Grist would like to congratulate contributor Erin Hoover, who won the Bronze Florida Book Award in Poetry! You can see the announcement here: http://floridabookawards.lib.fsu.edu/. Congratulations, Erin!
Stephanie Anderson’s One Size Fits None: A Farm Girl’s Search for the Promise of Regenerative Agriculture forwards an old idea repurposed for a century of people wondering what to do to create sustainable food sources. The non-fiction work blends memoir, scholarly argumentation, and interviews to demonstrate that in the face of widespread ecosystem destruction caused, in part, by highly technological practices of consumption, we need a better way of doing argiculture. The idea is a holistic process of farming that privileges the health of the soil, the local economy, and the creation/growth of new life, which Anderson calls regenerative agriculture.
It represents a turn back, a turn towards an integrated way of living that cannot accept globalism’s emphasis on the large and the total. Also unacceptable is the unbarred consumption of food or technological and mundane goods that mark our contemporary society. Regenerative agriculture is a way of living-by-doing, as traditionalist as it is radical to the modern consciousness—conditioned as that consciousness has been by liberalism’s drive toward so-called “liberation” from all possible restraints, an emphasis on bigger instead of better, and a default of centralization instead of decentralization. Anderson critiques this consciousness, thinking through bioregionalist tendencies, and labeling the politics of her work a one-size-fits-none approach to living and farming.
As the farm girl of the book’s subtitle, Anderson reflects on both her experiences growing up on a South Dakota ranch as well as on her interviews with famers and ranchers in Florida and South Dakota. Anderson structures her book dialectically; balancing narrative interviews with her own analysis of the state of agriculture in the United States and the world, she demonstrates through hyper-local examples how “[r]egenerative agriculture…creates new life and resources—and it is already leading the next wave of green food production” (xiii). She argues for moving beyond notions of sustainability, which have themselves become so fraught with sustainability and mainstream hipness that they no longer are (and never were, as Anderson shows) enough to restore the land or defend against the eventual desertification of our environment.
Rather, Anderson demonstrates by traveling to several farms that model her idea of regenerative agriculture that our focus needs to shift to a more holistic theory of land management, one that accounts for the entirety of a local ecosystem. From the soil to the plants to the animals to the humans (habitation, labor, economy), a holistic or regenerative theory of land management would, according to Anderson, lead to a set of practices that attends to all of the individual parts that makes up an ecosystem before making decisions regarding the health of that ecosystem. It would also lead to factoring those individuals holistically into the larger ecosystems of which theirs is a part. Isolating anything, Anderson argues, echoing Allan Savory’s Holistic Management (1999), would be to act both without meaning and without an understanding of the vast complexity of local (not to mention global) ecosystems.
This theory of land management is reminiscent of Albert Schweitzer’s oft-quoted idea from his Philosophy of Civilization (1923), “True philosophy must start from the most immediate and comprehensive fact of consciousness: I am life that wants to live, in the midst of life that wants to live” (156). The embeddedness of beings in the midst of other beings reflects what would later become Aldo Leopold’s land ethic, wherein an act is right when it preserves the integrity and stability of the biotic community, an ethic Leopold developed in the eponymous essay, “The Land Ethic” (1949). Clear from both Schweitzer and Leopold is the emphasis on local ecologies, a scale in which an individual’s behavior can have a real effect on their dwelling places and something to which Anderson returns throughout her work. Anderson shows this kind of attention to stability of the biotic community within local ecologies in her chapters covering the need to end CAFOs (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations). In their place, we ought to structure ranches and animal farms like the Great Plains Buffalo ranch, in which the animals are able to roam and graze as they naturally would (without human intervention). This process in turn enlivens the grass and other plants, allowing for healthier animals, healthier land, and healthier botanical life. Additionally, depending on where one farms in the country, this process likely would look different due to the differing bioregions which make up the United States.
Essential, then, to her book is the idea that “[t]here is no one-size-fits-all approach in practicing [regenerative agriculture]” (xiii) and that instead of imposing policies on ecosystems from far away, we should rather work from the literal soil upwards in order to determine how we should act towards and in concert with the land. Consumption would have to take a second seat, and economies that prioritize fast and convenient access to goods would have to reorganize. “Big Argiculture” would have to be dismantled; notions of bigness and the agricultural standard of “get big or get out” would have to be rigorously defended against by local policies and an insistence on local rather than national government of agricultural policy. Each ecosystem, Anderson argues as evidence for her one-size-fits-none-thesis, “will have unique needs and thus provide different crops and livestock” (264). This fact is relatively obvious if we consider that a fruit like oranges can’t or won’t grow in an ecosystem like that of the Pacific Temperate Rainforests, but they will in a Humid Subtropical ecosystem, like that of Florida.
