The first poem in Gaynor Dawson’s Wallowa Song, titled “Disclaimer” ends this way: “I grew up with the classics/and believe that poems should rhyme.” This brings up several questions: Does including rhyme place any poem on a par with the classics? Do classic poets always rhyme? (Milton didn’t. Frost didn’t.) Are those who don’t use rhyme second-class poets?
In short, many would disagree with the author’s statement. While poems that adhere to a set pattern of accentuation and rhyme can be quite lyrical and engaging if they seem intuitive, they can also seem as if the content has been shoehorned into an ill-fitting format. Such is often the case here.
Wallowa’s content broadly covers four topics: 1) the awesome of experience of nature; 2) amusing verse; 3) the rowing team at Stanford; 4) a rancher’s life. While the back cover notes that the poems trace the author’s journey, in reality the poems’ order in no way suggests a chronological progression or intentional “dialogue” between poems for the purpose of dialectical resonance or narrative arc.
Dawson has a gift for creating lovely, absorbing, often anecdotal pieces that can be entertaining and insightful. He describes life in the wild and on a sculling team with lucidity, humor and aplomb. Sometimes, however, his attachment to rhyme leads to poems that are somewhat glib, editorial, quaint and syntactically cumbersome. For example, In “At the Turn of the Tide,” he writes: “The Columbia’s span/Is more than a mile wide/Where its fresh-water flow/And the gray seas collide….” By changing just a few words, the text is much more expedient and accessible: “The Columbia spans/more than a mile wide/Where fresh-water flow/And gray seas collide.”
This is not to suggest Dawson’s poetry is meretricious or slight, or that light verse is problematic. A different strategy, however, might prove more effective overall. Still, those who enjoy wit often combined with an amused and whimsical outlook on life, will find much to like here.
Also available as an ebook.