Waterston – Diane Glacy

Waterston Desert Writing Prize

Diane Glacy – 2023 Finalist

DIANE GLANCY has lived most of her life along I-35— the north/south interstate that runs from Duluth to Loredo in the great middle of America.  She is professor emerita from Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota.  She has lived in Iowa, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, and now Gainesville, Texas, at the crossroads of I-35 and the Red River.  In her imagination she travels the desert and separates it into useable parts.

Her essay, “The Desert as Story that Hath Different Meanings, a Hybrid Narrative of Earlier and Later Deserts,” was a finalist for the 2023 Waterston Desert Writing Prize. 

She calls the essay a speculative desert for the western landscape.  She reads from it at the 2024 MLA conference in Philadelphia (to which she will drive from Texas) on a panel called, “The Speculative American West.”

In the essay, Glancy writes the desert as history. The desert as disrupted text. The desert as a house she bought flipped by those who didn’t know what they were doing. The desert of her being.

She would call the paper imaginative research. Or lyrical scholarship, counting those things that are not as though they were.

Glancy spends much time by herself on the road driving the deserts of southwest Texas into New Mexico and Arizona— taking notes.

She begins her essay—

He found him in a desert land,

and in the waste howling wilderness—

Deuteronomy 32:10.

In this desert of my affection, I challenge the concept of desert.  A dry place.  A hot place.  An oppositional place— a merism— the heat of day and the cold night.  The dismantling and re-assemblage of what is known.  Lost in the desert of the imagination.  Distorted with heat waves.  I post notes.  These resplendences of mirage, memory, association.  Those places Moses wandered with his people.

A desert is a narrow alley of our western frontier.  Cacti are tenants of the desert.  Barrel cacti— the bowling balls.  Saguaro— the bowling pins.

When a man is riding through the desert and something happens

to make him loiter and lose his companions—

The Travels, 1299, Marco Polo

Sometimes voices call him by name.  Yet he answers.  The heat upsetting his text.  His own fears haunt the desert.  They aggravate.  He goeth where the noise is.  Speaks as wind speaketh to air.  As bowling sometimes sounds.  And thinking sometimes saw.  Who owleth the desert— Psalm 102:6.  Nothingness of sand and sky repeated.  The crossing of sand flies.  Hoards.  Pulling.  He has to go on.  A form he saw spoken of by lost desert travelers.  Gigging.  The rig.  No he had none.  Was on him alone.  Lost somehow stranded.  None to call but the camels.  Their bells to follow.

I have it in me / To scare myself

with my own desert places—                                                     

“Desert Places,” Robert Frost

Glancy’s books and awards are on her website, www.dianeglancy.com.  Her latest book, Psalm to Whom(e), was published by Turtle Point Press in 2023, where she writes about her travels through the desert of Texas, the speculative desert of Kansas, and the broader range of the imagination.