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Valley Voices: Passages. Anthology of Central Colorado writers

Review by Martha Quillen

Local authors – November 1999 – Colorado Central Magazine

Valley Voices: Passages – An Anthology of Central Colorado Writers
Copyright 1999
by Chaffee County Council on the Arts
ISBN B0024947CC

THE CCCA WRITER’S EXCHANGE has come out with a second anthology, and it strikes me as much stronger than the first.

Don’t get me wrong; the first was nice. But this anthology is fuller and more diverse, and offers many more selections than the first (although I couldn’t quite get them to add up to the “more than eighty pieces” promised on the back cover).

Still, there are almost sixty different selections here, including numerous short stories, poems and essays, that run the gamut from funny to tragic. The poems, especially, show a myriad of emotions, forms, and viewpoints.

There’s E.G. Sampson’s “Fishing for Love in all the Wrong Places:”

Women– Slender, lithe, slippery creatures. I found one by the river side, but she turned out to be just another cold fish. I got my hands around one,

but she slipped through my fingers. I found a large plump one — I really liked her, but she disappeared — The big one that got away. I sunk a line, but…

You’ll have to get the book if you want to finish Sampson’s poem.

BUT IF YOU FAVOR more florid poetry, Passages offers it, too. There are also nature poems, contemplative pieces, rhymed and unrhymed verse, and some very cleverly worded poems. All in all, there’s surely a favorite style for everyone.

(Although I should note that classic love poems were conspicuously absent. Personally, I didn’t find that a shortcoming, but it did make me wonder whether it was because our poets tend to be older than the versifiers and bohemians who fill coffee houses, or whether we Central Colorado dwellers are actually more cynical.)

The short stories, on the other hand, are mostly light, although some have some pretty bittersweet messages. Dan Bishop offers a light, amusing, classic sci-fi piece; while Margery Dorfmeister offers a breezy, humorous, small-town story with a tragic moral. Another story, “Where’d You Hide the Body,” by Jackie Whiteleather, provides a chuckle over the tribulation of owning misbehaving pets.

“Overlook” by Phyllis Wallace gives a comical but astute picture of a retired farm couple who are wandering through Utah with a camping trailer when they get invited to go skinny-dipping. The tale begins:

“How were we to know they were nudists? They looked like regular people — neat, clean, mid-thirtyish, friendly. But you can’t tell a book…”

In Passages, I found both short stories and poems I really enjoyed, but I was especially glad that the editors included essays. There was an interesting essay about moving to our area from Chicago, another about learning to be a river runner, another about being bullied in the eighth grade… and many more.

In diverse collections — assuming they adhere to a proficient standard of quality (as this one does) — the reader will inevitably find pieces that he likes and some pieces that he doesn’t, and occasionally he’ll find a work or two that he really takes to heart.

But this anthology, I think, started to offer something more. As I read along, I really got the feeling that I was being shown a sampling of the abundant assortment of voices, attitudes, ideas, and backgrounds in our region.

To tell the truth, I don’t know what makes a diverse collection into a cohesive anthology, but I sensed it happening here.

I found myself looking back at pieces, pondering common themes, seeing similarities in the multifold selections. I suspect the inclusion of so many first-person narratives — and also the greater volume of pieces included this time around — helped foster a feeling of continuity. But whatever produced it, this volume lived up to the name Valley Voices.

By the end, I found myself a bit awed that so many divergent ideas and emotions came together so well on these pages — and in this place.

–Martha Quillen