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Telling It Real: The Best of Pilgrimage Magazineby Peter Anderson

from the introduction by Peter Anderson

This collection is centered around core values which have shaped the content of Pilgrimage Magazine over the years: story, place, spirit, and witness. Story has to do with the value of letting our lives speak, of sharing what we’ve learned on the road. Place is rooted in the desire for a sense of being at home in our own skins and in the geographies that sustain us. Spirit speaks to the ways in which we are led beyond our own personal concerns and into an appreciation of a greater wisdom wherever it may come from. Witness is a willingness to be present to both the joys and terrors that we encounter along the way, and to let them lead us into a deeper sense of interrelationship and responsibility.

Another priority, both in editing the magazine and this anthology, has been to provide a place for the writers of the American Southwest to meet and listen to one another. Colorado writers are most heavily represented here, but so are voices from Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, California, and beyond. "Telling it Real" celebrates the writers of this region as has Pilgrimage Magazine over the years.

From a review of "Telling It Real" by John Nizalowski

During the past three decades, independent literary magazines have become a haven for the stylistic excellence and regional expression that most commercial presses have dropped. Colorado based Pilgrimage Magazine is an excellent example of this trend. Since 2002, Pilgrimage has published high quality work by largely western authors. Peter Anderson, the magazine's third editor, recently turned over the reins to Maria Melendez. But before leaving, he produced Telling it Real, a collection of the best material from his seven years with Pilgrimage.

In Telling it Real, Anderson gathers 61 poems and essays by some of the West's most original writers. Southwestern readers will find many of these authors familiar, including David Feela, a columnist for this magazine. His poem in the collection, "The Language of Angels," transforms the genetic memory of geese into the printed text: "on the inside, in the quiet of our minds, / as if opening a book / to see the scramble of words on the page / like a flock of geese rise / and somehow find its pleasing shape."

In addition to Feela, many other important western poets contributed to this volume. John Macker, in "Woman of the Disturbed Earth," uses imagery of the land to celebrate the feminine: "For every winter river swollen with / sacrifice somewhere on this planet / there is the one that flows / between us, through us / down from the mountains / gracious & moonlit / across the llano, as / much ritual as it is water / as it is woman." In "Love Poem After a Passing Antelope," Aaron Abeyta captures the beauty of nature in motion: "there is nothing but east ahead of me / and some faint image / a mirage of five antelope / not really running / but gliding windlike / over sage and volcanic rock." Kim Stafford reveals the mythic surge of the road in "Highway 83 North Out of Liberal 5AM": "I have come back to stars / overhead, and all along the circumference of the dark / distant farm lights glitter, north of the vertical ruby beads / of the radio tower, and out east that glow of the gas field / below the horizon past Arkalon." David Ray, James Tipton, William Pitt Root, Pamela Uschuk, Art Goodtimes, and Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer are amongst the widely recognized poets also included in the collection.

Telling it Real presents superb prose works as well. Reyes Garcia depicts the art of ranchland irrigation in "Waterwork." In "Eating the Peach," Karen Chamberlain describes the lush explosion of her garden at Horsethief Ranch in southeastern Utah, and her sadness at her elderly mother's final visit to that remote desert land: "I took consolation in eating the season's last peach, so heavy with juice that it had to be sipped from its skin on the tree. I wished I'd been able to slice it into a bowl for my mother." Leonard "Red" Bird, a veteran of army maneuvers held during nuclear detonations at Nevada's Yucca Flats, portrays his encounter with a Hibakusha, a survivor of the atomic bombing of Japan, in "The Courage to Hope," while Michael Ventura explores his own transformational encounter with a Catholic priest in "The Way of Forever at Chimayo."

Peter Anderson brought a mystical, neo-Beat sensibility to Pilgrimage. The author of an essay collection entitled First Church of the Higher Elevations, Anderson's writing merges Buddhist concepts with Christianity, in much the same way Jack Kerouac and Thomas Merton did half a century ago. And while Anderson's spirituality did not shape all of the contents of Pilgrimage during his years as editor, it certainly had an influence, as is evident in "One Prayer" by Harrison Candelaria Fletcher.

In this essay, Fletcher examines his painful ambivalence towards religion. A lapsed Catholic who refuses to embrace his mother's rigidly conservative version of her faith--her priest praises men who shoot abortion doctors and ridicules "activists, free thinkers, artists, and reporters"--Fletcher nonetheless returns every Easter to make a pilgrimage to Tomé Hill, a volcanic mound south of Albuquerque sacred to the Penitentes.

Fletcher possesses an exquisite sense of detail, as demonstrated in this powerful image of his spiritual confusion. As a child of eight, he would steal the glow-in-the-dark rosary his grandmother had given his big sister. After charging up the beads under a lamp until his fingers burned, he would duck under the bedcovers and "fall asleep with the glowing crucifix in my hands, watching it fade."

And that's telling it real.

John Nizalowski teaches creative writing at Mesa State College and is the author of a multi-genre work entitled Hooking the Sun.