Walker-Nixon, Donna, Cassy Burleson, Rachel Crawford, and Ashley Palmer, eds. Her Texas: Story, Image, Poem & Song. San Antonio: Wings Press, 2015. Print.
There are very few people in the world that I have any problem saying no to. One of them happens to be Donna Walker-Nixon, who when she edited the journals Windhover and New Texas gave my poetry an early home, so when she walked up to me with a new anthology in her hand and asked me to write a review, I was incapable of saying no but fairly conflicted about saying yes to reviewing an anthology of Texas women’s literature, art, and song. I figured I just might have the wrong DNA or sensibilities for the task. Then again, I do have a degree from Texas Woman’s University, I’m married to Texan, and we raised a daughter in the Lone Star State, so maybe I could squeak through. Once I had a chance to sit down with book and became immersed in the works that it offered, I was reminded of Elizabeth Bishop’s refusal to be included in women’s anthologies during her lifetime, not that she was against the cause of giving women voice, but because she felt slighted by the title woman poet when she was in her essence a poet. Making my way through Her Texas, I soon realized I was enjoying something that goes beyond gender, that I was immersed in art that, yes, happened to come from the state of Texas, and, yes, these talented Texans were indeed women, but none of that precluded a male raised in Upstate New York from being moved by these artists’ masterful contributions.
Her Texas runs for over 400 pages and includes the contribution of fifty artists, if I counted right. And if I didn’t, don’t blame TWU, I didn’t take any math classes there. The book contains international luminaries such as Naomi Shihab Nye and Sandra Cisneros. Both woman contributed poems to the collection that deal with complications of human longing brought on by the need to belong. Cisneros’s “Original Sin,”about the need to shave on a flight to Mexico uses a sassy and irreverent humor to make the point in what just might be my favorite poem in collection. Although there are so many good poems and poets in the collection to name one poem feels as a misstep. The collection contains poems by three former Texas Poet Laureates: Jan Seale, who contributed a poignant cycle about taking care her Parkinson’s-stricken husband, karla k. morton who contributed her photography as well as poetry, and Rosemary Catacalos who’s poem La Casa concludes with the unforgettable lines “They will go on praying/ that we might be simple again.” Along with these poets there are captivating contributions from poets whose work I have long admired including Anne McCrady, Sherry Craven, Rebecca Balcarcel, Charlotte Renk, Sara Cortez and Melissa Morphew, and I have been introduced to many more who I look forward to reading more of including Loretta Diane Walker whose poem “How to Fight Like a Girl” is another highlight of Her Texas.
And that’s just the poetry, the anthology offers selections of creative non-fiction, fiction, songs which are accompanied by essays from the song writers, photography and visual art. Jill Patterson’s, “On Forgiving” a creative non-fiction piece based on her volunteer work in the criminal justice system gives a gut wrenching look at a world few of her readers could imagine exists. One of my favorite singer songwriters Tish Hinojosa explains the circumstances behind her haunting song “Joaquin” in an essay any of her legend fans will enjoy. Personally, one of the great highlights of the book was to see that Little Helen an iconic character from a series of paintings of Helen Kwiatkowski were included in the book. The fiction selections are strong and include Diane Fanning’s “Bottom Land” which is a clever homage to Susan Glaspell’s “A Jury of Her Peers.” Add in a final chapter of the book where the editor’s strut their own stuff like Rachel Crawford in her story “First Names” which is wonderful written story about the coming together of generations and cultures through friendship, tragedy and loss, and any perspective reader will have plenty to find worthwhile, even if that reader is man who grew up in Upstate New York.
Reviewed by Alan Berecka
Alan Berecka earns his keep as a reference librarian at Del Mar College in Corpus Christi. His poetry has appeared in such periodicals as the American Literary Review, The Christian Century and The Texas Review and anthologies such as St Peter’s B-List (Ava Maria Press). Three collections of his poetry have been published the latest of which is With Our Baggage by Lamar University Press, 2013. His second book Remembering the Body garnered an honorable mention for poetry from the Eric Hoffer Awards.