Around The Rim Country

Poetry for the common man

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Next weekend, the second annual Rim Country Western Heritage Festival unfolds at the Rim Country Museum and Green Valley Park.

An endeavor to keep the history and heritage of the area alive, the festival incorporates cowboy poetry, storytelling, music and melodrama along with Art in the Park, western author book signings and related events and festivities. But it offers something else as well one of the few places where art still mingles with the people.

Unfortunately, much of today's theater, poetry and art has little to do with the little guy. They've become the playthings of socialites and intellectuals. Fancy language. Lofty subjects. Mental gamesmanship.

Other than greeting card verse, regular types rarely encounter poetry anymore, and what passes for drama on TV and in movies leaves much to be desired.

Cowboy poetry and old-fashioned western melodrama are two art forms that haven't lost that common touch probably in part because they celebrate a very down-to-earth way of life.

The performers who will be at the Rim Country Western Heritage Festival talk the way we talk. About a lot of the things we care about. In ways we can understand and relate to.

When we come together to boo the villain at a western melodrama, we are transported back to a simpler time. When right was right and wrong was wrong and everybody dressed and behaved accordingly.

Rim country resident Duke Spencer, who is once again producing and starring in this year's melodrama, is a veteran who appeared in numerous western movies with John Wayne and other Hollywood cowboy legends. This year, he's serving up three one-act plays to festival audiences "The Recipe or the Ballad of Belle," "The Rowdy," and "Onion Gold or a Glint in the Mountings."

And then there are the cowboy poets assembled by the Rim country's own Dee Strickland Johnson, national female cowboy poet of the year. While Rolfe Flake, Chuck and Barbara Casey, Steve Lindsey, and Ken and Lynne Mikel aren't exactly household names, Dee only invites the very best to appear at this festival.

Besides, it's the words that matter. And a brief sampling should convince you to get your tickets now.

In "The Eyes Have It," Flake tells about applying for a loan, only to have the banker make him a proposition. If Rolf can guess which of the banker's eyes is glass, he gets the loan.

When he guesses correctly, the banker wonders how he knew:

"'Well, sir,' I said, 'twas easy,

I figured it in this fashion,

The one on the right, the glass one,

Has just a glimmer of compassion.'"

Lindsey's poem about watching his son get thrown by a horse produces knowing nods from parents:

"And about that time ole Joshua figures he's gonna get throwed,

He went straight up, did a somersault and landed in the road!

Well he kicks around for a minute, and for a second I thought he was dead,

But then I remembered, 'No, he's landed on his head!'

And though he was sored up a mite, and for a day he couldn't see,

He could tell how proud of him I was, that he'd rode that horse first instead of me!"

In "Blow Western Winds," Johnson laments the passing of the cowboy way of life:

"Barbed wire and plows and sheep we cursed,

But asphalt and concrete and steel are worse;

Time, toil, and tears can't be reversed.

Blow ye western winds, blow."

Chris Isaacs, who will make a special guest appearance, begins his poem "I Think I'll Be A Cowboy Poet" with this stanza:

"I think I'll be a cowboy poet,

And say the things they say,

I'll get invited to them 'Gatherings,'

'Sted of out here pitching hay."

Five stanzas later, he changes his tune:

"But...my facial hair don't grow too well,

And I got a voice like a squeaky gate.

I'm plumb scared to tell a story in front of a crowd,

And my meter's always running late.

So, I guess that wasn't a very good plan,

You just can't be something you ain't.

But, say, them 'cowboy artists' do pretty well,

I think I'll go buy me some paint!"

To re-live a time when words could be both plain and special at the same time, check out the Rim Country Western Heritage Festival.

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