A cowboy needs three things – his horse, a dog, and a wife. This is according to Bryce Burnett, author of Horses, Dogs and Wives, a collection of rhyming cowboy poems and short stories with a good dose of humour throughout. Burnett points out that he has several horses and numerous dogs, but only one wife, whom, he admits, he embarrasses with his poems.
Horses, Dogs and Wives is divided into four sections – one each on horses, dogs, and wives, plus a bonus section for good measure. He also includes several quotes by American cowboy humorist Will Rogers.
Burnett’s poems cover a variety of horses, from quarter horses, unbroken rodeo horses, even a rocking horse, to those bound for the processing plant. He shows the dangers of being thrown off a horse.
In the section on canine friends, Burnett speaks about the pride of training a dog, although one might wonder who is training whom. But with a well-trained dog, he points out, there’s really no need for a hired hand.
In “Puppy Love,” Burnett writes from a dog’s point of view, showing how a puppy can be endearing in spite of itself: “I tried to tinkle in the flower pot, but it’s a little tall. / My leg won’t quite lift that high, so some squirted on the wall.” In a similar vein, he writes about his dog impatiently anticipating the arrival of the pickup truck, “waiting to wet down his tire again.”
Then there’s the “Beware of Dog” sign, cautioning visitors not to trip over the sleeping dog. In another poem, Burnett reveals that Rover has an ulterior motive for fetching a stick.
In the section on wives, Burnett brings his roping partner home, totally unannounced, to meet his wife. With her dress and hair unkempt, and the house in disarray, she’s in no mood to entertain a guest. His partner is thinking about getting married, Burnett explains, so he decides to show him what married life is like.
Burnett explains, with great reverence, why he often wears a red shirt while reciting poetry. In “The Park,” he emphasizes the importance of imagination, and in “Reincarnation” he foretells a problem with coming back as someone else.
Burnett’s short stories range from subjects as diverse as hunting pheasants, his mother’s retirement home at the Bentley, a bachelor named Charlie seeking a wife, and being stranded on the open prairie with a broken leg.
Burnett complements his poems and stories with more than three dozen black and white photos, most of which he took himself, depicting family, friends, and ranch life.
The best way to appreciate cowboy poetry is to listen to it being read aloud. Burnett performs his poems at venues like the Canadian Western Agribition and the Calgary Stampede and Rodeo. Why not get the best of both worlds – read Horses, Dogs and Wives and take in one of Burnett’s recitals?
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