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When we read good reviews, we definitely like to share them. It gives the author a few (permanent) moments of fame and allows us to let the community know about a great book. Here’s this week’s book review:
After the Chisholm
by George Rhoades
Publisher: Outskirts Press
This wide-ranging collection of poems focuses on farm and cattle country after the Chisholm Trail closed, on cowboys and cowgirls, on memories of rural life and other reflections and recollections. The Chisholm Trail ceased about 1890, and the cattle drives from deep in Texas, across the plains of Oklahoma to the cow towns in Kansas, were no more. Fences, settlers, highways, towns and cities now fill what was once open country for a thousand miles.
* courtesy of Amazon.com
George Rhoades owns a hay farm in Stephens County, but his book of poems, “Along the Chisholm Trail” (Outskirts Press, $9.95), offers a broad picture of life, past and present, on the plains of Oklahoma and West Texas.
His several careers — soldier, printer, rancher and journalist — are reflected in some of the poems, but the majority paint a picture of bygone days on the plains. In the nostalgic opening, on the hardships and joys of the cattle drives, he sets the stage in the first two of 22 verses:
The cowboys who came up the trail,
Dusty, grimy, gritty, sweatin’,
Drivin’ the long, windin’ herds,
Didn’t know they were creatin’
A myth, a legend, shapin’ a dream
For a nation and ridin’ into history;
Epics, icons, symbols, heroic images
Emerged later to build the story.
Danger on the trail is covered in “Crossing the Red,” in which animals and cowboys are lost when they pick the wrong place to ford the river. “Farm for Sale” and “Dyin’ Small Towns” tell of tough times, while “In Troubled Times” encourages folks to follow the cowboy’s way of meeting adversity.
“Maggie Belle and the Yeller Moon Saloon” shows how trail riders relax and sometimes get in trouble. There is humor, too. In “Anger,” the poet vents about the driver of a shiny new Lexus who cut him off from a parking spot. A six-line verse “At Wal-Mart” observes the comings and goings of shoppers.
And in “How Hot and Dry Was It?” a group of cowboys “settin’ around the campfire” come up with competing versions of the worst summer ever. Some of their comments might be appropriate today in Oklahoma.
Rhoades provides the reader with some easy-to-read history of his native state in an enjoyable book.
After the Chisholm by George Rhoades is a collection of poetry focusing on cowboys and cowgirls, and the countryside after the Chisholm trail was closed in the 1890s. Many of the poems, especially in the beginning, focus on the clash of cultures between what the land was and what the land is becoming. In the very first poem there is a line, ‘The Chisholm Trail lives now in myth and memory,’ and it sums up a lot of the conflict in these poems. For example, in the poem “Boots,” it discusses a boot factory that the town tried really hard to keep going, but it just couldn’t survive
the changing times.
I found the poems to be well-written with an appeal based on the sheer lamentation of the way things are changing. I think everyone over the age of thirty will find something relatable in this, because even if you strip away the cowboy and cowgirl aspect, it is essentially about the feeling of separation between a person and culture as times change. Some of the poems are more playful than others, like “Shovelin’ Out The Cowlot,” which points out that milk isn’t the only thing you get from a cow.
I think my favorite poem was probably “Sky,” because it contains a lot of brilliant and evocative imagery that helped bring the climate and circumstances to life. It isn’t very long, but it is very clever and enjoyable. Definitely, the one that sums up the volume, however, is “Unintended Consequences,” which talks about how every development brings with it unintended consequences, like cigarettes being considered healthy, cars and pollution, etc. Great poems. I love the imagery and the blending of old with the new. After the Chisholm by George Rhoades is an excellent volume, and I think anyone who picks it up will find something heartily relatable
– reviewed by Ryan Jordan of Readers’ Favorite Reviews
Part One deals with the cowboy life, and life along the Chisholm Trail. The author’s voice here is very distinctive, and the poems encompass all facets of such life, which is definitely epic. As the author put it so well himself:
“No wonder the cowboys rode
Into the hearts and imagination
Of the world, and shaped forever
The endurin’ character of this nation.”
The range of emotions expressed in the poems in Part One is very wide, and the author deals with the subjects with a lot of dignity and respect. It would have been quite easy to depict cowboys as somewhat cartoonish, but that did not happen even in the most light-hearted of the poems in this collection. While this way of life is not familiar to me in the slightest, I greatly enjoyed reading about it.
Part Two is less homogeneous, and much more contemporary, and deals with all kinds or ruminations on life, many of which are truly thought provoking. Some are sad, some are wistful, some downright hilarious, and of all of them my favorite happened to be one of the shortest poems in this book. “At Wal-Mart” has barely thirty-something words, yet it perfectly captures so much of what one sees there. While I laughed out loud at first after reading it, I felt compelled to re-read it later, and discovered that it was actually quite serious.
George Rhoades’ Along the Chisholm Trail and Other Poems was quite a departure from what I usually read, but I am glad I took the time to read it. It opened my eyes to a world that was completely new to me, and also reminded me of many everyday things to cherish and remember.
– reviewed by Olivera Baumgartner-Jackson of blogcritics.org (found on SeattlePI.com)