For Anderson, this allows us to avoid the fallacy of composition (wherein one erroneously believes that something is true of the whole because it is true of a part) when we approach policy and interacting with people in different and diverse ecosystems. “Diversity,” she writes, “will make our food system stronger and better equipped to handle, crop failures, market collapses, and climate change” (264). In other words, we shouldn’t all try to serve the same “niche markets” because we simply can’t—not if we hope to preserve the integrity and stability of local ecosystems (not to mention enabling their regeneration).
While this persuasive and essentially conservative (read: conservation- and stability-oriented) idea about agriculture and land ethics is presented with clear and interesting examples, One Size Fits None could use more and diverse kinds of research to balance the hyper-local examples on which Anderson structures her book. Additionally, a clearer elucidation of who exactly her audience is would assist Anderson in strengthening the argument for a regenerative agriculture to be widely adopted. As an initial illustration of what regenerative agriculture could and does look like in practice, One Size Fits None is an invaluable resource, a step in the right direction of imagining alternative way of doing and organizing life around the soil and farming.
by Stephanie Anderson
University of Nebraska Press
John C. Nichols is Graduate Teaching Associate and PhD Candidate at the University of Tennessee, where he specializes in ecocriticism and American literature as well as theories of place, regionalism, and landscape ethnoecology. While he was the John Hurt Fisher research fellow at Tennessee, he assisted with the development of the Literary Knox website and walking tour. He is currently writing a dissertation on landscape agency, ecosystemic ethics, and regional American literature. He has published a brief essay on the dialectics of control in Sergio de la Pava’s 2008 novel A Naked Singularity at The Curator.
Atypical Cells of Undetermined Significance (C&R Press, 2017)
unfurls like a person aging, unfolding, unraveling, becoming
It is essay and poetry and lyricism in word and line and form choice.
It is voice.
One voice for the one who forgets what she was searching for only the night previous. “It’s true, I call my mother, drunk, to ask about/her god, but the next day/I don’t remember my questions, or her answers;/ I can’t recall the shape of the moon” (35).
One voice for the one who has a friend to give her a ride home. “The doctor asked okay, then paper cut./Paperweight on paper plate;/ she held the nurse’s hand./In the recovery room, no vinegar/or brown paper bag, but a cookie/for the sugar in her glass-paper blood./A friend drove her home to thick pads/papered over Hanes Her Way” (21).
One voice for the one who has felt nothing at all. “It was six pumps before, I’m coming—syllables flaking from his lips like soup crackers: Baby, baby, baby. When he rolled off me his dick slapped wet against my thigh, and he put his hand on mine. Smiling, sweaty, he said, You don’t wanna wait to clean up. It’ll run right out of you. The only thing I hadn’t expected was for it to feel like nothing at all” (39).
These voices come together to tell the story of one body. This body finds itself literally in the hands of misogyny as its introduced to readers in the first essay of this hybrid chapbook of poetry and prose. This body’s gynecologist, too concerned with his own comfort to notice the ways in which his conversation and the conversation forced from this body causes it to become secondary, answers a phone call in a moment of diagnosis. His body is jean clad. His body condescends. His mouth speaks, “Think of it like I’m making a salad in your vagina” (6). It’s unclear whether this doctor is one male or many—he’s not named, remaining an ever present he—but this he, his body, becomes the symbol of what the female body is up against throughout this chapbook: always already positioned by a culture that is violent to and dismissive of it to consider this body secondary even to the one who resides within it. Womer takes these moments of presence and locates the reader at the axis of revelation. These quick truths tell readers Womer will no longer be secondary in her own body.
Atypical Cells of Undetermined Significance is a dictionary of one’s life.
Becoming: “For the first time my life was mine and not something I was living to honor someone else with, and while that was exhilarating, it also instigated a passionate revolt against the life my mother and grandmother had settled into. I was—am—terrified of being owned. By a god or a man or a child or a place. By anyone or anything but myself” (10).
Condescension: “He draws a house and a stoop and a path to the front gate, to the curbside mailbox. He draws a stick figure one step down from the door. This is you, he says, pointing to the stick. The house is healthy, and the mailbox is cervical cancer. I’m trying to keep you from checking the mail. He hands me the drawing. For your fridge, he says (5-6).
