Poetry is good for people; the world needs more poetry and poets. South Dakota’s new Poet Laureate Bruce Roseland is committed to sharing this message.
Roseland is a native of north central South Dakota, a fourth-generation rancher, husband, father and grandfather. He is a scholar of American poetry and history. He is a prolific poet and President Emeritus of the South Dakota State Poetry Society. He is also an active member of the Belle Fourche Writers and a local resident.
Roseland is the 8th Poet Laureate of South Dakota. The title is a prodigious honor in South Dakota history, a legacy that began in 1937 with Badger Clark, South Dakota’s first Poet Laureate.
Roseland calls himself a prairie poet. His poetry describes work and people in modern rural life, interspersed with picturesque descriptions of prairie landscapes, sky and nature. His poems often reveal the sacred in relationships between the land, the wildlife it supports and those who are its stewards. His recent work calls attention to the impact of big ag and the need to conserve native grasslands.
While Roseland’s poetry provides imagery that would make anyone homesick for South Dakota, he sees poetry as a means of recording and sharing with others the nature of our daily lives. Roseland believes poems are little stories about what matters to us, stories that give us the ability to see into the hearts of others, to have others see into the truth of ours.
During his acceptance speech for the Poet Laureate post at South Dakota Festival of Books in Deadwood last month, Roseland elaborated to an attentive audience. “Writing and sharing poetry are great ways to communicate what we value in our lives.” He invited the audience, “Tell me the what, tell me the why of your life, I want to hear your stories.”
He regards the Poet Laureate role as that of an ambassador who will bring poetry to people and inspire them to write. Roseland takes this job seriously. “Poems should share the experience of the present and pass it on to children and grandchildren. Poetry is a precious gift to the next generation.” He wants to encourage others to write poetry or to write in general. “I want to provide more opportunities for folks to read their work, to share this gift with each other and their communities.”
He noted that writing poetry can happen during the in-between moments of our lives. “The practical value of choosing to write a poem is that just 15 minutes here and there can result in many snapshots of your life and times across the years.”
Roseland’s path to writing poetry began with an early appreciation of words. As a high school student, he wasn’t the best at grammar, but he did know how to use words to express his point of view. After high school, he went to SDSU (Brookings) for 2 1/2 years, then transferred to UND (Grand Forks). There he earned a BA/ MA in Sociology.
Roseland realized that given his education, it was likely he would spend the rest of his life behind a desk. The idea of such a future did not appeal to him. He asked himself what he was good at doing. “I have a knack for pulling calves,” he told the audience with his wry sense of humor.
His dad offered him an opportunity to return to work the family ranch. He did a 180-degree turn. “I went to work on the family ranch in the 1980s. Great timing.” The remark inspired laughter from the crowd who obviously had memories of the farm crisis years.
Roseland loves ranch work. He has never been sorry for his career choice.
In the early 2000s Roseland started writing seriously as a means of recording events that he feared might otherwise be forgotten. His poetry reveals core values, family, friends and neighbors, legacy, honesty and the need to express his truth in a way that connects with the truth of others’ lives.
Roseland has also spent over 30 years as a youth and high school wrestling coach. He enjoys working with kids and seeing them grow into fine adults. He is proud of having coached his two sons, a grandson and a granddaughter.
Roseland has published seven volumes of poetry, four of which have won national awards: The Last Buffalo (2006), 2007 Wrangler Award for Excellence in Western Literature & Media, Poetry; A Prairie Prayer (2008), 2009 Will Rogers Medallion, Poetry; Cowman (2018), 2019 Will Rogers Medallion, Poetry and Heart of the Prairie (2021), 2022 Will Rogers Medallion, Poetry. He is published in various anthologies including Pasque Petals, Scurfpea, Oakwood, Bear Lodge Writers and Belle Fourche Writers.
A poem Roseland read during the award ceremony at the Festival of Books “A Prairie Prayer,” tells of his relationship with the land and its challenges. He describes the experience of facing the elements and refusing to give up.
A Prairie Prayer
Here, on this arc of grass, sun and sky, I will stay and see if I thrive.
Others leave. They say it’s too hard.
I say hammer my spirit thin, spread it horizon to horizon, see if I break.
Let the blizzards hit my face; let my skin feel the winter’s freeze;
let the heat of summer’s extreme try to sear the flesh from my bones.
Do I have what it takes to survive, or will I shatter and break?
Hammer me thin, stretch me from horizon to horizon.
I need to know the character that lies within.
I want to touch a little further beyond my reach, for the something that I seek.
Only then let my spirit be released.
Roseland’s poems resonated well with his audience. He affirmed, “Poetry should be readable and easily accessible. Poetry does not have to be complicated, but it does have to be honest and from the heart.”
Several years ago, Roseland bought a house in Spearfish. He shared, “I’ve always thought about a second home in the Black Hills. My wife chose Spearfish after one visit.” Roseland enjoys spending time in the Hills when cows and crops permit. When the 71-year-old is asked about plans to step back from active ranching, he smiles, “How many retired ranchers have you met?”
Bruce Roseland has all the makings of a leader and spokesperson for South Dakotans. And yes, the world needs more poets and poetry.