Airs, Waters, Places

I might say at the onset that I am usually not a big fan of anthologies, though I have edited one; most end up unwieldy grab bags of vaguely related material. This is emphatically not the case with Gregory McNamee's Named in Stone and Sky, a collection of Southwestern material that marvelously coheres into a portrait of this harsh and wonderful region. To assemble his portrait, McNamee does not rely on "literature" only, even in its broadest definition. He includes poetry and bits of fiction, but also searches out Native American songs and prayers, explorers' diaries, and scientists' writings. He is not afraid to add Zane Grey and the doggerel of old cowboys. The result may be the best local anthology I know. While he nods respectfully to The Last Best Place, a collection of Montanan literature by Annick Smith and William Kittredge published in 1988, I consider his to be a much better book.

McNamee has organized this book innovatively, not in chronological order or by segregating fact from fiction, prose from poetry, but around broad themes of "Airs," "Waters," and "Places." He knows, as did the New Mexican historian Ross Calvin (whose writings on the Gila River he includes) that "sky determines," that dryness and the uncertain water supply have shaped everything in the Southwest from the evolution of leaves to the (often) impermanence of settlement. He...

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