by Carl Nagin, Contributor and Volunteer, West Marin Review
Outside the window
The ocean is sparkling, for no reason
I’m calling you, for no reason
To tell you this
–Hathaway Barry, “Sparkles”, West Marin Review, Vol. 10
With the release of its tenth issue, West Marin Review (WMR) has reached a notable milestone. For more than a decade, this award-winning literary and arts publication has published over 100 stories, 200 poems, and 500 art works, created by such writers and visual artists as Robert Hass, Terry Tempest Williams, Tom Killion, Peter Coyote, Natalie Goldberg, Toni Littlejohn, Fariba Bogzaran, Mimi Robinson, Susan Hall, and Jane Hirschfield. Alongside these established artists and writers, each issue features a cornucopia of local voices that reflect on Marin’s storied landscape, history, and places far beyond. More than an arts publication, WMR is a community—a production, as the masthead notes, of “neighbors and friends.”
“I wish every town or region had a journal like this,” writes former San Francisco Chronicle book editor Patricia Holt, “[so] rich with original stories, art, essays, poetry, photographs, even music. But the best thing about West Marin Review is that you don’t have to live in West Marin to fall in love with it. This beautiful book invites readers to poke around the adventurous and often eccentric minds of artists and writers from all over the country.”
Launched in the beautiful coastal town of Point Reyes Station in 2008, the publication is a grassroots, collaborative effort of volunteer editors, designers, community members, and many friends. It features creative work by artists, writers, and musicians of all ages from West Marin, across the United States, and beyond. For its design, signature covers, and visual excellence, WMR has garnered awards from the Book Industry Guild of New York and other national publishing and arts organizations.
WMR’s eclectic mix of creative work might lead readers and potential contributors to wonder at its underlying purpose and themes. Borrowing words from Tom Killion’s description about artistic process, each volume takes on a life of its own through visual and written stories that thread connections between diverse prose, poems, and works of art. In the end, no matter the planning, each book comes out as it will—one of the joys of publishing this journal.
In the first essay of WMR’s debut issue in Spring 2008, co-founder David Miller signaled one ongoing trope, the “geography of hope,” a phrase coined by Wallace Stegner that suggests both reverence and connection to landscape and place that continues to inform so much of the review’s visual and literary content.
“After a while your poetry fits your landscape,” as Bolinas poet Joanne Kyger told interviewer Steve Heilig in WMR’s second issue, “or should if you want to be grounded. Poetry should be about what’s going on.”
As co-founder Madeleine Corson says, “Prose, poetry and art boost courage and hope during difficult times. We want to shine a light on work that inspires and conveys the best in each of us.”
In WMR, connection to place takes many forms. For example, a landscape can bring us out of our smaller, disconnected selves and return us to something forgotten. Lifelong conservationist Brooke Williams’ essay (Volume 8) “Post-election Walkabout,” describes his three-day solo trek through Utah’s Adobe Mesa following Trump’s victory, noting that “the landscape I explore is vastly internal.” In a time of crisis and division, he rediscovers what the late ecologist Paul Shepard calls the core biological human, that secret person, undamaged that exists in each of us. “Awe,” Williams affirms, as he contemplates a layered red-rock canyon on a moonless desert night, “punctures any shell society has deposited over our true selves, and fires up evolution.”
Nearer to home, WMR often spotlights local history of this rural Marin County community. Volume 2 reproduces 19th-century letters from the Shafer family, who from 1850 to 1930 owned most of the peninsula that later became the Point Reyes National Seashore. Along with vignettes of a bygone rural California life, these letters display cross-writing, a penmanship practice in which correspondents wrote at right angles on the same letter page, creating a patchwork of recollections. Cross-writing saved paper at a time when its frugal use was as imperative as saving water in today’s California landscape.
In Volume 3, Agustina Martinez’s memoir “Life in Mexico” evokes the communal life of a family of migrant rural farmers and Aztec dancers in a landscape of hills and pine trees where brightly colored monarch butterflies journey back and forth each year just as her family did between their native pueblo and West Marin. WMR’s cover for that same issue featured Tom Killion’s Japanese-woodcut inspired image of the Bolinas Ridge as well as Elia Hayworth’s chronicle of farming and ranching in the mesa and valley across the estuary Killion depicts.
Bucolic and enchanting as Northern California’s vistas are, its settlement and history have not always been pristine. And WMR neither restricts itself to the local nor avoids the controversial. In the current issue (Volume 10), Berkeley writer Laura Atkins unravels the state’s hidden history of racism and slavery in a remarkable essay, “Whiteness and the Establishment of California.” She writes that “Early, blatant, race-based exclusion has led to redlining, racist lending practices, [and] lack of equal benefits for veterans, and many of the issues we talk about today: Reparations? Educational inequality? Mass incarceration? All have roots in what the ‘founding fathers’ created.”
Our local landscapes are global and interconnected. In a WMR Volume 4 essay, “Kitchen Tables,” investigative reporter and Point Reyes resident Mark Dowie describes his encounter with the anti-environmentalist “Sage Brush rebels” and the “county movement” that advocates local sovereignty over federal land nationwide. It took him to New Mexico’s Catron County and the kitchen table of one of its leaders, rancher and commissioner Hugh McKeen—a man, Dowie was warned, who might “shoot an environmental extremist on sight.”
They found common ground—a shared admiration for the writings of McKeen’s neighbor Aldo Leopold, and for floating in the Gila River and hiking the Mogollon mountains. “Close, patient, and honest dialogue between ranchers and enviros,” Dowie writes, “will make great strides toward right stewardship and…consensus in the land disputes that plague the West… often best had around kitchen tables.”
Also on the local front, WMR supports community education, soliciting poetry and art from local schools and publishing collaborative efforts such as Gallery Route One’s Artists in the Schools Program.
Among those WMR has featured: La Vida: Familia y Trabajo, an exhibit of student work from a bilingual photography literacy class documenting how Marin’s Latinos live in two worlds; a project from the West Marin and Bolinas-Stinson schools that had students track and describe the flow of water through the biodiverse watershed from the hills above Lagunitas Creek to the freshwater Olema Marsh, to a saltwater marsh in Tomales Bay, and out to the Pacific; students from Tomales High School photographing with pinhole Holga cameras the landscapes in which they live; and sculptor Dan McCormick’s collaboration with local seventh graders to weave large-scale art installations from willows and grasses that serve to restore West Marin’s eroded system of creeks and riverbeds.
WMR was co-founded by former Point Reyes Books owner Steve Costa, David Miller, editors Doris Ober and Myn Adess, and designer Madeleine Corson, and with the many-hands support of local community members. Today, Commonweal is the Review’s nonprofit sponsor, and book sales continue to flow through Point Reyes Books under current owner Stephen Sparks, as well as other Bay Area bookstores. As an all-volunteer publication, WMR has sustained itself through sales, donations, and fundraisers, and with Commonweal’s help, virtual and in-person reading events are being planned.
For further information, to order books, or to learn how you can get involved, please visit westmarinreview.org or email firstname.lastname@example.org. West Marin Review is a fiscally sponsored program at Commonweal.
TOP Masthead Artwork (left to right): Kay Bradner, Ten Birds (detail), 2017, Courtesy of Seager Gray Gallery; Lia Cook, Binary Traces Young Girl, 2004; Noreen Rei Fukumori, Fuyu Kaki, 1994