I'll tell you right up front: a little poem of mine appears in this new anthology, In Drought Time: Scenes from Rural and Small Town Life, edited by Douglas Smith, Melody Vassoff, and Karen Woollams. My Observer editor tells me that we don't have to worry about conflict of interest because I'll never make a cent from it. But I have something in this book, because, like the editors, I too appreciate the project.

Many of us who grew up in small towns remember them with a certain nostalgia, even when we also remember the urge to flee. But few of us ever leave home entirely: the small town still defines us in an inescapable way. People who moved there from larger places share the nostalgia, although they often don't understand the need some of us had to escape. The editors of In Drought Time have done a good job representing the various nostalgias and have selected both works that celebrate these places (for the most part places in western Washtenaw County) and those that have an unmistakable edge.

The book includes some poetry by well-known writers (Laura Kasischke, Thomas Lynch, Richard Tillinghast, songwriter Jay Stielstra, and others), but most of the work is by lesser-known people, some publishing for the first time. The book is lovingly illustrated by more than twenty artists, most of them local. There are several examples from Laura Strowe, whose exquisite renderings of houses and backyards are familiar to many from her Observer cover paintings. Washtenaw Community College art instructor Elaine Wilson has several landscapes from the western part of the county, including some that exploit the iconic nature of silos. The editors and the publisher have spent the time and money necessary to reproduce these paintings very well. The colors are deep and rich, even when the reproductions are only a couple of inches square.

There are genuinely exquisite poems as well. Laura Kasischke's "Blizzard at the Chelsea Fair," with its mix of humorous narrative and conflicted maternal emotions, will likely become a standard anthology piece. "Village without a River" is a successfully ambitious long sequence about Chelsea by coeditor Smith. But I am particularly attracted to the little poems that try to capture small moments. The book ends with one by Chelsea's David Sing, a deceptively simple poem that subtly echoes a famous poem by William Carlos Williams. The title, "There Are No Poems Here," appearing where it does in the book, can only be ironic:

There is a mower, wet with rain
Against a stand of red cedar.

In the maple, a nuthatch
Walks up the tree and pokes suet.
I think it will be a long winter.

On the hill, the children
Yell and run and fall
Sounds echo from the willow

Which is here, as well
Raining yellow daggers
Across the green lawn.

Some of the poets and artists featured in In Drought Time present their work at Washington Street Gallery on Friday, December 2, and at Shaman Drum Bookshop on Thursday, December 8.

[Review published December 2005]