Whether poetry, prose, or photography, each submission in the current edition of saltfront plays off the others and together tell the entire story of not only the assorted landscapes, but attitudes and cultures of the people who fill them as well.
The title page greets the reader with a stunning image of blazing cloud formations over the rolling hills of the great desert. Hidden below is a man, almost unnoticeable beneath the grand display—that is, until you see him, and he cannot be unseen. What begins as a pristine scene is disturbed by the presence of man, and a narrative begins.
“Studies in human habit(at)” is the tagline of saltfront, which is currently in its fifth issue. Questions of our domination over nature, how humans interact with the Earth around them, how the landscape dictates our lives and molds our personalities, are all present and unavoidable throughout. The implications, not always so gentle, force the reader to hold up a mirror and take a long, hard look. The editors begin with a note, warning that the issue is dark, to which I wholeheartedly agree. It’s often frightening to see yourself.
In the prose poem “How to Talk With (Other) Animals,” by Ian Peisner, the speaker lists seven points for how to communicate with other creatures, particularly nonhuman ones. He personifies each creature and recognizes its story. “Trees are great storytellers,” he writes. “Rocks are quiet, but thoughtful. Rivers have so many voices, they can be tough to understand. I am intimidated by the ocean, but it has a beautiful voice. Sometimes the sky won’t stop singing. No one laughs like the moon.” Entering the picturesque scene, the reader begins to flow with the rhythmic authenticity of Peisner’s words. As one of the first pieces in the volume, this poem helps to build a relationship with the reader and the wilderness we imagine. In turn this becomes a crucial point in the later works.
Humanity enters the narrative quickly and its effects can be seen in full force by the time we come to the photo series “In Place” by Loy Andrus. These three photos depict a miniscule human dominated by a vast grandeur of scenery. Much like the title page photograph, the person is hidden in the large landscape, but their effect is omnipresent. Tampered rocks fall. Footprints drudge through clean, white snow. Sanctuary for a visitor steals the home of a native. It doesn’t matter how cautious or unobtrusive the human attempts to be; they cannot help but affect everything in their path. Although we may assume humble positions, our hand is heavy and only destroys. Challenged is our concept of place, whether in place or out of place—belonging comes into question and Andrus gives no clear answer to how one should interact with the wild, or if one should at all.
Nate Liederbach, on the other hand, definitely has an answer, which becomes dramatically more apparent through the development of his 20-page short story, “Fruited Plains.” Perhaps one of the bleakest pieces in this issue of saltfront, “Fruited Plains” is rich with dark irony. A family travels by car from Kansas City to Colorado across the Great Plains. It is obvious that the other family members are astutely aware of road travel and this route in particular, but the main character, Donovan, is not. His innocence is shattered in this third-person limited story, and the reader ends with an unpleasant memory, which both he and Donovan will likely never forget.
The story highlights four particular encounters in which the family’s car, driven by the father, hits four increasingly larger animals. It begins with a bird, then a rabbit, next a badger, and finally a pregnant doe. After running over each of the animals, the father then proceeds to brutally end their lives, Donovan watching all the while. A grotesque rage is unleashed in these moments from what is presented as a kind, Christian, bible-loving family. Other than Donovan, who notices the tender details of their demise, the family has no sympathy whatsoever with the animals and takes it upon themselves to dominate nature, believing it is their right.
This stark juxtaposition cradles the illuminating theme of the issue—man’s habitat has shaped the nature of his habits. Also, it cannot go unnoticed that many characters throughout the issue reflect various, local culture controversies. Unmistakably seen in “Fruited Plains,” the true morality of this family comes into question and the answer conflicts with what their religion might have presumed. This, along with many of the other included works, helps to carry the theme through, never missing a beat.
To fully illuminate saltfront’s ambition of illuminating “human habit(at),” the editors have chosen various and diversely experimental pieces that approach the subject from every possible angle. These authors have penetrating voices, and in many cases form follows content, which further emphasizes the overall theme.
At times it is difficult to understand the seemingly haphazard organization of the pieces, but in the end, a striking story emerges. An entire plot is developed between the pages and by the end the reader is satisfied, but ready for more. It’s all about that oh-so-familiar and yet still-controversial topic of environmentalism. Dare we ask, “to be or not to be”?
What “might be” is the real caution from saltfront—what might be with us and what might be for our planet. For writers looking for somewhere to submit their take on the subject, this is the place. If not, at the very least make this journal one of your subscriptions.
Technique and craft are not overlooked by saltfront’s editors and we are able to draw much from the works they include. No doubt this targeted, tightly curated journal is going to grow into something even bigger, brighter, and more beautiful than it already has proven to be.
saltfront (Issue 5) includes works from Larry Menlove, Ian Peisner, Gary Dop, Laurin Becker Macios, Nathan Hauker, Chila Woychik, Simon Perchik, Nate Liederbach, Reiser Perkins, Mary Pinard, Scott Abbott, Jai Hamid Bashir, Cody Eden, Howard Winn, Megan Merchant, Jonathan Travelstead, Heather Holland, Loy Andrus, Matthew Cooperman (with Ed Dorn), and Valerie Martinez
Issue 5, 2017
Michelle Rohbock is a student of English and Spanish Teaching at the University of Utah. A Utah native, appreciation for this beautiful state is in her blood and that energy has deeply affected her own writing. She has recently completed her first novel, Broken Water, and loves to engage with the local literary community.
Categories: Literary Arts
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