Essays on the Midwest, each grappling well with the idea of townships. A township is a six-mile square—36 sections of 640 acres each: The Midwest was surveyed in this fashion in the early 19th century. When roads were made, they followed the grid-lines: north- south, east-west; it gave a Jeffersonian order to the wilderness, and a character to midwesterners: practical, upright, clean. Maybe that's true, or partly true. You couldn't tell from some of these writers who, not long out of various writing programs, look across cornfields and see words. Others, like Carol Bly, pass lightly over the township concept to speak of the environmental problems facing Minnesota, Duluth particularly. Stuart Dybek, from a mixed neighborhood in Chicago, writes entertainingly about what shaped him as a writer, in the process illustrating how meaningless the township concept is for a large city. Ray A. Young Bear, a poet from the Mesquakie Reservation in central Iowa, writes lyrically of his grandfather's death and of the holiness of the land, to which subjects the metaphor of townships seems irrelevant or even at odds. On the other hand, Michael Wilkerson, writing from a far-left perspective, tells us exactly who owns townships: railroads and utility companies, with huge easements and endless payments unto them. Ellen Hunnicutt gives us a view of country becoming town, in an evocation of a childhood on the wrong side of the Bloomington, Indiana, tracks. Joseph Geha muses good-humoredly on the fortunes of a Lebanese-American (himself) in Iowa farm country. Paul Gruchow, James B. Hall, C.J. Hribal, and Howard Kohn are each skilled in evoking a rural Midwest that, if it has not exactly died, has changed dramatically. The three portray the disappearance of family farms, while Kohn relates, in wry detail, how a golf course came to exist in a rural township, and of one man's—his father's—resistance and eventual capitulation. Flawlessly intelligent essays, variously nostalgic, angry, and prophetic.
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