Prairie Center Commentary

“Prairie Center” is a relatively long poem (about five pages) that I wrote about three years ago. I brought it out in a chapbook of poems entitled Rangeland and Prairie, and it won the Western Writers of America Spur Award in 2019 for best western poem of 2018. It was also published in a magazine entitled Saddlebag Dispatches, and it is now available in my collection of western poems entitled Thorns on the Rose (second edition).

The poem takes its name from an area about an hour north of where I live, a somewhat insular world of grassland with scattered ranches and an abundance of livestock and wildlife. The livestock consists mostly of cattle and horses, while the wildlife ranges from insects and little critters to rabbits, jackrabbits, foxes, coyotes, badgers, antelope, deer, meadowlarks, hawks, eagles, buzzards, sandhill cranes, and many birds I do not have a name for. My poem is about life and death in this area.

As a way of structuring my treatment, I follow a fictional character through times in his life and places in the world of Prairie Center. The setting is contemporary, beginning with the boy in his childhood as he lies on a haystack and gazes at the sky and going through his later years as he notes the passing of time. I suppose the poem could be called elegiac or bittersweet or just realistic; it is not very nostalgic, and it is not quite a panegyric.

For the style of the poem, I chose to write in a kind of free verse that is not rhymed or metered but has cadence and a somewhat consistent line length. And there are some metered lines. I think of it as being in the tradition of poems by Wyoming poets Peggy Simson Curry and Robert Roripaugh, although I do not put myself in a class with them and I learned about poetry through many different influences.

When I accepted my Spur Award in Tucson, Arizona, in 2019, I began by saying that it was a night of gratitude for me. I thanked Western Writers of America for its collective membership and for all the others who submitted the competitions, for all of these people together give the awards the value they have. I also thanked the judges, whose knowledge and integrity preserve the status of the awards. And I thanked all the people along the way who helped me understand poetry, from the excellent teachers in grade school through high school, on through the great professors in college, and outward unto other poets one encounters along the way in print and in person, in workshops and at readings.

Writing a poem of this nature is a remarkable adventure in life’s journey. A great deal of one’s experience and learning go into a work such as this, so a person has a great deal to be thankful for. I am glad to have to have lived long enough and to have pulled my thoughts together to write this poem, and I am very honored to have it recognized.

“Prairie Center” is in Thorns on the Rose, which is available at Amazon.

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  1. Page Lambert

    John, I’m teaching a seminar entitled “Blood Rhythm: Putting the Poetry in Your Prose.” I’d like to share this post (and the poem) with my participants. Congratulations on the Spur Award!

    • John D. Nesbitt

      Page: I am delighted to hear this. Thank you very much for your interest. Do you have the poem? If not, please e-mail me, and I will fix you up. Thanks again, and best of luck for your seminar.

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