ELDER MOUNTAIN: A Journal of Ozarks Studies, Issue 10: (2020), edited by Phillip Howerton

Here’s the tenth issue of Elder Mountain, out of Missouri State University in West Plains, and it’s a big one at 288 pages. Let’s give a nod first to the freshest voice: Faith Collins in “The Future of Beekeeping in the Missouri Ozarks,” a true, passionate tale of woe about bees dying from the verroa mite, lack of forage, and pesticides.  Ozarks ecology turns out to be a major theme of the issue. To give another example, there’s Denise Henderson Vaughn’s well-researched account, “The West Plains Sewage Lagoon Drama, 1978,” recounting the perils of placing sewage treatment plants above karst topography.

This double issue contains fiction by Steve Weigenstein (who also has a story collection coming out from Cornerpost Press, SCATTERED LIGHTS), Steve Yates (an excerpt from his novel, THE LAKES OF SOUTHERN HOLLOW), me, and a writer I was unfamiliar with, Matt McGowan. His wry “Sucker Flats” portrays meth users as zombies in a peculiar, decadent, irresistible setting: the abandoned lead mines south of Pittsburgh, Kansas, west of Webb City, Missouri.

There’s a great deal of poetry, from C. D. Albin (the journal’s founder), Susan Powell, Robert Lee Mahon, Douglas Stevens, Mark Spitzer, Gerry Sloan, Amy Wright Vollmar, and Paulette Guerin. I don’t read a lot of poetry, but I had two favorites: Mahon with his precise “Cleaning Bluegill,” and his more philosophical, “The Altar,” about cleaning a catfish. I also loved the versatile Mark Spitzer’s “Wampus Conundrum” a lively, tongue-in-cheek indictment of how the poor bobcat shows up, stuffed, in every curio shop and yard sale.

Not least, Molly Bass Rector interviews Missouri’s poet-laureate, Karen Craigo, who says, “Every poem is sort of a little argument for a better way to think and be.” Nice thought. Maybe I’m old enough now to act on it.

Plenty of scholarship here: Charity Gibson’s unflinching treatment of the Dee Dee and Gypsy Blanchard case, which she ties into Ozarks myths both of the nurturing and the fallen mother; Kimberly D. Harper’s entertaining account of how the film Jesse James was made (partially) in Pineville;  and a terrific Civil War piece, “Memories of the Old Cannon Trail,” from Jim Vandergriff.

You can’t assemble writing about the Ozarks without lamenting how it used to be: two short essays by Jim Hamilton, “The Last of the Good Ol’ Days” and “Turn Right at Mohawk”;  and Virginia Howerton’s tender tribute to a neighbor,  “Evenings with Betty Dine.”

Steve Wiegenstein’s wonderful essay, “The Lure of the Ozarks: What’s the Bait, and Who’s the Fish?” references nostalgia, escape to Shangri-La (or Acadia), natural beauty, exploitation of cheap labor, mining, timber extraction, racism, and tourism in an eloquent attempt to define the region. A definition proves elusive, but no one could have come closer.

Finally, there are eight book reviews here, inviting you to keep exploring.

You can buy ELDER MOUNTAIN at