Cowboy Poet Celebrates his Roots

American Artisans, Hometown Heroes, People
on July 7, 2001

If you think poetry is stuffy, stilted, and boring, you have not read Baxter Black. As the countrys best-selling cowboy poet, Black artfully puts a cowpunchers kick into his rhyming verse.

The Benson, Ariz., poet, former veterinarian, songwriter, and self-described sorry team roper has written 16 books and is a syndicated columnist for magazines, newspapers, and National Public Radio. But foremost, he is true to his roots.

Black, 56, performs some 70 speaking engagements a year, ranging from the Florida Cattlemens Association in Marco Island to the California Mid State Fair in Paso Robles. Black says he bears a constant sense of responsibility to the farmers and ranchers who have embraced him and his work as their own.

The worst offense I could do is to embarrass my friends, he says, applying the term generally. There are certain expectations (from his audience). Even though they allow me to be biologically correct, you cant do dirty jokes. It has to be acceptable for mixed audiences.

The phone rang. It was four oclock…the other four oclock.
A worried voice came on the line, Sorry to wake ya, Doc,
But Ive got a calvy heifer I thinks in trouble some.
I cant see nothin but the tail. Im wonderin, could ya come?

You could say Black knows livestock inside and outliterally. He was a practicing veterinarian when he started writing poetry and songs in his mid-30s. Since 1982, he has moved into a career as a full-time cowboy poet. Now, instead, he catches 4 a.m. flights.

You can stand in the canyons cathedral
Where water and sky never rest
And know in your bones
that the meek, on their own
Will never inherit the West

Black and his family moved to the cattle ranching community of Benson from Brighton, Colo., three years ago after spending two years looking at small towns throughout the Southwest.

We left the cats and the cows and brought the dogs and the horses, Black says. We looked for two things: a good airport and a sale barn.

Benson is Blacks kind of place, with some 3,500 people, two stoplights, two barbers, and a K-12 school. The town seal pictures a cow, a locomotive, and a box of dynamite. In every little hamlet people bind together to get things done, and Blacks wife, Cindy, is one such person, he says. Cindys the secretary of the PTA and plays piano for Sunday School. They have two children: 22-year-old Jennifer graduated from college this spring, and 8-year-old Guy plays baseball on a team his dad helps coach.

Then two bulls as big as boulders banged together head to head.
It sounded like the closing of a vault.
Tectonic plates colliding, their reverberation spread
Like tremors from the San Andreas Fault.

Black said he learned a long time ago, if you talk funny, and you want to write funny, you have to write the way you talk. For that reason, many of his poems are conversational. But that doesnt mean they are dumbed down.

I like words, and I dont hesitate to use big ones if I want to, he says.

Blacks poetry, though he declines to characterize it himself, exudes a genuine love of land and animals, and a self-deprecating sense of humor that rings true with those who pull calves and plow sections.

A cowboy is the way he is because he works with stock.
Hes learned its best to ease along
To find the rhythm in their song
And not to fret if days are long
cause cows dont punch a clock.

(All stanzas are from Baxter Blacks most recent collection, A Cowful of Cowboy Poetry.)