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Nelson’s poetry chapbook available for purchase

November 26, 2019

John Nelson’s poetry chapbook “West River” won the South Dakota Poetry Society’s Chapbook contest this year and is now available for purchase.

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John Nelson’s chapbook “West River” was published by the South Dakota State Poetry Society this fall.

Nelson, professor of English at Dakota State, grew up in Fort Pierre, S.D. “When we travel there, my wife says when we cross the [Missouri]river it’s a different culture,” he said.

His experience growing up in West River inspired his writing for this chapbook.

A chapbook is a small collection of poetry that is generally no more than 40 pages. “Chapbooks usually have some kind of focus,” Nelson said.

While Nelson grew up living in town, his father was the chief brand investigator for the South Dakota Stock Growers Association, which meant Nelson spent a lot of time on ranches. 

“I would spend most of my summer on a ranch down in southwestern South Dakota living the cowboy kind of life,” he said. “I am the way I am partly because of the experiences I had there in the wide-open country and solitude.”

The poetry he’s written about West River is a way for him to revisit that time in his life. “Those experiences capture a sense of what those things were in such a way that it becomes an artistic rendering of it,” he explained.

Nelson’s book was chosen by judge Nathaniel Lee Hansen, a South Dakota-educated poet. “The poems of West River transport readers to rural spaces while avoiding the trappings of sentimentality and nostalgia,” he said. “Moreover, readers are in the care of a poet who pays attention, who moves beyond the obvious and the easy. With vivid imagery, subtle humor, and clear language, these poems chronicle the particularities of everything from chickens to arrowheads, from horses to hay, from swearing to the Oahe Dam.”

The book is available for purchase through the South Dakota State Poetry Society.

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