Chris La Tray's “attention in these small moments, paired with his simple, honest, and heartfelt words, helps to remind us that the smallest moment is important.”

Mitigating the In Between
A review of Chris La Tray's One-Sentence Journal  

by Bryn Agnew


“A quiet cup or two of coffee in the morning
and an ice cold beer or two in the evening
go a long way toward mitigating
whatever may have happened in between.”

– Chris La Tray, One-Sentence Journal


            Reading Chris La Tray’s first book One-Sentence Journal (Riverfeet Press 2018), I’m struck by the interlinking of a million tiny magics. Each poem and essay in La Tray’s book focus on what would appear to be microscopic and ordinary moments. Innocuous some would say. But not La Tray. His attention in these small moments, paired with his simple, honest, and heartfelt words, helps to remind us that the smallest moment is important. That chain-wrapped tires can sound like sleigh bells, that a glorious afternoon doesn’t require sunshine, or that living paycheck to paycheck makes every other Friday feel like Christmas.

            The majority of One-Sentence Journal is made up of short poems (yes, often just one sentence) grouped by season. These sections’ structure is very intuitive, each moment being captured and honored within its own space while also maintaining the context of that particular season. Whether it is the needling cold of windblown ice or Missoula covered in golden, autumn leaves, La Tray shies away from nothing, finding beauty, wisdom, and worth in everything.

            Between the sections of short poems, La Tray drops in essays and longer poems, giving the reader a deeper look into value of small things (or perhaps they aren’t small at all). The topics range from propane deliveries (“My Life in Propane”), drunken encounters (“Higgins and 3rd”), Lincoln, MT after the capture of Ted Kaczynski (“Lincoln After Ted”), to the struggle between a fish and snake (“Creekside Drama”). But perhaps the crown jewel of these longer bits is the final essay, “Notes on the Sacred Art of Dog Walking.” In this penultimate essay, La Tray writes about loss and how a dog gave him something he didn’t know he needed, about how doing something that many would consider ordinary or a chore can resuscitate the soul of a person.

            I think that it would be incredibly reductive to talk about One-Sentence Journal as if it was a book about just one thing. No book is just about a singular topic. La Tray knows this and writes about the not-so-little things that many of us choose to ignore. He writes about them with the utmost gratitude. He is grateful for the gifts the world gives us, gifts that help us to be better people and pay attention to all that is happening around us. It’s all important. His writing, this book, is something we should be grateful for, because like all the best books, it is a gift.

“Every time I get outdoors,
            (up in the hills
            along the river
I feel like the world just gives and gives
and I’m not doing a damn thing
to give anything back.”

– Chris La Tray, One-Sentence Journal

Chris La Tray, an enrolled member of the Little Shell Tribe of Chippewa Indians, is a writer and photographer who lives just outside Missoula, Montana. His work has appeared in various magazines, collections and anthologies. It has been suggested that, because of the nature of his work, Chris La Tray must smell like Yukon gold dust, spruce tips, and cedar waxwings. He hopes it's true.

Bryn Agnew is a MFA fiction candidate at the University of Montana and bookseller at Missoula's Fact & Fiction. He holds a BA and MA in creative writing from the University of North Texas. His stories and essays have appeared in Mid-American Review, The Nottingham Review, and North Texas Review.