Candy Moulton: Reading the West 3-28-11 | TheFencePost.com

Candy Moulton: Reading the West 3-28-11

Candy Moulton
Encampment, Wyo.

Rod Miller dedicates his new collection of cowboy poetry to Jesse Mullins, the founding editor of American Cowboy magazine, and the person who early on recognized Rod’s skill with words and began publishing his poetry in the magazine.

Most cowboy poets live for the stage, whether that is one with lights, microphone, and a large audience, or one centered around the stove in a bunkhouse or a campfire out at a cow camp. Not Rod Miller. Although I have heard him share his poetry, it is most often done in a setting where he is sharing information about the history of cowboy poetry or details about the process of writing.

Rod readily admits he has not followed that path of cowboy poetry performance. “I admire a good recitation more than most and have enjoyed more cowboy poetry performances than I can remember, but I prefer to sit in the audience rather than stand on the stage,” Rod writes in his new book, “Things a Cowboy Sees” and other poems.

“Good reciters spend countless hours and lots of brain power memorizing and rehearsing poems,” he writes. “I would rather spend that time writing. And reading. And learning.”

“Fortunately,” he writes, “cowboy poetry today is not all performance. There are still cowboy poets for whom writing matters: poets who craft verse that reads as well as it recites.”

There are grandfather poets who did that: Badger Clark, S. Omar Barker, Bruce Kiskadden come to mind. And as Miller notes, there are some writing today who do as well, folks like Paul Zarsyski, Laurie Wagner Buyer, Andy Wilkinson (who often turns his poetic words to songs). And among that latter group is Rod Miller himself.

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In this new collection, published by Port Yonder Press of Shellsburg, Iowa, Rod divides the poetry into sections “Horses and Hosses,” “Life out West,” “The Rodeo Road,” “Roundups and Trail Drives,” and “Making a Hand.” He begins it all with a concise history of cowboy poetry.

Reviewing poetry is not easy for me. I am not a stylist as good poets are. I can’t really tell you why a poem strikes me as being good, I can’t point to research or characterization. But I will say that I like this collection by Rod Miller very much.

There are poems like “Bolt of Broomtails” with images of mustangs that “run as colored threads through warp and weft.” Or one that deals with a high-flying colt “that bucks twice as high as the sky” and is brought down when his shoes are nailed upside down “so he’s spiked to the earth and can’t fly.”

These are Western poems rich in setting and imagery as well as cowboy poems, that often have a humorous twist, like “A Guide to Ranching for the Politically Correct” where a “cull” is actually an “insensitive way to describe a worn out cow; Candidates for Outplacement is what we call them now.”

Those cattle once referred to as “crossbred” are now “Multicultural Cattle” while “drys” are “Inactive Lactators” and a “herd bull” is a “Serially Monogamous Fertilization Specialist.”

I hope Rod will forgive me for sharing this short poem with you; it’s one of my favorites because I’ve seen it so many times:

Rod Miller dedicates his new collection of cowboy poetry to Jesse Mullins, the founding editor of American Cowboy magazine, and the person who early on recognized Rod’s skill with words and began publishing his poetry in the magazine.

Most cowboy poets live for the stage, whether that is one with lights, microphone, and a large audience, or one centered around the stove in a bunkhouse or a campfire out at a cow camp. Not Rod Miller. Although I have heard him share his poetry, it is most often done in a setting where he is sharing information about the history of cowboy poetry or details about the process of writing.

Rod readily admits he has not followed that path of cowboy poetry performance. “I admire a good recitation more than most and have enjoyed more cowboy poetry performances than I can remember, but I prefer to sit in the audience rather than stand on the stage,” Rod writes in his new book, “Things a Cowboy Sees” and other poems.

“Good reciters spend countless hours and lots of brain power memorizing and rehearsing poems,” he writes. “I would rather spend that time writing. And reading. And learning.”

“Fortunately,” he writes, “cowboy poetry today is not all performance. There are still cowboy poets for whom writing matters: poets who craft verse that reads as well as it recites.”

There are grandfather poets who did that: Badger Clark, S. Omar Barker, Bruce Kiskadden come to mind. And as Miller notes, there are some writing today who do as well, folks like Paul Zarsyski, Laurie Wagner Buyer, Andy Wilkinson (who often turns his poetic words to songs). And among that latter group is Rod Miller himself.

In this new collection, published by Port Yonder Press of Shellsburg, Iowa, Rod divides the poetry into sections “Horses and Hosses,” “Life out West,” “The Rodeo Road,” “Roundups and Trail Drives,” and “Making a Hand.” He begins it all with a concise history of cowboy poetry.

Reviewing poetry is not easy for me. I am not a stylist as good poets are. I can’t really tell you why a poem strikes me as being good, I can’t point to research or characterization. But I will say that I like this collection by Rod Miller very much.

There are poems like “Bolt of Broomtails” with images of mustangs that “run as colored threads through warp and weft.” Or one that deals with a high-flying colt “that bucks twice as high as the sky” and is brought down when his shoes are nailed upside down “so he’s spiked to the earth and can’t fly.”

These are Western poems rich in setting and imagery as well as cowboy poems, that often have a humorous twist, like “A Guide to Ranching for the Politically Correct” where a “cull” is actually an “insensitive way to describe a worn out cow; Candidates for Outplacement is what we call them now.”

Those cattle once referred to as “crossbred” are now “Multicultural Cattle” while “drys” are “Inactive Lactators” and a “herd bull” is a “Serially Monogamous Fertilization Specialist.”

I hope Rod will forgive me for sharing this short poem with you; it’s one of my favorites because I’ve seen it so many times: