Prairie Voices

I’m going to depart from my normal practice of turning weekly writing duties over the ChatGTP and actually commit my own words to the NDQ blog.

This past weekend, I had a chance to read Molly Rozum’s Grasslands Grown: Creating Place on the U.S. Northern Plains and Canadian Prairie (Nebraska 2021). Rozum argues that the first generation of settlers born on the grassland plains of the Dakotas and Prairie Provinces played a vital role in creating a sense of place and identity for white settler society of this region. In fact, she argues that the creation of this settler identity was part of a larger colonial process that involved the overwriting of Native American understandings of the landscape and replacing it with a view deeply embedded in settler experiences on the land. NDQ which was begun in 1910 certain contributed to this process as did the many other vaguely modernist “Little Magazines” which sought both to embrace and to create regional voices across the US. I prattle on about Rozum’s book, albeit in a rather personal and discursive way, on my blog here, and the following paragraphs are largely extracted from that text. 

Readers of the Quarterly might enjoy Rozum’s efforts to connect the developing sense of regional identity to both global and local trends in literature. This led me to start to root around in early 20th century literature from folks who grew up on the Northern Plains. For example, I discovered the work of Robert McAlmon whose book of poems, Explorations (London 1921), interlaces his travels (after his marriage of convenience to the writer Annie Winifred Ellerman [pen name Bryher] which provided him with a significant source of income) with images of the grassland prairies. He went on the live in New York and then Paris where he founded the literary magazine Contact with William Carlos Williams (which is now available via the HathiTrust), started a small press of the same name, and publish poetry, short stories, and the novel Village: As It Happened Through a Fifteen Year Period (Contact 1924). Despite his galavanting Parisian lifestyle, he continued to cultivate a voice grounded in a sense of place on the prairies. Perhaps because of his travels, he recognized this commitment to regionalism as a tonic for the dreadful character of the modern world. 

I also was introduced to Clell Gannon another prairie poet and also a painter whose art contributed to the cover of North Dakota Quarterly in 1950s. If McAlmon’s work had all the literary pretensions of Modernism in interwar Paris, Gannon’s work was more homespun, but no less accomplished. In fact, there’s something about Gannon’s work that makes me want to republish his 1924 collection, Songs of the Bunch Grass Acres which features his endearing sketches and even more endearing poetry.

A slightly more absurd part of me has started to think about a mashup of McAlmon and Gannon where we invite some poets, writers, historians, and bon vivants (you always need one or two bon vivants to keep people from taking themselves too seriously) to combine passages of McAlmon and Gannon as a way to celebrate and invite critique of both of their works.

Would this be cliche? 

Absolutely. I might as well propose novel Village: As It Happened Through a Fifteen Year Period with Zombies.

On the other hand, it might be fun.

One Reply to “Prairie Voices”

  1. If you’re looking for mashup volunteers, consider me as an applicant. Although this prairie chicken will need to practice with my feather boa and French beret in order to compete as bon vivant.

    Liked by 1 person

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