impressive essay in this issue is Sarah Ward’s “Lemon Drop.” It is a personal essay about her late grandfather, who instilled in her a passion for reading: “Although my grandpa died when I was only eight, his stories and his wisdom stayed with me. He passed his love of words on to me with each story he told, every poem he recited, and vocabulary word he explained.” Ward drops in small details about her grandfather that have great emotional impact: “When he met me at the bus stop, he would give me the bag of Fritos and tell me that I could have one handful because I was young, and he could have three because he was old.” The best part about this essay is that the author is only thirteen years old. Her writing is tight and shows a mature grasp of the language that many adults lack. Ms. Ward will have a bright future ahead of her if she keeps writing like this, and the editors at Whitefish should be commended for giving her the chance to shine.
The works assembled in the latest issue of Whitefish Review shows us that the wild can mean many different things, such as nature, freedom, evolution, and even a little bit of attitude. This was an exciting theme, and I look forward to see what this Montana-based journal has in store for their next issue.