Monday, May 14, 2007
Book Review by Daniel A. Olivas
El Paso Times, Sunday, May 13, 2007
The University of Texas Press brings us "What Wildness Is This: Women Write About the Southwest" ($19.95 paperback) edited by Susan Wittig Albert, Susan Hanson, Jan Epton Seale and Paula Stallings Yost. As the title makes clear, the editors gathered the works of women writers who have ventured to put the spirit of the Southwest into words. The editors wisely divide the 100 or so essays and poems into eight categories such as "Geographies" and "The Nature of Urban Life."
This allows the reader to navigate with greater ease through these vibrant, evocative and often moving pieces.In Sandra Ramos O'Briant's wry essay "The Green Addiction," the writer recounts how her paternal grandmother "didn't like it that Daddy had married a Mexican." After her parents divorced and she left Texas with her mother for New Mexico, she was introduced to the exquisite pain of eating chile, something her non-Mexican relatives "didn't have the cojones to deal with."And in Nancy Mairs' moving "Writing West," we get a taste of what it is to live and travel in the Southwest in a wheelchair. Her prose is spare, tough and unsentimental.Pat Mora's "Voces del Jardín" is a homage to both the legacy and pleasures of her walled garden, which, she notes, is a "design indigenous to Mexico ... brought to the Americas by the Spanish ... a tradition Moorish and Mexican."And, of course, there are descriptions of nature, wild and free, as in Sandra Lynn's "Poem in Which I Give You a Canyon": "Notice that this canyon is comprised of / two strata of volcanic origin: / a dark bitter chocolate and an airy vanilla."It is a daunting task to describe fully the contours of this anthology, because so many fine writers are represented here -- including Joy Harjo, Denise Chávez and Barbara Kingsolver."What Wildness Is This" is a fitting tribute to the rugged complexity of the Southwest from the pens of a diverse group of women writers.[This is shortened version of the full review that first appeared in the El Paso Times.]