Rodney Nelson

Rodney Nelson’s work began appearing in mainstream journals long ago; but he turned to fiction and did not write a poem for twenty-two years, restarting in the 2000s. So he is both older and “new.” See his page in the Poets & Writers directory for a notion of the publishing history. He has worked as a copy editor in the Southwest and now lives in the northern Great Plains. Recently, his poem “One Winter” won a Poetry Kit Award for 2011 (U.K.); it had appeared in Symmetry Pebbles. His “Upstream in Idaho” received a Best of Issue Award at the late Neon Beam (also England). The chapbook Metacowboy was published in 2011, and another title, In Wait, came out in 2012. His chapbook Winter in Fargo took second place in the 2013 Cathlamet Prize competition at Ravenna Press, Spokane.


Kawabata’s Lake (2020)
ISBN 978-1-7341254-9-8
By Rodney Nelson
Paperback; 112 pages. $15.

(Available at Amazon.)

Veteran American poet Rodney Nelson finds the work of the late Japanese novelist and Nobel laureate Yasunari Kawabata to be an inspiration. He often uses Kawabata’s name in a poem title “as a tone setter.” There are several such instances in his new collection, Kawabata’s Lake. The book exemplifies Nelson’s interpretation of being in the natural world, sometimes obsessive, more often Zen-like. He is the author of several previous collections, among them The Western Wide, Minded Places, and Invictus.

Cowboy Village: A Comedy in Eight Scenes (2019)
ISBN 978-1-733597944
By Rodney Nelson
Paperback; 124 pages. $8.50.

(Available at Amazon.)

An old western-dialect slinging wrangler turns out to be a therapist. The grandson of a Kiowa chief? He is a psychobabbling shrink. Professors on a working-and-drinking retreat mix cowboy lingo with Derrida’s and a little Jung. And the residents of Cowboy Village go on doing what they must to get from one day to the next. Poet Rodney Nelson’s rollicking foray onto the stage is a comedy of missed communication in which the characters are defined by how they talk.

Invictus: Poems of Late and Earlier (2019)
ISBN 978-1-7335979-0-6
By Rodney Nelson
Paperback; 171 pages. $15.00

(Available at Amazon.)

Invictus: poems of late and earlier is a major collection by a poet whom age has not defeated. On the contrary, Rodney Nelson has been writing more than ever in his own inimitable manner, which allows for as much silence on the printed page as he finds in grove and field, on mountain and shore, his lifelong haunts. Invictus begins with recent poems, and the 2012 section is an account of loss and grief. The 2010 part recollects his time on the West Coast; in 2008 are variations on a light “metacowboy” theme. “Poetry should avoid the style and content of expository prose,” Nelson asserts. His own does. There is music in it.

Minded Places (2018)
ISBN 978-0-9994939-4-6
By Rodney Nelson
Paperback; 139 pages. $13.99

(Available at Amazon.)

Rodney Nelson says, “Most of my poems arrive out of doors”; and most of them have to do with the greater American West, in which he includes his native Great Plains. As a hard-working poet in a “late flowering,” he has written a lot of poems in a short time, among them the collections Cross Point Road, The Western Wide, and Time Tacit. His new book, Minded Places, takes the reader to many different landscapes, from the high deserts of northern Arizona to the Dakota scrublands to the beaches of the Pacific. As before, Nelson’s means are spare, but there is music in his lines.

(A browse upon page 29…)

“North Kaibab”

the mountain in recline had old woods
on it and under the tanglement
of fir and spruce hung a green so thick
it wanted kneading and modeling

the needles’ odor might have been gum
for the tongue and the quiet had room
to make the chuffing of an elk seem
right here at a rock one mile away

Time Tacit (2017)
ISBN 978-0-9994939-0-8
By Rodney Nelson
Paperback; 89 pages. $13.

(Available at Amazon.)

Rodney Nelson’s unanticipated “late flowering” of poetry continues with Time Tacit. The components of his range remain unchanged in their changing: prairie, grove, woods, river, desert, canyon, mountain. But now there is a deeper sense of how they will be once people are gone and a more felt honoring of the moment the poet has been granted among them. Nelson thinks that Man arose to stem the overluxuriating of the planet. “You the Burner” is meant for whoever “know the geese/ are not other/ who have a gander/ within you and even so are meant/ and here to put all this to fire.” Yet despair does not come up.

(A browse upon page 25…)


the wind lifted and left
a warm October and
we saw one butterfly
waited half a minute
on the next and on one
or other dragonfly

we had two words not more
to say them with in an
attempt to catch and hold
what we had seen so that
an hour in the park
would not be forgotten

a certain butterfly
its stark yellow matching
the turned leaf of a tree
paused on the goldenrod
would have needed more than
our word to seem real

Hjemkomst (2017)
ISBN 978-0-9980732-6-2
By Rodney Nelson
Paperback; 63 pages. $12.

(Available at Amazon.)

