Quad City Arts’ Buffalo Carp Strong but Lacking Variety Print
News/Features - Literature
Written by Johanna Welzenbach-Hilliard   
Tuesday, 14 December 2004 18:00
Quad City Arts has issued the second volume of the literary journal Buffalo Carp. This publication makes a nice gift for the literature-lover on your holiday shopping list, with some wonderful pieces of poetry and prose.

Of the three prose selections, Lynne Veach Sadler’s “Until the Crow Turns White Again” stands out. Sadler writes a touching, humorous story from the perspective of a poor young Mexican woman who tells of first meeting her husband. The girl craves knowledge, but her father, coming from a culture of machismo where males dominate, fears the independence and freedom she would gain through education. She finds her soul mate in the form of a young, upper class white man. The author skillfully interweaves themes of classism and racism into a tapestry rich with mythology and art: “Keith Reynolds wasn’t in passion’s straits when he made that promise. He couldn’t know of crows and my mutual attraction … . The facts remained. Keith Reynolds would never be for the likes of a poor-brown-trash bitch from Squalor’s Ditch.”

In “Duster,” Michael Standaert tells of a small-town tragedy with quiet beauty. A young man relives the plane accident in which he crashes his crop duster, causing his wife to lose her sight and hearing. Standaert begins his story with a rather mundane description of a pilot feeling the thrill of flying his small plane over Iowa’s expansive cornfields. The tone rapidly changes, however, as thoughts of his wife, waiting at home, mute, blind, creep into his head to haunt him: “Not seeing Duke or anything around her is the hardest thing for Janis, for Duke always said he heard more from her face and her eyes than he did from her mouth. Now her face is blank … .”

Standaert stirs feelings we would all choose to ignore, if possible. What would our lives be like after a sudden, irrevocable tragedy of which we were the cause? The story moved me more than I had expected.

“Church Dust” is a piece of narrative nonfiction in which the author, Robert J. Konrardy, flashes back to an incident in the Ia Drang battle during the Vietnam war. During this particularly gruesome moment, he remembers another event of his childhood. The flashbacks are of a completely different nature: one visceral, one spiritual. The decomposing body of a Vietnamese soldier brings on a seemingly happy memory of an altar boy mesmerized by dust motes in church.

Konrardy’s concept of a flashback within a flashback intrigues me, but I wouldn’t put his piece in the same league as Sadler’s. The narrative is emotional and nicely written, but it seems a little rough around the edges and could stand to be fleshed out a bit more; it just isn’t as polished as “Until the Crow Turns White Again.”

The poems are a mixed bag. Forrest Cole and Cullen Bailey Burns are the only poets with more than one poem each published in the volume. Cole has two poems and Bailey Burns three. Since Volume Two of Buffalo Carp is already such a slim publication (only 39 pages, 11 pages shorter than Volume One), I had hoped to see a greater variety in the pieces contained therein. Also, of the 15 entries, 12 are poems, giving the editors even more reason to vary their choice of poets.

Cole’s poems do not appeal to me, and I don’t think they are of the same caliber as the other poems included in this volume. For example, “Trains” is so short, simplistic, and banal, it’s as if he’s trying to write haiku or waka, Japanese poetry forms, both of which require a great deal of skill and craft. But this poem is not haiku, or Zen, in any way that I can see.

Cullen Bailey Burns is a more accomplished poet than Cole. Although hers are not my favorite poems in Buffalo Carp, they are poignant and evoke many emotions. I consider “Kneel,” although unsentimental and harsh, to be her best entry: “Kneel while I take everything. Except your cap, jaunty and remorseless.”

“Papal Vision Screening” belies more tenderness, but Burns remains distant in her approach: “My mother lights candles for world peace while the tippler, my father, lifts his cup. My brother packs his suitcase singing sushi sushi sushi and my sister, remember, is dead.”

“The Delta Songs of the Harper” is a lovely poem written by Dennis Saleh. Through exquisite lyricism, Saleh’s words paint vivid pictures in muted colors – of the Nile, soft desert days, and even softer desert nights: “The slow hours / suffuse and singe / the color of heat / Egyptian purple / perfumed noon / temporary air.”

I enjoyed Rustin Larson’s poem “Jimbo” and Terry Savoie’s poem “Hide-&-Seek” very much. Both authors have straightforward, unpretentious writing styles. Because of their simplicity, the poems have clear, sad, and heartfelt images.

Larson, who lives in Fairfield, Iowa, and teaches at Kirkwood Community College in Cedar Rapids, writes: “Poor Jimbo the bunny, he be dirty / and drunk and he don’t know / what life be livin’ for.”

Savoie writes: “A year ago it was candles & cards & / teddy bears over a classmate dead in / a roadside ditch.”

The journal’s cover art is a photographic collage taken from the work of Sandra L. Dyas. Her 14-year photography project, which is meant to represent the decay of today’s society, is entitled The Lost Nation Photographs. Dyas is a native of eastern Iowa.

I noted some differences between the two volumes. The second volume, as I mentioned above, is shorter than the first, and the percentage of poetry is higher than in Volume One, which has a better balance between poetry and prose. In addition, only six of the 12 author bios are complete, which frustrated me, especially when I was impressed by a particular poem or short story and wanted to read about the writer.

Overall, though, I found Buffalo Carp to be a good read. However, I would like to suggest to the editors that they consider creating a category for critical essays. I believe readers are interested to know about not only new literature, but also fresh viewpoints on it. The journal would be more interesting if it had some pithy literary criticism to complement the poetry and prose. This would add a scholarly dimension to the publication as well. Also, inclusion of an additional category may help to offset the preponderance of poetry over prose found in Buffalo Carp thus far. I look forward to volume three.