Read the following reviews of When Last on the Mountain:
From New Pages
Reviewed January 19, 2011
Review by Sima Rabinowitz
“By the time you’re fifty if you’re in your right mind / you want a divorce from yourself.” Poet Ed Meek pretty well sums up my feelings about it. And similar insights, emotional accuracy, and appealing, understated voices like Meek’s pretty well sums up most of this anthology’s opening lines. Here is Susan Pepper Robbins (“Middle Solutions,” fiction): “‘I told him, I’m not dead yet. You can have them all then, but not now. Not before then.’ Mary turns her head to me, who is not dead yet either, although almost. This year I have lost twenty pounds and gained back thirty, so I’m ten ahead.” And here is Ann Olson (“Coteau, 1969,” nonfiction): “I’m cold. It’s dark. I don’t know where the hell we’re going.” And here is Christina Lovin (“Credo at Fifty-Five”):
I believe you reap what you sow
but that sometimes you can steal
your neighbor’s watermelon
and get away with it.
I believe that swallowing watermelon
Seeds will make you a virgin pregnant
in some states.
Virgin pregnancy may be an unpredictable theme for an anthology of writers over fifty, but it likely represents a divorce from one’s typical sense of self. This anthology consists largely of more typical or expected themes for we of the over-fifty set: retirement; illness; aging family members (and selves); memories of youth; the perils of love and romance in “old age” (are we old?); past failures; past successes; children lost and found; the nursing home; wars past and present (aren’t they all one war?); and death, death, death (others, our own). And why not? What writer of any age is not preoccupied with death? Isn’t art of any kind a hedge against oblivion?
The seven dozen or so poems, stories, and essays in When Last on the Mountain—all quite appealing and readable—were selected from more than 2,100 submissions, reports editor Carol Roan in her introduction. Some of the work has been previously published; some is new. While most of the writers are fairly accomplished, with numerous publications and accolades to their credit, there are no major stars here, no household names. There isn’t much innovation or inventiveness in form or style, this work is, by and large, safe and conventional. (Is it ever safe to draw attention, in a youth-obsessed culture, to age?) Nonetheless, there is a considerable range of subjects, geographies, and perspectives.
I was impressed beyond expression by the anthology’s opening line from Judith Serin’s essay “Sharing a Room with Your Sister”: “You don’t remember anything about this; it’s all stories.” Another of those utterly perfect beginnings, the anthology’s clear strength and most appealing component. Isn’t this precisely how, on some level, we will all end up summing up our lives: it’s all stories.
From the Minneapolis/St. Paul Star Tribune
Stories and Poems Reflect the Wisdom and Resilience of Age
A collection of essays, poems and stories by authors past the age of 50.
By ROSEMARY HERBERT, Special to the Star Tribune
Review: Works by well-known and lesser-known writers touch on family memories, the passage of time and the close of life.
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.”
From The Best Times
BOOK REVIEW in The Best Times (November 2010)
Reviewed by Maril Crabtree
Are you the kind of reader who loves to dip into a short story while eating your cereal or waiting at the doctor’s office? Do you prefer fiction or true stories? Or do you like to open the day with an inspiring poem or two?
In When Last on the Mountain, readers can have it all. this anthology speaks to the full range of human experience with many voices, all of them having only one thing in common: the writers have lived a significant measure of years on this earth – at least fifty – and know how to offer up their lives with honesty, humor, courage and grace.
Who are these writers? In the editors’ Preface, we learn that “older writers sent us 2,100 submissions from across the country, from Qatar and Canada, from Mexico and Israel, from Switzerland, England, Japan, Australia, and a small island in the Pacific.” These writers are not just in their fifties, but cover the full spectrum of the wisdom years, ranging all the way into the nineties.
Among the 79 offerings that comprise the final selections are two from the Kansas City metropolitan region: Janet Sunderland of Kansas City, MO and Susan Peters, a Lenexa resident. Both women are considerably over 50 and are experienced writers. Both are college teachers. Both are in the Kansas City Writers Group, a large group of writers that meets weekly in spring and fall. Go figure the odds on that one!
Janet Sunderland’s story, “News of My Death,” is an amusing anecdote of falling asleep in her car while waiting in front of her son’s apartment, only to be awakened by four policemen who received a call reporting about a woman “either dead or drunk.”
