Book review:
Blue Ribbons at the County Fair
by Ellaraine Lockie

Lockie Blue Ribbons at the County Fair, by Ellaraine Lockie, is a collection of intimate, earthy poetry that seeks to create a landscape of life's losses, small joys, hopes, and failures. To win the blue ribbon is to showcase one's triumphs. All of the hard work, early mornings, physical labor, stress, and exhaustion that go in to capturing the coveted first place prize, are what makes Lockie's poems admirable, loveable. In the first half of her chapbook in particular, Lockie gives her readers a piece of Montana, a piece of country life, and a piece of good ole' hardwork, blood, sweat, and tears. The opening poem from this chapbook, called "Godot Goes to Montana," sets the tone perfectly for Lockie's vision:

After hay baling and breech delivering
from sunrise to body's fall
He slept in front of the evening news
Too worn out to watch the world squirm
Too weary to hear warnings from ghost brothers
who were slain by beef, bacon, and stress
Too spent to move into the next day

The above passage describes Lockie's hardworking father. The poem "Godot Goes to Montana" is a heart-tugging tribute that shows the trials of being a farmer, and the effect this life had on a farmer's daughter who is watching and waiting for an ill fate to unfold.

Lockie's descriptions in all of the poetry included in Blue Ribbons are rich, colorful, and extremely vivid. The reader feels as if they are sitting next to her and viewing the same sun, mountain, or blade of grass. Lockie is a true poetic artist, painting the canvas with knowing words that have lived these honest, simple moments. She leaves no holds barred, each poem is as truthful as the last, setting the table with "homemade Montana-wheat bread / wrapped around chokecherry jelly / and chunky peanut butter." (How to Know a Prairie Poem)

As a Northern Plains native myself, her Montana-centered poems really struck home with massive waves of familiarity. Lockie is capable of catching and enveloping the tone of the Northern Mid-Western lifestyle, which is rather difficult to accomplish. There is an airiness, a cleanliness, and a simplicity that is captured within her intricate stanzas:

Of collecting Canadian thistles
that break border laws
Of competing with cows for clover
in Charlie Russell landscapes
And of roadside stops
beside Rocky Mountain beargrass
With ice cream cone blooms
too big and beautiful to behead
("Foral Memorial")

When Lockie moves on to other topics besides Montana, she writes intimately of exceedingly personal moments and memories. She does not shy away from her own faults. She reveals them to her readers without question or regret. One of Lockie's most telling and shockingly honest poems is "The Affair," a poem which describes both the guilt and pleasure of an extra-marital affair. The poem is bold, never hesitant, first describing how young and alive the excitement of an affair could make one feel. "I run on voltage from a power plant / I'm 15 again." The poem continues on to tell of the finality of the affair and the ruin it caused:

I'm 30 again
It ends with casualties
cover the neighborhood
The butterflies die
Their cocoons become ulcers

Lockie's Blue Ribbons at the County Fair is chock full of smartly written, honest, and interesting poems. They are certainly a must read for Montana natives, as well as those who seek honest and bold writing that doesn't hold anything back.

Ellaraine Lockie's chapbook, Blue Ribbons at the County Fair, is a collection of her thirty-four first place prize-winning poems in poetry contests. The chapbook was published by PWJ Press. It can be purchased here:

Ellaraine Lockie is a poet, essayist, author of nonfiction books and papermaker. She has received eleven nominations for Pushcart Prizes in poetry. Her four previous chapbooks are Midlife Muse, Poetry Forum; Crossing the Center Line, Sweet Annie Press; Coloring Outside the Lines, The Plowman Press; and Finishing Lines, Snark Publishing. She also teaches poetry / writing workshops on the creative process for schools, writing groups and libraries.