Laurence Carr, a writer who teaches dramatic and Creative writing at SUNY New Paltz, and David Appelbaum, the publisher of Codhill Press, have assembled a wide-ranging collection of Hudson River Valley writers for this excellent anthology. Seventy-eight Hudson River Valley writers are represented.
The first half of Riverine contains memoirs, short stories, microfiction, and prose poems. The second half consists of poetry, which is further divided into two sections: Hudson Valley Views and Other Realms.
In a very short Preface, Carr establishes a sense of place while extolling the Hudson River, which flows over 300miles from the Adirondacks to New York City and claiming that it defines the region “physically, culturally, socially, and intellectually.” not only has the Hudson River Valley been a meeting place for the world’s people, he says, but a place where words have created a powerful current of writing in both written and oral traditions. The first two memoirs reiterate this theme.
In the first selection, “How Books Changed My Life,” Da Chen recounts the importance of books and storytelling in the rural, Chinese, communist village of his childhood. The second memoir selection takes us quite literally up the Hudson River as Laurence Carr describes his move from New York City to the hamlet of highland. Laura Shaine Cunningham also searches for, and finally finds, “The Perfect House” in the Hudson River Valley.
The Hudson River threads through the short stories as characters leave the Valley—to fight in the Civil war, to search out happiness and turn it to confusion and fear, to move from insane asylum to group home to hospital—and return. In Jacob Appel’s “Waterloo,” a man accompanies his girlfriend to visit her sister in waterloo and attend a dead child’s tenth birthday party, complete with cake and presents. The characters in these stories ponder imponderables: war, suicide, love, insanity, and the confusion of daily life. So often, things are not what they seem.
Guy Reed’s microfiction piece, “String Theory,” considers the cosmic nature of the Hudson River Valley as he examines the waves generated by a locomotive dropping down the slope of the Catskill Mountains toward the Hudson River. And the longest of the poems in this volume, James Finn Cotter’s “Spring Walks, Mountain Views,” describes a hike up Thomas Cole Mountain. Cotter urges the trekker to visit artist’s Rock “to see the Hudson Valley smooth as canvas, the river splashed on like a streak of paint.”
Other poems describe Hudson Valley flowers and trees, wildlife and birds, towns and highways. Jo Pitkin describes a photograph in “Stone House from a 1934 Walker Evans’ photograph of the Crane home, Somers, New York.” Matthew J. Spireng, in “Cutting the Oak,” describes cutting down an ancient oak tree. In “Carpentry and Gardening,” Phillip Levine describes, in exquisite and loving detail, the building of a flower box. Jacqueline Renée Ahl examines the bitterness of winter and the redemption of love in “The Laws of What Happens (The Lefevre farmhouse, Route 32 North).
The last section of the book, “Poetry: Other Realms,” is a wonderful wide-ranging collection. Some that stood out included “Untenanted” by Enid Dame, “Konghuin (a tune for the lyre): an excerpt,” translated by heinz Insu Fenkl, “The Persistence of Ashes,” by Kenneth Salzmann, and “My Mother’s Owl Collection,” by Judith Saunders. Donald Lev describes what these poets do when he says in “Twilight”: “You can hear laughter in the waves/as being is transformed into memory.”
Toward the end of the book Pauline Uchmanowicz playfully asks in “elements of style”: “What if poets had to pick? The ocean or the stars. A reputation in truth telling or a prize in diplomacy?” In particular, the poetry in Riverine is hard to categorize as are the writers of the Hudson River Valley who are represented here. But this book is an excellent place to meet this diverse cadre of writers and genres.
The word “riverine” means “of the river.” Laurence Carr has assembled an anthology that goes a long ways toward capturing the literary spirit of the Hudson River Valley.
-- Dale Flynn