What is the West? Where does it begin and end? How does one even get there?
According to the “West of 98” editors and contributors, the answer to all three questions is: it depends. The West is less terra firma than it is terra incognita, a landscape of the imagination that is still being mapped by politicians and poets.
Lynn Stegner, who co-edited the anthology with Billings author Russell Rowland, writes in the introduction that the original goal was to find “a kind of Greek chorus that might define, remark upon, and otherwise characterize the West as each of us grew to know it, and, equally important, the West that is still becoming. A declaration not of our independence this time, but of our interdependence.”
What Stegner and Rowland got were 67 writers — most of them all-stars in contemporary west-of-the-Mississippi literature and each with a distinct and often contradictory perspective on what it means to live “west of the 98th meridian.”
* * *
But where are we? That’s the real question at stake here in these pages. The answer is as slippery as that cutthroat trout you hold briefly in your hands before setting him free back into the current.
Robert Wrigley, in his poem “Progress,” opens with these lines: “You begin to fear all the nowheres are somewheres now./Everywhere’s been discovered.”
It’s true, we may have no more John Fremonts or Kit Carsons scouting new territory. The only place we can find the undiscovered country is in our imaginations — which these 67 writers have pinned to the map as well as anyone can