Stories and poems reflect the wisdom and resilience of age

  • Article by: ROSEMARY HERBERT , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 30, 2010 - 1:52 PM

A collection of essays, poems and stories by authors past the age of 50.

When Last on the Mountain

Editors Vicky Lettmann and Carol Roan believe writing by older authors has a richness that arises from long life experience. That's why they put together the anthology "When Last on the Mountain: The View From Writers Over 50," newly published by Holy Cow! Press of Duluth.

When the pair invited writers age 50 and older to send them fiction, nonfiction and poetry, they received more than 2,000 submissions. As they pored over the offerings, they found themselves "drawn to those pieces written with courageous self-acceptance and understanding," Roan recalls in the book's preface.

Pieces that fit that bill are the strongest in a mix that includes work by celebrated and previously unknown writers tackling rather predictable broad themes, including family memories, the passage of time and the close of life. The brave self-acceptance that the editors admire leads the best of these writers to take that very predictability and contrast it with surprising details and resilient attitudes that raise their writings out of the ordinary.

A case in point is Dody Williams' short story, "Her Benevolent Concern." Here the neglected daughter of a small-time, pool-champion dad and a floozy mom gets a grip on life by reading dictionary definitions. The story's inspired title comes from a "Webster's Dictionary" definition of maternal love for a child: "unselfish, loyal and benevolent concern for the good of another." That title and the fatalistic air of the child immediately make this story a standout, while the telling details delivered from a child's-eye perspective quietly secure the story's success. For instance, when she is deserted by her mother, the abandoned child reflects, "After my mom left, the trailer seemed to sag even more."

More unhappy memories are snared in Dahlma Llanos-Figueroa's searing "Hair Inspection," about the agonies that ensue when an utterly insensitive teacher instructs her students to wash their hair for a head-lice inspection. Hair is also at the heart of Karen de Balbian Verster's exuberant celebration of middle age, "Her Eighth Gray Hair."

Resilient humor buoys some pieces about the end of life. Mary Kaloda Scott's amusingly titled poem "Out of Pathos, Pothos" appears to take a positively playful approach to the aftermath of a loved-one's heart attack -- until the last line demands a rereading and rethinking of the poem. And Mary E. O'Dell looks ahead with humor and wisdom toward her own demise in "Instructions Upon the Occasion of My Death." Finally, Kaye Bache-Snyder trumpets in "When Last on the Mountain" -- the essay from which this anthology takes its title -- "One day I will write my last downhill run, not on snow, but on paper. Not today. No. I dance, stop, dance, stop, dance, dance, dance down the mountain."

Rosemary Herbert co-edited the anthology "A New Omnibus of Crime" with Tony Hillerman. She is the author of "Front Page Teaser."

  • WHEN LAST ON THE MOUNTAIN

    Edited by: Vicki Lettmann and Carol Roan.

    Publisher: Holy Cow! Press, 388 pages, $17.95.

    Review: Works by well-known and lesser-known writers touch on family memories, the passage of time and the close of life.

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