Bruce Roseland, my favorite South Dakota poet, has published another book of his verse — this one with the added feature of artwork illustrating each poem. Or more accurately, verse built upon the paintings of artist Doris Symens Armstrong, another South Dakotan.
The pretty little book, Gift of Moments, is the result of a 30-day challenge. Doris created one painting a day for 30 days, and sent each one to Bruce who then wrote an accompanying verse.
In the introduction to Gift of Moments, Doris wrote, “When I started receiving the individual poems I was amazed at how he was able to catch the feeling I have when painting. He said that every time he checked my blog to see the next painting, it was like opening an unexpected gift because he had no idea what the painting would be. I felt the same way when I received the poems. It was a great way to make the month of January more interesting.”
Bruce is a prolific writer — Gift of Moments is his fifth book. Among them are The Last Buffalo, which won the 2007 Wrangler Award for Outstanding Book of Poetry, and A Prairie Prayer, which won a 2009 Will Rogers Medallion Award.
He is a rancher specializing in registered Black Angus cattle on his sizeable holdings near Seneca. Doris was an art teacher in Iowa, and for the last 10 years has been retired in Watertown, S.D., pursuing her painting and sculpture.
I first heard of Bruce in about 2005 when he read several of his poems on South Dakota Public Radio. The verse totally captured me, and nothing would do but I interview him for a feature story in the Rapid City (S.D.) Journal.
Ordinarily such a story would be printed in a paper’s arts section, but Bruce and his poetry were so interesting that it made the front page.
In the years that followed, Bruce and I became friends and from time to time visit back and forth across the state. The last time he was on my side of South Dakota we went canoeing. A most memorable time at his ranch was when he took two of my granddaughters on his big John Deere tractor and taught them how to stack hay. One of the girls lost control of the green machine and nearly flattened a tool shed.
When Bruce is not being bruised and battered caring for his ornery livestock, he spends much time on that tractor. And it is here many of his poems — his little stories, he calls them — begin to form. This one is from “A Prairie Prayer:”
Keeping up Appearances
On either side of the Interstate,
the farms, for the most part, have good paint
and the buildings are all straight.
Only occasionally, over a hill,
Can you see the silhouette of a sway-backed
broken barn sinking downward,
irrelevant, like a teepee from the past.
On roads where travel is sparse,
The abandoned houses sit
Unpainted, in houseyards unpeopled,
Waiting to be valued again.
© Poetry by Bruce Roseland
© Paintings by Doris Symens Armstrong
(used with permission)
The original paintings were photographed by Sophie Cole