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Red Colt Canyon, poems by Laurie Wagner Buyer

Review by Lynda La Rocca

Red Colt Canyon
by Laurie Wagner Buyer
Published in 1999 by Music Mountain Press
Westcliffe, Colorado
ISBN: 0965612686

I’VE ALWAYS FELT more than a little ambivalent about the adage, “Write what you know.” Sometimes I chafe beneath under its obvious constrictions (certainly all crime writers are not former criminals); other times, I bow to its pithy good sense.

Fairplay poet Laurie Wagner Buyer writes what she knows and what she lives, and ties it all together beautifully. At first glance, the poems of Red Colt Canyon seem simply to chronicle ranching life, the turnings and changes of nature and its seasons, and the people–many of them women–who have touched Buyer in sometimes unexpected ways.

But then Buyer’s words explode, forging a universal connection that transcends accidents of birth or background. In “Wooing the Wanton Mare,” she depicts a disintegrating relationship through an angry man’s unsuccessful attempts to break a frightened horse, which will only be tamed and gentled by the touch and talk of his woman.

“That she would come to me but never to him rubbed us as raw as a gall, irritating our flesh”

The final lines cleanly capture the heartbreak of having to move on while leaving something precious behind:

“Everything broke loose with my going: my greatest regret after so many years of giving in was leaving the mare, her fine head hung over the gate watching me drive away in the rain.”

These one- to two-page poems are gritty and unflinching, yet as rich and full as the land Buyer so obviously loves. They are not poems to puzzle over; their meaning is as clear as the dry, icy air of a high country winter morning.

Red Colt Canyon’s 74 pages are divided into three sections, each chronicling the rhythms of a life governed by the seasons. In “Heartwood,” a husband and wife work together to brand calves and mend fence. They make a home, make love, grow together and apart, and learn to accept and understand each others’ differences.

The poems in “Unrumbled Thunder” reveal Buyer as a keen, precise observer of nature, whether she’s watching a cottontail, listening to an owl’s call, tasting winter snow on her tongue, or picking gooseberries while wearing a hat that

“hovers over my head like a melting, misplaced halo.”

While most of the poems of “Women of the Bridge” are dedicated to specific individuals, in the poignant “Grave Robbers” an unknown native American girl’s eternal rest is violated by scientists who unearth her remains

“To study and pry and pretend They need to know more about her.”

Red Colt Canyon includes Buyer’s lovely poem “Until I Run Out of Thread,” which took first place in the non-rhyming poem category of the 1998 Writer’s Digest competition.

Personally, I would have liked to see some more traditionally-structured poems in this collection (if for no other reason than to know that the poet has “learned the rules before deviating from them,” to quote a favorite high school English teacher). I also prefer poetry that makes me search a bit deeper for its mystery and its meaning.

But that’s part of what makes poetry so fascinating. Each poet’s voice is as unique as his or her way of stringing words together. And Buyer’s voice is strong and true.

— Lynda La Rocca