“Good horse, you are enough. Bringing no request,
no order you must obey, let my hand rest on your
flank as familiar as kin. Let my palm be a still place
we two meet, neither owing a debt. Just feeling the
other’s warmth, needing to be no more than we are.”
From the poem “Hand.”
In Horse. Woman., her fifth book, Anna Blake doesn’t waste space or over-embellish. She exquisitely exposes a moment in time, then respectfully leaves us to sort through the ensuing insights. The poems in this collection are a quietly fierce tribute to strength, honesty, and the truth that relationships can build as well as break, and she composes them in language evoking the spare, clear landscape of the prairie that becomes as much character as setting.
Though the title, Horse. Woman., implies this collection’s readership would be women, particularly those who love horses, the appeal of the poems, told most often in four-line verses, stretches beyond. It invites in anyone intrigued by the intersection of human and nature. Anyone who thinks about the salty, stretchy, combustible nature of relationships of all kinds, especially those started and tended by women.
The layout and feel of the paperback version of this book adds to the overall reading experience. Movement-filled black and white illustrations by Rebecca Howard glint from among the poems like sunlight on water. The square 8.5″ x 8.5″ scale of the book sets each poem in its own prairie, giving words and reader space to get to know each other, much as horse and woman give each other the space to meet each other in “Asking for Her Eye.” “…but moments linger and pass,/holding for her acknowledgment,/waiting for her to notice I listen.”
In the book’s foreword, Blake clearly names the purpose of this collection of poems: separating and respecting the unique experiences of women and land from the “fighting for domination” found in many male narratives. She writes, “For many of us, the cowboy persona has never been a good fit. We have earned a narrative to honor our own lives with horses and the land.”
In Horse. Woman. she successfully crafts that narrative out of moments from the arc of her life that, taken together, leave us holding an impression both deep and wide, an impression that reflects the book’s beautiful dedication “to our Mares:” “It was always about cooperation, not domination…it was always about herd and home.”