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January 18, 2012



by John

METACOWBOY: poems. By Rodney Nelson. (2011. The Moon Publishing and Printing The Moon) 34 pp. $14

These are brilliant and delightful poems that soothe mind and heart—unique insights to a life and landscape North Dakotan Rodney Nelson introduces and shares from the inside out and visa-versa, an intertwining of mind and place that is light at times, but more often captivating. (Try as I might to merge this Rodney Nelson with the Rodney Nelson of Cowboy Poetry stages, these North Dakotans are not one in the same.)

These poems move on the page without (permission or) punctuation, each word demanding equal weight, each line its own, often offset as asides in a poem. The closest adherence to form among these thirty poems, some of which have debuted previously in as many as fifteen different small press publications, is “CHANTS FROM NO ONE OTHER”, an excerpt from his longer narrative poem “NO ONE OTHER” that reminds me slightly of a villanelle without the rhyme. But it is the ease in which Nelson navigates his poetic plane, from muddy flats and prairie sage to mountain ranges triggering connected meanings that intrigues me, where more than a memory/ of juniper scent will draw you up/ and make you content to live/ the morning (“BELONG”).

There is a well-thought sadness here, but an acceptance that seldom weighs heavily as the poet escapes with a grin:

                    where men have made a heap of boulders that
                    have no right home in the drought-cracked mud flats here and
                    amid them an only sunflower is working
                    toward tall and I hear the clamant young voice of
                    a crow on the woody other bank
                                        why do I
                    get a hello smile
                                        every young brown woman
                                        of them I meet
                    not one afoot however
                                        go wheeling
                    away from the last elm in the world
                    they know I have nothing on under
                    my skin or maybe its my old Yuma hat

                    (“YUMA HAT”)

Not unlike crossing the Great Basin for me, these poems come from great spaces that ring timelessly, yet familiar, almost as if any inhabitant, man or beast, could have felt and written them down, or as if they were indelibly etched in the land. It is

                                        late afternoon
                    but I had a nose for the world now
                    and knew witch hazel when I smelled it

                    (“EAST OF WALLA WALLA”)

This small but special collection of poems offers a native’s eye and heart. Five Stars!

Read more from METACOWBOY: poems, REVIEWS
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