Family: “I didn’t know the reasons she was sad was because she couldn’t bring herself to leave my father, and I didn’t know the reason she couldn’t leave him was because I loved him too much, loved him enough for the both of us. You were the glue” (12).
Love: “We were together for a summer, the first one he’d ever spent away from his two little girls who were downstate with their mother. He called her my ex on our first couple of dates and then Sally for a handful after that, but it wasn’t long before she was back to being Sal—a name I thought too endearing for someone he was trying not to love anymore” (34).
Maturation: “I want to be a mother before my daughter learns what she is to the world, before she gets angry at me for telling her the way things are, for breaking that beautiful spell as my own mother did. Before she spreads her legs for the first, the could-be, the why-won’t-you, the true, the broken, and the anything-to-fill-this-hole kinds of love. We are not princesses” (23).
The fusion of body to being is present throughout this stunning debut book. It seems to ask, over and again, how do I inhabit? And, then, it tells readers how to do this inhabiting. It must come from a rejection. It must come from an acceptance. It must come from a place of truth. The body of this book smells like flour and brewed coffee. Like gray November mornings. It smells like shamed woman who’s just had sex. Like blood and trapped butterflies, weed and tissue paper, vinegar, cookies, like the one who checks the body’s pulse and decides it is beating exactly at the rate it was always meant to.
This book rips and it tears again and again. It’s willing to explore the one given body as truth. Willing to own the everyday and that one specific day in 1999, that one in 2001, the other in 2003. What is a synonym for having a writer’s eye like a seam ripper? What is a synonym for the feeling that comes from hearing eggs break? The synonym for refusing to turn away? In these pages, Brenna Womer tears at her past. Explores her body and owns it a way that seems both an act of self-love and revolution. I will read these pages again. And the next piece she writes. And the one after. I believe you should too.
Atypical Cells of Undetermined Significance
by Brenna Womer
$10.00, pp. 54
Shane Stricker holds an MFA from West Virginia University and is in his second year of coursework toward a PhD at the University of Tennessee. He was a 2016 fellow at the Writing by Writers Workshop at Tomales Bay. His work appears in The Anthology of Appalachian Writers, Midwestern Gothic, Moon City Review, and other magazines and journals.
Several weeks after finishing Vanessa Blakeslee’s Perfect Conditions (Curbside Splendor, 2018), I still feel these stories overflowing in my head, the way salt lingers on skin after an ocean swim. An apt comparison—of the ten stories in Blakeslee’s collection, six are water-based, set in coastal regions (particularly, but not exclusively, Latin American countries) and depicting ocean towns where people try living Jimmy-Buffett-style to surf their blues away. Do you think it’s always warm there and people are happier? Do you think the water washes away your troubles and you rise from the waves of your salty baptism into a new life?
If you do, you’d have that in common with many of Blakeslee’s characters. And like them, you’d be wrong.
This collection takes readers to paradise—perhaps in search of these so-called “perfect conditions”—and very quickly reveals the truth about perfection and paradise: People ruin everything for themselves everywhere. In the title story—which first appeared in Grist—Jack, living out his retirement in Costa Rica, is visited by his adult son Sebastian for the first time in several years, only to find this is not the son he remembers. In the horror-filled “Stand by to Disembark,” a young man on a sailing rig experiences claustrophobia and paranoia as he learns the captain has no plans to let him off. Two young surfers in “Splitting the Peak” fall in love on the beaches of Australia during a competition, only to be torn apart by reality when the trip ends. A forty-six-year-old gets testicular cancer in “Arthur and George: The Voyage Begins,” but is unable to go to the doctor until he finds health insurance for fear of getting a “pre-existing condition.” Paradise is not to be found in these places. But I promise, you still want to come along for the trip: Oscillating as it does between hilarity, heart-warmth, and terror—and sometimes all three at once—Blakeslee’s collection is not one to miss.
It’s not all beaches and ocean waves, either. Several stories cross genres, featuring aliens and doomsday preppers and post-apocalyptic police states where art is illegal and people don’t even own their own bodies. But “the invisible snap of magic” connecting all these stories, regardless of genre, are the people and relationships (162).
