I have a fondness for Cowboy Poetry. I enjoy the fact that overwhelmingly Cowboy Poetry is written by dedicated amateurs; a spontaneous appreciation for their way of life in the form of poetry. Almost all of Cowboy Poetry is rhymed metric verse. And most of it consists of ballads, storytelling. Some if it is didactic and opinionated, but for the most part Cowboy Poetry tells stories, both thoughtful and humorous, about the poet’s life.
Imagine my surprise, then, when I stumbled across a collection of haiku in an anthology of Cowboy Poetry. The book is Cowboy Poetry National Gathering: The Anthology, edited by Meredith Dias, sponsored by the Western Folklife Center and published by Lyons in 2014. The subtitle is ’Celebrating 30 Year of Wrangling Words’.
The poems in the anthology are arranged by author. The haiku are written by Carolyn Dufurrena (beginning on page 53). In the brief bio it says that she lives on a ranch in northwestern Nevada and notes that she has published a number of books. The haiku are all on a single theme found in the title, ‘Notes on Starting Colts’. Here is an example:
The days are quiet,
Mares go to winter pasture.
Colts finally settle.
His ears flick forward.
Paint muzzles for a mouthful,
Trusting his teacher.
Loop sails over neck.
She won’t be like the others.
Up, up she rises.
All of the haiku are about training colts. Reading this one is given an intimate glimpse into the life of a rancher and her interaction with her colts. Most of the haiku are seasonal; and the few that didn’t speak to me of season probably do so for a rancher in similar circumstances. The approach to haiku is syllabic; they are all 5-7-5, with a few plus or minus one syllable. Dufurrena capitalizes all the first words of all the lines, using the traditional approach of English poetry. Most of the haiku are in two parts, though the juxtaposition effect is minimal. Full sentences are the norm. More than a few of the haiku contain two or even three full sentences.
The haiku are in what I think of as a ‘plain’ style. There are no metaphors or similes, no figures of speech. None of the haiku rhyme. They are like snapshots of the author’s moments of training her colts. There are 21 haiku arranged in five groups. Each group is focused on an aspect of training. Taken together the haiku tell us a story, though each haiku can stand on its own. The story is kind of a sketch, an outline, but it is there.
I am fascinated by how pervasive the 5-7-5 tercet has become in English language poetry. You find it in unexpected places; like an anthology of Cowboy Poetry. This tercet has become a major vehicle for poetic expression in 21st century English. You can even find it out west among the ranchers and their colts.
She leads easy now.
This season’s work is finished.
Until springtime, then.
Cowboy Poetry National Gathering
The Anthology: Celebrating 30 Years of Wrangling Words
Project Editor: Meredith Dias