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.
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.
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.
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?
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
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.
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.
because the brain is much more adept than the vocal cords.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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
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.