Perhaps the most important story in the collection to me is “Sustainable Practices.” Nina and Clint are on their honeymoon in Tahiti, chosen because Nina wants to visit the Tahitian aquifer portrayed on the label of her favorite bottled water. Upon arrival at the resort, Nina finds the island as idyllic as her dreams, but it’s not long before the people around her force her to reevaluate her understanding, such as when she snaps a picture after a bus ride of “her pedicure still intact from the wedding (#perfectpedi #honeymoon #daytrip #lovinglife)” and then notices “the long hard toenails in cracked, nameless plastic thongs” of the local woman next to her who makes this journey every day, and silently, ashamed, Nina “puts away her phone” (42). Nina discovers a more sinister truth than the “artesian aquifer” from the water bottle: a familiar story of economic disparity and capitalism and colonialization in these so-called “paradise places.” That it is told through the perspective of a #ArmchairActivist, who forgets the trouble immediately the moment she is on a plane ride home, would make it funny (and it is, actually) if it weren’t also so true. In a collection that uses these real places as settings for fictional stories, “Sustainable Practices” is a vital addition, one that manages to critique the very real, very damaging effect of the colonialization of these places in service of the white outsider even as the book tells stories about those very kinds of visitors.
And at its heart, this is a collection full of outsiders, characters that are both apart of and a part from their worlds, hoping desperately to find a place that feels like theirs. In “Jesus Surfs,” Eduardo refers to “a deep loneliness that had forever driven him to pick up and go,” then, upon arriving in each new place, finds himself asking, “Why come here at all? Was here actually better than anywhere else?” (37; 31). The narrator in “Clìnica Tikal,” a Guatemalan American from New York City visiting her “parents’ homeland,” feels a similar sense of outsider-dom, explaining that, “the way I walked, my salon-treated hair and nails, my Ralph Lauren jeans—it all told this world I was an outsider” despite that she was surrounded by family (122). These are characters that are “both inside the world and shut out of it” (33).
Perfect Conditions is, above all, about not belonging—not just in the place you’re in, but even and especially in your own skin. Many protagonists are preoccupied with getting older and worried about their aging bodies, whether that means a woman wondering what good her life is after a divorce (“Perfect Pantry”), the pain and nostalgia of meeting a school-days love as an adult (“Splitting the Peak”), or finding a mysterious lump on your body (“Arthur and George: The Voyage Begins”). For these characters, growing old came as a surprise—“This was how aging happened,” Jack thinks, “in little blips of decline, like a motor sputtering out” (99)—and they are unsure what to do with themselves and their lives now that it’s happened.
If Blakeslee offers an antidote to these fears of aging and not belonging, it is this: people. In the opener to the collection, a post-apocalyptic story called “Traps,” the narrator spends days listening to her doomsday uncle explaining that people are their biggest threat. But when the narrator’s sister arrives she tells a different story: she and the other homeless travelers “helped each other out: shared food, carried each other’s belongs when someone got too tired, built fires, sang songs… She couldn’t have made the journey alone” (8). This theme is repeated throughout the collection: People in isolation—sometimes literally, as with the characters in “Traps,” and sometimes metaphorically—constantly discover that what they really need to survive are other people.
Though it is only Martha in “Perfect Pantry” who asks directly, “Who am I, without this person?”, everyone in Perfect Conditions is searching for the answer (60). Sometimes that means going on a literal quest—“a real one,” as George calls it in “Arthur and George: The Voyage Begins”—and sometimes the journey is more spiritual, but either way, the characters always arrive at the same destination/realization: “Surviving for yourself—wasn’t that rather pointless?” (78).
Eclectic in genre but consistent in theme, these are stories out to prove that life is not at all where you make it, but with whom. Whether they’re post-apocalyptic or simply disillusioned, these stories—international, sinister, idyllic—are the perfect guide for How to Survive the Rest of Your Life when the world as you know it—literally and figuratively—comes to an end.
by Vanessa Blakeslee
Curbside Splendor, 2018
Samantha Edmonds’ fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in such journals as Day One, Black Warrior Review, Pleiades, Indiana Review, Monkeybicycle, and McSweeney’s Internet Tendency. Her nonfiction has been published in Bustle, Elite Daily, Ravishly, and more. She currently lives in Knoxville, where she’s an MFA candidate at the University of Tennessee. Visit her online at www.samanthaedmonds.com
Erin Hoover fearlessly explores and reports on the experiences of a young Millennial woman entering adulthood in her debut full-length collection of poems. The overall structure of the book is a three-part narrative that steadily grows in intensity from smolder to burn and finally culminates in a bonfire resulting from the succession of poems that function as self-igniting matches.
barn + burner, from the idea of burning down a barn to get rid of a rat infestation.
slang, chiefly Pennsylvania, southern New Jersey, Maryland: a strike-anywhere match.
