Page uses His Poetic Verse to Create a Cowboy Legend
This review was originally published April, 2019 on Vocal.Media. It may have been subject to editing changes.
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Stephen Page’s 2016 poetic collection, A Ranch Bordering the Salty River, which was published by Finishing Line Press, is a verse novel really. His ballad like descriptions take place in South America, in Argentina to be exact, and convey the dreamlike stories of his characters, rancher Jonathan, and his wife Teresa. Page’s poetic style is compact, but detailed. Through his well executed stanzas, his readers are invited to explore Jonathan’s hard edged, working world.
His poems are a pleasant break from confessional style poetry. The knowledge that the speaker is clearly not the writer enables Page to make interesting choices. He allows his primary character, Jonathan, to be flawed, to be slightly immersed with himself and a bit selfish. Page puts Jonathan’s inner thoughts on display in the poem “Hen Eggs.”
When he is asked to help with his wife’s grandchildren, Jonathan narrates, “I glance at the mottled / trees at the edge of Wood, realizing how easy / it would be to just say ‘no’, to go back to my real work, / Myth finding…” His whining sounds so wistful, as if help with the concrete world of home is far less important than discovering the mystical.
But then the readers get to see the inner growth of this character within the very same poem. In the second movement, Jonathan carries his de-facto grandchild at her behest out “toward / the chickens, or the “kaw-kaws” as she has named / them…” and notes, “her weight, her weight, strengthening my arms.” He realizes the importance of this family. At the end of the very poem which had begun with him being aggravated at the way these people cut into his “myth” finding that, he finds that they make him a stronger man.
Page’s neat, yet
dramatic construction of his verse deftly conveys Jonathan’s near
heartache to be out in the fantastical Wood. He yearns to be “… where
Lady of the Violets resides / when she is not anointing grass, / or
chiding you with her finger,” but Jonathan is a rancher in “… the
business / of grass,” and “the business of all ranchers is grass. / cows
eat grass. They fatten. Ranchers sell / the cows.”
Page’s entire work creates a sort of cowboy legend. His characters The Tattler, Horse Thief, Malinger, and Bad Guys are interesting although clearly they are only vehicles for Jonathan and his stories. Though it must be said, they are still fun to read about. Tattler in particular is a delightfully vicious little goblin who delivers an amazing soliloquy in “The Tattler Thinking.”
He recounts all his double dealing against the aforementioned malcontents, which benefited Jonathan before he condemns Jonathan’s transgressions against him. He curses the rancher, saying, “Now Señor, / when you are not on the ranch, / I do exactly what they did, / and to spite you, / …I kill a cow now and then…/… It’s so easy to change numbers. / I just act stupid.” If Jonathan is the King of Scotland then The Tattler is Lady Macbeth. He is a quiet blade in the night.
Stephen Page has created a unique, full bodied world within A Ranch Bordering the Salty River, which is impressive as the book is only twenty seven pages long. The main note that could be made about the work is the lack of Theresa, Jonathan’s wife, and her input on the happenings of the ranch. She is clearly portrayed as a matriarch, but she is simply the molding on the architecture of Jonathan’s story. If Page ever plans a sequel, it would be fascinating to hear from her.
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