“The landscape seems to transform into combinations of language and time. Mystery and epiphany are brought together in bright bursts, concise and sharp enough to leave afterimages. Nelson’s language is bold and innovative, upending phrases and staggering narrative in innovative ways.” –ThrewLine Books

(A browse upon pages 52 and 53…)

From “Swede Poems”

you do not come home to a
land that you have never seen but
arrive at a home to come
they who were living here have
not turned out to greet or kill you
a waiting army prairie fort
tells why and a garrison
hutment on river will direct
you to the not many men
of Västmanland who foreran you
to work dark richer tilth than
anyone could have dreamt to own
the hut stood high at neck of an
oxbow that you would have to
fence on but one side to keep them
in that had wanton run from
you during herdboy days would
log it to meadow sneck them all
in not have to worry at
flood river that it would reach the
hut you would let them out and
pen them here if you had to

Billy Boy (2016)
ISBN 978-0692638903
By Rodney Nelson
Paperback; 58 pages. $10.

(Available at Amazon.)

“Most often, my poetry tries to take the reader out to prairie and desert and mountain—“the sticks”—but on occasion it can wither into something that only a stickman might have written. Find evidence of this in the wry, dry sticks of Billy Boy. I attempted to bind them all together with a string of “action” poems. It didn’t work, but the pile of remains may be worth a laugh. Here’s one: While Billy Boy was going on, a health lapse turned once-mesomorphic me into a stickman.” –Rodney Nelson

(A browse upon page 32…)

“Travel Advisory Update”


once and future nondemocracy for the drunk and ambiguous


creative anachronism with live ammo


home to a lifelong scouting program


national mandatory kennel club for bipeds


scenic high-decibel prison graveyard

Cross Point Road (2015)
ISBN 978-0-6922-6780-6
By Rodney Nelson
Paperback; $17.

(Available at Amazon.)

Cross Point Road is Nelson’s first major collection. “It would not do to try to put content or theme before art,” he claims; however, readers will note the prevalence of western American landscape behind and within his lines, especially that of his native northern Great Plains. Cross Point Road is in part Nelson’s tribute to the world he has found outside the windshield.

(A browse upon pages 65 and 66…)

“The Quiet of Now”

a jeep road into trees
that had been here during
leaf time and were here now

red dragonfly or two
in air the color of
junco even at noon

erupting cattail heads
and through a wickerwork
of branch a wooded hill

in the sun far away
had not been there during
leaf time and was there now

holding out promise and
determination to
the eye in bare gray fall

like one remote headland
the eye had picked out and
set to find long ago

the trees up on the hill
unseen during leaf time
had been there and were there

Felton Prairie (2014)
ISBN 978-0-6922-6780-6
By Rodney Nelson
Paperback; 105 pages. $17.

(Available at Amazon.)

Rodney Nelson’s home region, the Red River prairie, has been called a valley but is in fact a seabed with hidden beaches rimming it. The native and restored grassland of Felton Prairie is up on one of these. Nelson walks there often and has borrowed its name for this collection of poems.

Fargo (2014)
ISBN 978-1-4951-0352-0
By Rodney Nelson
Chapbook; 43 pages. $9.

(Available at Amazon.)

In Rodney Nelson’s hometown on the Red River prairie of eastern North Dakota, summer is an aberration, a momentary fever; winter is normal. So the poetry in Fargo is of the cold. There is a companion chapbook, Winter in Fargo, which took second place in the 2013 Cathlamet Prize competition and is due this year at Ravenna Press.

(A browse upon page 9…)

“Hurry to Do”

green had made a differing of sky and earth
and when it went the pavement returned to rock
matching the cold gray above
all memory
of wood and leaf scent dried into a spice that
north wind could not activate or became a
nut with ground hardening over the churchyard
interring the two the so-young man and
woman would not have gotten easier had
to do the dig now in a storm coat
might be
no one around to bury their grandchildren

Sighting the Flood (2013)
ISBN 978-1-4675-7626-0
By Rodney Nelson
Chapbook; 39 pages. $9.

(Available at Amazon.)

Rodney Nelson’s Red River prairie is a seabed, and in flood time the brown waters seem to reach out toward the old shores. Of late, he says, “a spring emergency has become routine. Forecasted river levels keep changing. Temporary dikes go up. Everyone is prepared to join in; and at one point the governor makes a public call on Washington for emergency assistance. The so-called flood flight has become ritual and a dark source of pride.” Some of the poems in Sighting the Flood touch on this annual crisis and the prairie minds that have to undergo it.

Bog Light (2016)
Second Printing
ISBN 978-1-4675-6739-8
By Rodney Nelson
Paperback; 52 pages. $7.

(Available at Amazon.)

The poems of Bog Light start with late summer, its heat and overgrowth, moving on through fall and into the severe religiosity of northern winter. On occasion Nelson takes the name of a holiday or saint’s day, for example, in “Saint Scholastica’s,” as title. “There is counterpoint here,” he says. “Title and poem are not at one, and I don’t try to make them seem so. It’s enough to leave human reality where it is—and nature’s—and only watch and listen. They join somewhere.”

(A browse upon page 11…)

“Park Woods”

trail not the tug of it
no known or imagined
beckoning at the crook

one time you would have hiked
alone or not on this
and any afternoon

high bright clouding and a
turkey vulture lazing
in one time or any

hardwood shade and deerflies’
the only jingo but
not enough to goad you

a too-heroic theme
of mind to be whistled
only within your own

maybe the pull again
an other waiting at
the lot or where beyond

(Rodney Nelson’s titles are available through and elsewhere online. Please consider sharing a kind review.)


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