“…a searing account that has no sentimentality or romanticism, is gruesome and unfathomable, and impossible to put down. Disturbing, Unfathomable, Irresistible.”
Grassland is a remarkable book, and not for the reasons that appear in reviews. More meditation than novel, this work casts aside familiar elements of plot and character for something uncompromisingly and radically Other. It’s set in 1830s Nebraska, but comes from somewhere much more remote, pre-Homeric. I am reminded of Gilgamesh, of fragments of Tiamet and Marduk from ancient Assyria, where humans and gods are blended and shifting entities whose actions are inscrutable. The impossibility of knowing is embodied in the point-of-view character, Horst. German by birth, old and weak, he is near death in the first scene and in many scenes that follow. His accounts are sharp in detail, but blurred and uncomprehending as to cause or consequence. He spends much of the book with Pakskkiis, who is part human, part rumor, part god, once a woman and mother, a survivor of scalping, referred to as “she” or “he” or “they” in the narration. Pakskkiis is feared, loved, hated, indulged; has agency and power, or is pitiable and withdrawn in shifting scenes made more kaleidoscopic by mescal hallucination. Another near inhuman character is King James, Christian Pawnee smallpox survivor. “His left eye was caved shut… [several more lines describing disfigurement] a torment of pox finally healed so that his face was almost featureless, not Pawnee, or even human, but some other.” Hawk gives these characters a patois probably authentic but disturbingly reminiscent of early cowboy movies. “Beware this Mission Man, this Christian, he wicked. You speak of such with no one. Mission Man he must not hear of this.” This book has moments of tenderness, but more of torture and death, including an excruciating Morning Star Ceremony, the human sacrifice of a young girl. In the front matter Hawk acknowledges an long list of books on the Pawnee. I don’t doubt he is faithful to these records, creating a searing account that has no sentimentality or romanticism, is gruesome and unfathomable, and impossible to put down.
In order of publication are the books from poets I was honored to have worked with.
Pebble Creek by Amil Quayle
A Quiet I Carry With Me by Nancy Peters Hastings
Burning the Hymnal by William Kloefkorn
Old Malt Quatrains by an anonymous book collector
Heartwood and Other Poems by R.F. McEwen
A Brief History of Feathers by Don Welch
In Our Very Bones by Twyla Hansen
On the grasslands of the Great Plains in 1833, sixty-year-old Gerhardt Horst, is stricken with a stroke and thrown out on the open prairie. He survives due in part to the care of a transgender Wichita shaman with an exceptional past. Together, along with an ancient Pawnee crone, a mixed-blood boy, and a foundling infant, they begin a passage through the uncharted possibilities of the early American West with all its savagery, solitude, and splendor. Coming into intimate and lethal contact with hostile tribes and renegade soldiers, Pawnee priests and Christian missionaries, tornados and wildfires, this provisional family struggles to survive and overcome the obstacles of language, sexuality, culture, and religion, in a land of unbounded violence and beauty. beauty.
A Slow Tempo Press
5647 S. 73rd, Lincoln, NE, 68516
Independent Publisher and Editor
This year marks the 25th anniversary of the founding of A Slow Tempo Press. I started the press in 1993 and published the first title that year. The final title was printed in 1997. During those five years the press produced seven books of poetry by seven different poets. With assistance from the Nebraska Humanities Council and the Nebraska Center for the Book the press also produce A Resource Guide to Six Nebraska Authors, Volumes One and Two, co-edited by Kira Gale and myself. I no longer carry an inventory of the titles. I retain three or four copies on my bookshelf at home.
Since the press ceased operations twenty-one years ago, much has changed in the world of publishing. Most of those changes have been for the better. Back in the early 90's I set the text and page design on an early release of the software program Pagemaker. Some of the early book covers were designed by myself, and as the press moved forward were designed by those more gifted. The books were printed locally and distributed through the mail or sold hand to hand with the poets doing much of the selling themselves.
We are pleased to announce that A Slow Temp Press is re-establishing itself with the release of Grassland, a novel by Asa Hawk.
As things move along, we will also be looking for other novel, short story collections, and creative nonfiction projects. Check out Grassland to get a feel as to the direction the press is moving. Watch this page for any announcements concerning submissions.
Thanks for your continued interest,