Homegrown and Other Poems

23 December 2014

Homegrown and other poems
By Bryce Burnett
Published by DriverWorks Ink
Review by Justin Dittrick
ISBN 9 781927 570081

In Bryce Burnett’s collection of cowboy poetry, Homegrown, readers will discover lively and intelligent poems that reminisce on country life from the turn-of-the-century to the present day. Bryce Burnett demonstrates that he is a master raconteur, spinning narratives of wit and turning conventional wisdom on its head. The commonplace and the significant converge in this collection, as seen in a son who contemplates his father in his own shadow, in “Dad”. These poems frequently surprise with the unexpected, with humourous, at times, hilarious, twists and turns, as in the poem “Silent is Golden”. Several poems share recollections of unique personalities shaped by the country life, such as the giving spirit demonstrated by the most frugal of men (“The Scotsman”), the simplified existence of life on the land (“George Law”), the close-knit, at times, comic, relations that characterize the landed community (“Newlyweds”), the hard-headed, crafty bargaining practices necessary to turn a profit (“Livestock Buyers”), and a man who shows up “when all the work is done” (“The Blister”). This collection captures the ethos and colourful outlook of frontiersmen, presenting a melodious set of poems that covers a great deal of country ground. It is playful, obliquely wise, and will reward sharing with friends and family.

What may be most remarkable about this collection are the multitudes of occasions of life to which Burnett plies his natured sensibility and mastery of the form. The cowboy poem provides a pattern that is surprisingly versatile for exploring the full spectrum of country life, an aspect of which is seen in the humorous poem, “Parts.” In this poem, the speaker presents the plight of a woman who travels to the hardware store with the seemingly straightforward task of ordering a part. The exchange between this woman and the shopkeep, in which they must determine the part that she seeks from her description of “that thingamajig for that whatchamacallit,” is captured with celebratory wit. This poem, as well as “Rubber Boots”, which is memorable for its plotting of details that lead to the satisfying surprise at the conclusion, make this collection a joyful performance too clever not to be appreciated. Other poems offer reflections on manhood. “Man and the Mirror” and “Son becomes the Father, Father Becomes the Son”, contemplate the special influence a father has over his son. “The Measure of a Man” argues the importance of self-concept to a growing man. This collection’s cowboy sensibility rings authentic, bestowing on it a sense of acceptance unique to the genre. In “Aging”, the speaker contemplates the additional considerations one must make with age. Yet, in conclusion, the speaker grants that “Age is a fascinating thing, as the older we are, the older we want to get”.

Bryce Burnett’s collection of cowboy poetry stands out due to its breadth of themes, its lighthearted perspective, its crafty and witty use of narrative, its sense of character and personality, and its embrace of the ethos and attitudes that make the cowboy perspective so interesting. Readers new to cowboy poetry will find no better introduction than this collection, while readers already familiar with the genre will find more than a few original insights and witty turns on convention.


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