A charming, accessible collection of poems on nature, everyday life and the benefit of hindsight.
One of this slim volume’s first poems is an ode to humility. In life, Dawson (Yesterday’s Moon, 2010) writes, “your odds improve for a better ride / With more humility and far less pride.” Such simple lessons abound early in this collection, as does a deep respect for simple pleasures. The “Wallowa” of the title refers to the author’s cattle ranch in Wallowa County, Ore., and many of his poems hail its majestic attributes and particularly its ability to help him put things in perspective: “the primal power of the repeated theme / Belittles my importance in the larger scheme.” Dawson is an unapologetic formalist—a traditionalist who jokes that he believes in rhyme and goes on to prove it in every poem. Although he’s not a groundbreaking poet, he can certainly turn a phrase, and there’s a certain lay quality to his work that serves him well. As a narrator, he’s hard not to like, and his poems have a rolling melody that’s pleasing and admirable. His unabashed fondness for nature may grate on some readers, but the collection is far more than a mere homage to mountains and trees. In fact, Dawson interjects “real life” throughout, grounding his retreat in a quotidian reality; at one point, he delicately references the housing bubble: “We purchased our place / When the prices had peaked, / Then struggled thereafter / To make ends meet.” The book has a distinct melancholy that comes, it seems, from the harsh juxtaposition of living in these two worlds. At such moments, the author might have challenged himself a bit more formally by veering away from neat, dependable rhymes, but overall, he manages to make the verses’ tones interesting and varied enough. Toward the end, instead of offering more lessons, he does a fine job of turning the lens on himself, second-guessing decisions he’s made and bringing them to light in a powerful way.
A solid, spirited take on poetry and life.