Talking Gourds, edited by Art Goodtimes

Review by Lynda La Rocca

Poetry – May 2001 – Colorado Central Magazine

Talking Gourds
(Circle #1, premiere issue)
Art Goodtimes, Editor/Publisher
Published in 2000 by Lone Cone Press

There’s some truly outstanding poetry in the premiere edition of Talking Gourds, an annual described by its publisher as “a state literary magazine publishing the many good regional writers and poets in Colorado.”

But I’ll tell you right off the bat, I don’t like its format. Talking Gourds is not a magazine at all in the conventional sense. Rather, it is a collection of loose-leaf broadsides of various sizes, type fonts, and paper colors and weights.

Call me eccentric, but I like the feel of a book in my hand. I like its sense of permanence. Shuffling my bundle of about two dozen postcards and pages, I felt more like I was reading a student paper or manuscript proofs than an actual publication.

And that feeling only intensified when I came across a couple of contributions with glaring misspellings and grammatical errors. Judging from the context, these were not manifestations of poetic license; they were simply mistakes.

Goodtimes, a writer and contributor to Talking Gourds who is also a San Miguel County commissioner, writes that “bundling,” as opposed to binding or stapling the publication’s contents, is a way to “translate bardic poetry into the tai chi of print” (whatever that is supposed to mean).

My more prosaic guess is that bundling is actually a less costly method of publication. But at a price of $10 for a postage-paid sample issue, it’s certainly not less costly for the purchaser.

Still, enough about form. Content is the raison d’être for Talking Gourds. And when it comes to content, nothing beats Joan Logghe’s “Something Like Marriage,” a dead-on depiction of how the West, specifically New Mexico, engulfs the soul of an East Coast transplant, despite her best efforts to make it keep its distance.

I want to leave New Mexico, but it acts like it owns me… I want a real state like Massachusetts, full of Pilgrims, lots of grief and headlines. I want back my youth. I’m flirting with Alaska.

In twelve short lines, Grand Junction poet L. Luis Lòpez paints a heartbreaking portrait of a life never realized. Lòpez deftly describes the emptiness of the title character’s existence in “Mario Martínez” by using the Spanish verb “esperar” which, he writes, can mean both “to wait for” and “to hope.” That’s exactly what Mario does; he waits and he hopes,

“. . . standing at the back door, Hat in hand . . .”

And then he dies.

In Beth Heller’s “Mushroom Poem,” the lowly fungus becomes the stuff of fairy tales and vision quests — and the horrific symbol of atomic destruction. Contrast that with Eric Paul Shaffer’s pithy advice in “Welcome to the Planet, a greeting to new humans”:

Mountains reveal nothing lasts. Make peace with this.

Two of my favorite regional poets, James Tipton and David J. Rothman, winner and first runner-up, respectively, of the 1999 Colorado Book Award for poetry, are also represented in this collection. Rothman’s “The Swallows” finds the birds returning in spring to:

. . . air a perfection Of insects . . .

And to the reassurance that they are, indeed, home.

As he did in his award-winning poetry collection Letters from a Stranger, Tipton invokes his muse, Chilean writer Isabel Allende, in the poem “Lowering Potatoes into the Earth.” Fearing, as he plants, a strange, dark transformation, he nevertheless resists the urge to dash to a telephone and demand:

…Isabel, Isabel, how can you love me now that I have turned into a potato…

You could ask a similar question about Talking Gourds. How can one love its piecemeal format? Try looking past the package to what’s inside.

–Lynda La Rocca