Susan Peters writes an equally amusing story detailing the glories and mishaps of a post-sixty wedding in Las Vegas, with her friends around the world tuning in by Internet and her younger sisters deciding to show up in Mom’s vintage wardrobe “where polyester went to die.”
Other stories present a more reflective tone. “One Morning” by Zan Bockes lovingly describes details of an ordinary morning with a older couple and the small anxieties that appear at a moment’s notice: “I watch your figure diminish and disappear, holding this moment tight like the money in the dream – how, if I hold on tight enough, I can keep it when I awaken.”
We also receive poignant glimpses of the inevitable losses that come with age. Sharon Charde’s poem, “Asking,” ends with “I clean my grief/like a wife/scrubbing her pots.” Tom Hanson in “The Wisdom of Fifty” adopts a bittersweet tone about the betrayals of his aging body: “I am growing older, smaller, weaker. My vices have all run off in search of a younger, more vigorous man. I am learning to live with certain inevitabilities I would rather not have to face. Grudgingly, I acknowledge them. And maybe this – which is hardly the Holy Grail that I years ago set off in search of – is the real wisdom of age. Acceptance. Acceptance of everything.”
The title story, however, affirms that aging is about far more than acceptance. It is about savoring each and every one of life’s pleasures as they come, as well as treasuring the knowledge that tomorrow will bring not only wisdom and acceptance, but hope and joy. “When Last on the Mountain” by Kaye Bache-Snyder describes the fear-tinged exhilaration that comes with a downhill ski run on a snowy mountain slope, ending with these inspiring words: “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.”
From Winston-Salem Monthly
BOOK CELEBRATES CREATIVITY AND AGE
by Chantel O’Neal
Winston-Salem Monthly, October 2010
Whether you’re 16 or 60 years old, you’ll be enchanted by When Last on the Mountain: The View from Writers over 50, poems, essays, and stories edited by Vicky Lettmann and Carol Roan.
“Although 2,100 [works] were submitted for this anthology from all over the world . . .it is, in many ways, a North Carolina book,” Roan said, who lives in Winston-Salem
Unlike young writers who fuel their talent with hopeful dreams of the future, the 79 contributors write with a conviction that is grounded in a reality both heartwarming and heart-wrenching. From a poet laureate and Pulitzer Prize nominee to a social worker and a clergywoman, the authors have been shaped by the lives they’ve led. “We seem to have developed a movement, rather than the ‘little book of like-minded writers’ that was our first intent,” Roan said. “Together we’ve proved that creativity doesn’t bow to the calendar.”
From The Examiner
New anthology by writers in their 50s through 90s gives fresh, encouraging views of aging
by Marsha Dubrow (examiner.com)
New anthology “When Last on the Mountain: The View from Writers over 50” offers fresh takes on aging
Aging is depicted in all its vibrancy, poignancy, difficulty — and even hilarity — in a new anthology by writers in their 50s through 90s.
The just-published anthology, “When Last on the Mountain: The View from Writers over 50”, disproves the cliché of being over the hill at 50.
Instead of that antique chestnut, the essays, fiction, and poetry offer unique, encouraging views of aging:
•A couple in their 60s having a “Vegas Wedding”.
• A three-time cancer survivor recalling plucking “Her Eighth Gray Hair” during her first chemotherapy treatment at age 37, and wondering whether she’d live long enough for her hair to turn gray.
• A Social Security worker telling a newly cut-off recipient, “You are recently deceased.” Proving you’re alive is startlingly, hysterically difficult, in “While I Was Dead”.
• A newly widowed 60-year-old man discarding his wife’s red sweater she wore the night they met 22 years ago. “The she/now And she/then Merge Into she/always”.
• A post-menopausal woman disclosing her hate-love relationship with the hormone “Estrogen: A Letter”.
• A plant flourishing after being sent to a man who suffered a second heart attack in “Out of Pathos, Pothos”.
• A father with dementia in “Wandering Off” telling his adult child, “Thank you, whoever you might be.”
•In the book, often is heard an encouraging word even about death. “Instructions upon the Occasion of My Death” concludes, “…don’t believe them when they say life’s too short. It’s just long enough.”
Several of the older contributors reflect upon life-shaping memories of the Great Depression; Franklin Roosevelt’s first election; World War II; segregation; Vietnam and civil rights demonstrations; or other major 20th century events:
• A soldier returning from World War II, helping his young nephew cope with the killing of his obstreperous pet rooster Frankie, in “The Untimely Demise of the Other Frank Sinatra”.
