Monday, February 26, 2018

Wisdom from Down Under.

Unless you’re from Australia, you might not recognize the picture above as a $10 bill. I have one just like it, courtesy of outstanding bush poet, reciter, and storyteller from Down Under, Jack Sammon, who I had the pleasure of meeting at the National Cowboy Gathering in Elko, Nevada. I’ll probably never get to Australia to spend it. But I wouldn’t anyway, as I consider it a work of art. In fact, it is framed and hanging on the wall in my office.
The portrait on the note is of A.B. “Banjo” Paterson. Few would disagree that he is the finest poet Australia has ever produced, and his work is known the world over. Here in America, he is especially loved by aficionados of cowboy poetry.
You’ll notice the running horses and horseman on the bill. They’re illustrative of one of Paterson’s most famous poems, “The Man from Snowy River.” The first two lines of the poem appear along the bottom. And, if you have a microscope, you can read the entire text of the poem in microprint on the note as a security feature. You’re probably familiar with the poem and its celebration of courage and daring and what we would call “The Cowboy Way.” Clancy, a central character in the story, is also the subject of my favorite Paterson poem, “Clancy of the Overflow.” And he wrote the Australian folk anthem, “Waltzing Matilda,” which is also featured on the bill.
But I digress.
The promised wisdom?
Jack Sammon talked about the $10 bank note before reciting “The Man from Snowy River” at the Gathering. He said, “We’re kind of backward down in Australia compared to America—instead of politicians, we put poets on our money.”
Who do you think is backward?

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Lies They Tell Writers, Part 43: Read Aloud What You’ve Written.

Some writing instructors advise aspiring writers to read aloud what they’ve written. They say doing so will reveal awkward phrasing, faulty rhythm, poor word choice, and other sins.
It’s true. Sometimes.
Reading aloud is particularly apt when writing poetry, especially if that poetry is to be recited. But reading prose aloud isn’t always a good idea.
Having written a ton and a half of advertising copy over the course of some four decades, I learned long ago that writing words to be vocalized—as in radio or television commercials—is altogether different from writing words to be read—as in printed advertisements.
That’s because the brain is much more adept than the vocal cords.
Your mind can wrap itself around more complex sentence constructions, accept more assonance and consonance and alliteration without getting tongue-tied, easily switch rhythmic patterns to follow dialogue, fill in the blanks purposely created by ambiguity and other techniques to involve readers, understand sentence fragments, and on and on and on.
The written word and the spoken word are entirely different things. Different languages, almost. The trick, in both cases, is using words well. Go ahead and read your work aloud. But don’t believe for a minute that your mouth is a better arbiter of what’s right in writing than your brain.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Cowboy Poetry with Pickles.

Last week I had the good fortune to once again attend the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko, Nevada. As usual, a good time was had by all. How could you go wrong reconnecting with old friends, meeting new ones, and sitting through hours (and hours and hours) of the best cowboy poetry and music the world has to offer?
This year brought an unexpected and unusual treat.
Fans of the “Pickles” comic strip know that on a few occasions, the curmudgeonly Earl Pickles has dipped his toes into the waters of cowboy poetry. As it happens, Brian Crane, the author and artist behind “Pickles,” is an old and dear friend and coworker and business partner. For some 40 years we have been close friends, if usually distant neighbors. When Earl was infected with poesy, I had the opportunity to work with Brian on some of his character’s poetic efforts.
Brian came to his first Gathering with, of course, Earl in his pocket, to breathe the rarified air at cowboy poetry’s heights. Not only was it good to see and spend time with Brian again, I got a big kick introducing him to friends and enjoying their shock and surprise then smiles when I told them what he did to earn his daily bread, as so many of them are “Pickles” fans. (It often embarrassed Brian and he wished I wouldn’t brag on him, but he well knows I am not to be trusted.)
I will be surprised if Earl’s poetic proclivities weren’t inspired by his time in Elko, and expect the funny papers will be seeing more of his versifying in the future.