Sketches from the Great Plains
By Merrill Gilfillan
(Bison Books, Paperback, 9780803271074, 194pp.)
Publication Date: March 2003
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The rolling, billowing, delicate landscape of Nebraska’s Sandhills; the tombstone of Billy the Kid—stolen so often that it must be caged and shackled—in Fort Sumner, New Mexico; an intercontinental ballistic missile trundling down a highway under heavy guard in Weld County, Colorado; cottonwoods and cranes, faded hotels and abandoned trailers painted aqua and purple; the ghosts of Pawnees, Cheyennes, and Kiowas and generations of settlers whose descendants now grouse in a café in Heimdahl, North Dakota, or roar off to a bikers convention in Sturgis, South Dakota. These are some of the things that catch Merrill Gilfillan’s eye and ear in this radiant collection of essays. Written with a poetic economy that often attains grandeur, Magpie Rising is an exhilarating tour of the Great Plains—its geography, wildlife, history, mythology, and food, its vast spaces and weirdly synchronous time. This is nature writing at its most evocative and insightful.
Merrill Gilfillan is the author of a collection of essays titled Chokecherry Places: Essays from the High Plains in addition to two books of short stories and seven books of poetry.
“This is a book to be read as a poet’s experiment in prose, slowly and with attention to the language.”—Sue Hubbell, New York Times Book Review
“Gilfillan is a careful observer of the outward elements of the land—its shapes, its plant life, its birds. . . . His pieces sparkle with invention and insight when he merges the landscape with interior voices of history and myth.”—Steve Paul, Kansas City Star
"This is an elliptical collection of essays; they flare with intensity, then wobble and dip as if Gilfillan were breathing in the landscape as he wrote and patches of it''s beauty staggered him. Certain passages read like the love letters of a bachelor farmer—unexpected passion rising up in what seemed a barren spot."—Nancy Fay, Southwest Book Views