In a style that is both journalistic and confessional, Hoover addresses subjects such as female commodification, intimacy, and the politics of motherhood to name a few. The speaker’s voice recounts the liminal experiences of a Millennial woman standing at the threshold of adulthood with one foot situated in patriarchal materiality, another wading in third wave feminism as she navigates a burgeoning digital simulacrum on the horizon, questioning the very nature of humanity.
In Part 1, “The Lovely Voice of Samantha West” portrays the speaker working at a call center that eventually outsources jobs overseas with the help of an automated Americanized program referred to as Samantha West, a voice modeled after Doris Day. Here, the speaker first encounters the female body as a product to be utilized as an instrument of capitalism, “…The call center made me an/ expert in my voice’s currency, what I could/ do with its pitches and pauses…” all the while navigating the threat of losing her job to technology “Are you a robot? Samantha West was not/technically a robot…/…her voice vibrated in the
terrifying space between barely and fully/ human.”
The poem “Girls,” much like the actual T.V. series, begins with an unapologetic tone, “The point isn’t that so-called ugly girls/ get laid on HBO, but their mishaps, that if/ the single one is funny, a slew of them looks downright ambitious.”
Later, in “Livestock,” the speaker flashes back to a scene, quotes Neil Diamond fat-shaming her mother after bumping into him at a 1966 Farm Show “…Get this/ fat girl offa me.”
The speaker adds, “That’s one version/ of intimacy, a body invading/ another’s space, both recoiling/ from trespass as if scalded.”
While in the company of S. and her young son the book’s protagonist encounters the fossilized question “Why Don’t You Have Kids?” after the friend confesses that her husband “hurled a mug/ of coffee at her—” among other offenses. The speaker silently ruminates, “I know how I’m supposed to respond,/ like I know how to slice water/ cleanly with my arms and legs.”
Part 2 finds our protagonist working as a “Temp” where her “…only job [was] to smile at people who leaned/ on reception and talked about their kids.” Years later, she trudges along in another corporate office, watching her “…days fall away like molted feathers.”
In the poem “Gifts,” the speaker describes her mundane office work as, “each year peeling away a layer of girlish skin” and also maintains a long-distance relationship in “D=R x T,” a poem set in a series of major airports during long weekends in which she confesses, “…Neither of us [are] willing/ to dampen the thrill of a friend you never grow/ used to, the romantic weekends away that refuse/ to sink into a home’s worn upholstery. You and I/ will end.” Not surprisingly, this section culminates in a fertility clinic where the speaker brazenly refutes the traditional dyadic path to motherhood, “…Because the binary/ of women’s choices is false.”
By Part 3, the speaker has shifted from disillusionment to assertiveness as she calls out the gender inequity that she swims through daily in the poem “What Kind of Deal are We Going to Make?” She remarks, “It’s what a girl’s days/ are made of: What body part, this time?/ And what will I get for it?” She then confronts cyberbullying and sex-shaming in “Takedown” with her declaration “…As it ever was, the best methodology for devaluing a woman is to strap her body/ to the cum-stained mattress of your mind.” But the protagonist doesn’t just point fingers, in “What the Sisterhood Means to Me,” she acknowledges her own complicity in a flawed social system that had compelled her to protect the character of a former boyfriend in a “Stand By Your Man” situation, only to later realize that he “…knew/ what so many men know: if you don’t/ admit it then it’s not true.”
Throughout the book, the speaker’s voice evolves from a standpoint of introspection to empowerment as she pushes against the metanarratives of modern society.
As a Gen X female, I was delighted to journey with this young woman protagonist from a state of ambivalence to self-assured agency as she confronts not only the blatant hegemonic mechanisms of misogyny but navigates the nuances of compulsory heteronormativity, traditional gender ascription, meritocracy and more. Barnburner implores the reader not only to question, but to deconstruct a flawed cultural system, as the speaker remarks:
“Every day, now, more people are dying/ from cheeseburgers and chokeholds,/ and I have lived through/ so many wars about/ what people won’t say.”
Erin Hoover says it.
by Erin Hoover
Elixir Press, 2018
Stephanie Stanley Walls is currently pursuing an MFA in Creative Writing at the University of Tennessee. Her poems have appeared in Strongverse, Rat’s Ass Review: Love and Ensuing Madness, Cliterature Journal and elsewhere. You can find her at the dog park with Teddy, her Wheaten Terrier.