Monday, April 27, 2020

Change the subject?

When I speak or present workshops at writers’ conferences, I always explore what other writers—both those attending the conference and other presenters—write about. With few exceptions these days, it’s fairies, or wizards, or vampires, or zombies, or witches, or elves, or dragons, or dwarfs, or demons, or space aliens, or other such make-believe things that do not exist in the real world. Even the “worlds” are mostly made up.
I wonder why.
What is the attraction of these non-existent, unrealistic, fantastical characters and the make-believe worlds they live in? What draws so many to write about them? What attracts so many to read about them? I have read a few such novels over the years, and most escape me in their appeal. Others are well written, enjoyable, escapist reads.
But a little bit goes a long way. I soon find myself craving realistic landscapes, realistic characters, realistic conflicts, realistic lives, realistic rights and wrongs, and the ambiguity of the real world.
Perhaps I would find more success as a writer if I invented pretend worlds and populated them with fantastical characters. But, for my money, fairies and dragons just can’t compare to cowboys and horses and cows and the American West.
So, I guess I’ll stick to the subject.

Saturday, April 18, 2020

Celebrating Cowboy Poetry Week.

      April 19 through 25 is Cowboy Poetry Week—a time to celebrate the poems and poets who honor cowboy life through poetry. Cowboy poetry is a long-standing tradition, stretching from the nineteenth century to our day, and destined to last as long as there are, or memories of, cattle and the horseback men and women who tend them.
      The poem below is posted in observance of the seven-day jubilee. 
      In spring and fall in the country where I grew up, v-shaped strings of Canada geese honked their way overhead as they migrated in spring and fall. The regularity of their flights reminded me of the cycle of cowboy work, specifically spring branding, and the gathering and shipping of beef cattle to market in the fall. And, the anticipation that accompanies the rhythms and rounds of nature and life and work.
      The Center for Western and Cowboy Poetry has been, since the year 2000, and will continue to be, a driving force in preserving and promoting the poetry of cowboys. Your support will be welcome. Enjoy browsing the archives at, as well as regular postings on the Cowboy Poetry blog and on Facebook.


I hear them in the evening winging northward—
     Their eager, maybe longing, kind of sound.
It reminds me that we’ll soon be done with calving;
     That branding time ain’t far from coming ’round.

And I think how fall works really ain’t that distant;
     Shipping calves under sundown pewter skies
Wherein arrowpointed flocks are winging southward,
     Trailing echoes of urgent, mournful cries.

Sunday, April 12, 2020

My Favorite Book, Part 22.

Wendell Berry is, and always has been, more committed to doing things right than in doing them quickly, or efficiently. If he is still farming in Kentucky at his advanced age, he will be farming with horses, as he has done throughout his life.
And when he writes, he writes in longhand, with a pencil.
He writes poetry. He writes insightful and challenging essays. And he writes fiction. All of it is worth reading. Not quickly, but attentively, and thoughtfully.
Most of his fiction is about a made-up, but true, place called Port William, Kentucky. It is a farming community; a close-knit agglomeration of people, all with stories worth hearing. As much as his novels and stories are about people, they are about place, and how people and places are connected, and how those connections make our lives, and create the communities and world we live in.
A Place on Earth is but one of many novels about Port William, this one set during World War Two. In its pages, you meet—more than meet, become acquainted with—many of the families and individuals of Port William of that day; families and people whose pasts and futures populate other Port William novels.
There is one passage in A Place on Earth that seems to me to speak of the curious times we are living in today: “The life of the house will change, accommodate itself to the needs of the new life, and then in a few days the new will be learned, what once was unexpected will become a habit—and they will go on as before.”

Monday, April 6, 2020