By MSU News Service
BOZEMAN - From the dusty trail of his 30,000-acre Rocker-Six Cattle Co., one of Montana's most illustrious poets, Wally McRae, creates cowboy verse,
such as "Maggie."
I taught my good dog, Maggie
To lay down when I commanded
I also taught her "Set"
Whenever I demanded.
I'll teach her next to speak, I said
She struggled to comply
And when she learned to speak, she said:
"You twit. It's 'Sit' and 'Lie.'"
"The creative ideas for poems come mostly while I'm out in my pickup or putting up hay and am terminally bored," says McRae, who ranches near Forsyth. He is internationally known for his poem "Reincarnation." "I come up with ideas. Sometimes I even get key words, and if I remember them then get time and write it down, I let it sit and gestate and eventually write a poem."
A fixture at national cowboy poet gatherings, McRae received the 1989 Governor's Award for the Arts in Montana and the 1990 National Endowment for the Arts National Heritage Award. His latest project is an hour-long video, "Wally McRae Live (More or Less)" featuring McRae at his ranch as he recites 32 poems. Now at 69 and with four books of poetry under his sterling belt buckle, McRae tests his pocket-knife-sharpened pencil at the art of essay writing.
"I don't yet have a critical mass of essays," he says, "but I hate editing. That's the humorless part after writing pristine words."
He writes about Montana's cowboy culture, about friends and neighbors, but so far, not about his era at Montana State University. He graduated from MSU in 1958 in zoology and chemistry.
"Fortunately the arrest warrants were all solved in statue of limitations," he jokes. "One thing carried over from attending MSU was that I was involved in theater. That experience helped me when I began presenting my poetry. I understand a lot about performing. I don't read the poems. They are memorized or closely memorized."
McRae isn't the only Stetson-topped MSU grad to click cowboy boots on the stage. Rick Kuntz, who graduated in 1972 in agricultural education, entertains dudes near Dillon where he ranches with his wife, Gail, on her family's Diamond Bar J ranch. The Custer native and former MSU rodeo team member has performed at the Montana Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Lewistown and other events.
"I usually perform for small groups," Kuntz says. "I have a job entertaining guests at a ranch in Beaverhead Valley every week in the summer. I also perform at the Cowboy Poetry and Rendezvous in Dillon in September."
Kuntz got his start as a bard in 1990 when he wrote his first poem about cowboying.
"I had a good English teacher in high school who got me interested in reading and writing, but I don't remember any poetry other than grade school," he says. "I took English classes at MSU, and I enjoyed writing then. Basically, my skills just evolved from the back of a horse."
In Kuntz's poem "Beacon Hill," he sends a ranch hand out to check on some heifers.
You can bet their water's been froze over,
So you'll have to chop some ice.
Be careful climbin' that slick side-hill,
Where my horse fell once or twice.
Ranch women have not let the lilting humor leave them in the cattle dust.
Anita Brawner, a 1968 graduate in elementary education, joined the phonetics fracas at the fist annual Ranch Women's Poetry Festival in January in Livingston.
"I read a poem by an anonymous author called 'We're Women,' a humorous poem," says Brawner. "I am co-president of Park County Cattle Women, so I represented them at the festival."
For a list of Montana cowboy and ranch women's poetry events, see http://www.visitmt.com.