Ever faithful to the cowboy-poet ethic, Dawson never strays from the land and the cattle-rancher lifestyle that he so clearly loves.
By turns humorous, nostalgic and reflective, Dawson’s poems insist on uncomplicated, traditional values and on a taciturn sort of self-discovery, a process marked by action more than introspection. Dawson’s narrators always learn something about themselves, but they do so unselfconsciously, pitting themselves against the elements, breaking themselves down with hard work or immersing themselves unquestioningly in collective efforts. What they learn, they attempt to teach, as every poem comes with a lesson, a point Dawson explicitly makes in the hilarious “Apparently Not”—“Most stories from the farm have a moral or two. / This is no exception, when properly viewed.” Billed as rhyming free verse, the poems revert most frequently—and most enjoyably—to heavily punctuated iambs in an a-b-c-b rhyme scheme with a judicious peppering of internal rhyme thrown in for seasoning. Dawson’s quick pacing and light touch are perhaps nowhere more in evidence than in “When the Breeze Becomes a Storm,” the brief ballad of a cowboy who allows stubborn emotion to trump logic, refusing to believe the weather will turn on him until he and his mare are finally caught in a furious storm. Though he promises his frightened horse that he will trust her instincts the next time, she knows that “He’d downplay the signs, / He’d prevaricate, / Only turning to her / After it was too late. // That’s just how it was / For she’d known from the start / That like every other cowboy, / He led with his heart.” Not every poem in this collection gallops quite so easily. Dawson occasionally slows down for more somber reflection, as in “Gathering,” a heavy, nostalgic piece in which the 14- and 15-syllable lines lumber and lurch within the tight corral of an a-a-b-b rhyme scheme, losing grace and momentum. Fortunately, those moments are outnumbered by the tighter arrangements and quicker lines at which Dawson excels. Though he shares some similarities of voice with Joel Nelson, Dawson, unlike many cowboy poets, eschews colloquialisms and vernacular, giving his verse a more accessible, contemporary flavor.
Dawson’s earnest, refreshing collection will appeal to anyone not afraid to have fun with poetry.