‘SILVER’ (ed. Melanie Villines & Joan Jobe Smith)

-Reviewed by Rory O’Sullivan-

Here’s an idea: invite some of your colleagues in the writing scene to submit individual pieces of short fiction, novel excerpts, verse, screenplay and other literary minutiae – all of which must honour a pre-determined theme – collate them, shuffle them into a polished sequence, then sit back and watch your anthology receive all the plaudits it deserves.

Unfortunately, we’ve been beaten to it. So we’ll have to make do with Silver Birch Press showing us how it’s done.

Silver anthology Silver Birch Press

The Los Angeles-based publisher have brought us SILVER: An Eclectic Anthology of Poetry and Prose, a compendium of silver-themed literature featuring work from established as well as up-and-coming writers.

Editors Joan Jobe Smith and Melanie Villines (who themselves appear extensively) will doubtless have been pleased by the vast range of subject matter, tone, style and form that the numerous contributions threw up – each one offering a varying salute to the concept of silver from one to the next.

Of the many connotations of silver, it’s little surprise that age – or, rather, ageing – features prominently. ‘Yoga Teacher’ by Tamara Madison is a poem that suggests how greying and getting old can be a graceful, almost beautiful, process in a physical sense but warns that the mental equivalent can leave a lot to be desired. Grey hairs are treated differently in ‘This gray hair means something’ by Thomas Kudla, a piece of fiction that explores the trauma of youth and its effect on appearance.

Indeed, many of the pieces in the collection share sub-themes of silver but leave us with contrasting perceptions of them. Love – and the many ways this is manifest through the colour silver – is no different. For example, a silver ring in ‘Today you open the wooden cabinet’ by Meghan Pinson marks the end of couple’s marriage, and serves a similar purpose in Tim Wells’ two-stanza ‘Talvisota’, whereas silver is celebrated in ‘Silver threads among Gold’: Barbara Dahl with a heartwarming tribute to love’s potential longevity and her 25 years of ‘untarnished’ wedlock.

Another stark category of the silver pre-requisite comes in the form of weather, climate and seasonality: the off-white clouds in ‘Mystic mists of Rotorura’ and ‘Foggy November’ by Dale Sprowl; the moonlight that creates silver linings on fallen leaves in Amy Lowell’s ‘Autumn’; the clouds and their silver lining in Barbara Eknoian’s ‘Glimmer’; not to mention the beautifully poetic depiction of a crescent moon in Lowell’s ‘Silver eyelash’.

We also encounter a melancholy side to silver. ‘The Dancer Downstairs’ by Paul Kareem Tayyar tells the tale of a boy transfixed by the out-of-body meditations of a woman in a neighbouring flat that is a nod towards voodooism and magical realism, while the religious and the supernatural are brought to light in ‘Car Ma’ by Barbara Alfaro. Merrill Farnsworth’s ‘My Divine Comedy’ considers the diabolic implications of a recurring nightmare. The subject of hell also touched on by Fred Voss, who questions why it should take the work of Dante to inspire anyone to compose an landmark piece of literature.

Voss is partly responsible for another of the major manifestations of silver. Along with a poem by Linda King, he offers an illuminating tribute to the late Jack Micheline, whose birth name is actually Harold Marton Silver. Voss honours the famous Beat poet with a literary profile and a poem of his own, while three examples of work from the great man himself are included.

Indeed, much of the anthology’s ‘cast’ are accomplished professionals – Walter de la Mare and Lowell, to name two other poets that fit such a billing. That may well deny a total sense of the ‘ephemeral’ as many of the contributors are established to some degree, but it’s fair to say the anthology’s freshness owes a lot to the grassroots arena.

For all its brilliance on a micro scale, it’s easy to lose sight of the anthology’s vastness. I really have barely scratched the surface. It weighs in at a hefty 240 pages, and features no fewer than 62 different contributors. That’s contributors, not contributions – and some, including Smith – chip in with a handful each. Words? Just the 51,000 of them.

The great benefit of the anthology’s size is that it allows for a seemingly endless comparative scope, to which I’ve given a disproportionately modest indication. And that certainly seems to be Smith’s intention, if her initial idea for a silver-themed anthology is anything to go by. After briefing the invited contributors, she was hoping to receive anything ‘from second-place finishes, to eating utensils, twenty-fifth wedding anniversaries, hair color, swirling fog, coins, bells, jewelry, the tin man, space suits, car bumpers, airplanes, family heirlooms and on and on. Let silver spark your imagination’ – that final thought, which comes towards the end of the collection’s introduction, carrying a certain irony, for it ends up as an instruction not to the author, but to the reader. I, for one, obeyed.

One outcome is that I’ll be following many of the names this anthology has brought to my attention, their work blazing a silver trail that I urge you to explore with as much curiosity as I will be.