• An African American remembering being ridiculed by the white teacher and students at a newly integrated elementary school in “Hair Inspection”.
The many contributors range widely, including two 93-year-olds:
• A former Franciscan monk, trail-crew cook, actor, government official, lawyer, lobbyist in Alexandria, VA.
• (Disclosure: myself, a former Senate press secretary, Washington correspondent…)
• A leader of writing workshops for the Library of Congress Center for the Book’s Florida affiliate.
• An English professor at Virginia Commonwealth University’s School of the Arts in Qatar.
• Saskatchewan’s first poet laureate.
• A worker for Native American civil rights.
• An author of an avalanche safety handbook.
“When Last on the Mountain” was co-edited by writers Vicky Lettmann, who teaches creative writing in Minneapolis, MN and in Sanibel, FL, and Carol Roan, who teaches voice and stage movement in Winston-Salem, NC. They selected the nonfiction, fiction, and poetry from more than 2,100 submissions.
The book was published by Holy Cow! Press, which “The Nation” Magazine has termed “one of the best small presses in the nation.”
The anthology’s title essay, “When Last on the Mountain”, metaphorically addresses “my last downhill run…Not today. No. I dance, stop, dance, stop, dance, dance, dance down the mountain.”
From World Footprints
Reviewed by Marsha DuBrow
Friday, November 19, 2010
When Last on the Mountain: The View from Writers over 50 offers nonfiction, fiction, and poetry about experiences ranging from heart-wrenching to hilarious.The title is taken from one of the book’s many works about trips, literal and metaphorical.
In the essay “When Last on the Mountain”, Kaye Bache-Snyder writes about her last ski of the day at Snowmass Resort in Aspen, CO. “I shed self-consciousness like dead skin, feel fire inside me. Body dances faster, faster…”
She concludes, “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.”
Those words depict the spirit of the anthology’s writings, which explore life and especially aging in fresh, inspiring ways.
One couple in their 60s had a “Vegas Wedding”. The couple traveled from Europe, and their families came from across the United States to Las Vegas.
The prospective groom “did need some reassurance that Elvis would not be performing the ceremony,” wrote bride Susan Peters of her “Package C” nuptials. Her three sisters wore some of their late mother’s clothes – “’Since Mom couldn’t be here,’ Jill said, ‘we thought her wardrobe should be here instead.’”
In the poem “Flight,” Diane Porter Goff describes caring for her mother who had Alzheimer’s. Goff writes hauntingly and exquisitely about repositioning the white, lace-trimmed pillow they had bought together for the wedding trousseau.
“If I could fold up my heart and tuck it away for just those few moments, perhaps that pillow bird could be your ride out of here.”
A very different sort of flight is described by Tom Hansen in “The Wisdom of Fifty.” “My vices have all run off in search of a younger, more vigorous man.” Hansen speaks of searching for the “Holy Grail…the real wisdom of age. Acceptance. Acceptance of everything.”
Several of the works address the journey of losing a spouse. Some of those include the beginnings of healing.
In “Widow: Parts 1 and 2”, Lois West Duffy writes in Part 1 that the “ugly word” widow can’t define her any more than wife. In Part 2, the poet writes, “I’m afraid Someone will come along And want to marry me Before I’m strong enough Not to”.
Behind a couple’s Arizona home-turned-hospice, the Sonoran desert’s golden blooms provide comfort for Reg as he loses his battle with leukemia. In “Elegy for Yellow,” Elizabeth Bernays writes, “…don’t believe them when they say life’s too short. It’s just long enough.”
Contributors to When Last on the Mountain
include Saskatchewan’s first poet laureate; an English professor at Virginia Commonwealth University’s School of the Arts in Qatar; a former monk-trail crew cook-lawyer; an author of an avalanche safety handbook; a worker for Native American civil rights; and a gerontologist; among others.
The anthology was published by Holy Cow! Press and co-edited by writers Vicky Lettmann, who teaches creative writing in Minneapolis, MN and in Sanibel, FL, and Carol Roan, who teaches singing and stage movement in Winston-Salem, NC, and has just come out with another book, “Speak Up: The Public Speaking Primer” (Press 53).
The works, chosen from more than 2,100 submissions, deal with what Cleo Fellers Kocol describes in “My Cousin Olivia” — “…the past floating like a kite with a string I needed to wind.”
Reprinted with permission from World Footprints
© 2010 Travel’n On Media Productions, LLC. All Rights Reserved.