by Wallace McRae

Critics claim we write doggerel. To them that’s a curse
As we whittle our ditties in tired meter and
Rhyming’s old fashioned—we’re stuck in the past.
Gotta strike for new heights to make our craft


How many rhymes can you unearth for “horse”?
We must find fresh pathways—carve out a new
Forego out worn metaphors—retire tired cliches
As unnumb cerebrums will uncover fresh

Of retelling the tales of our untrampled West
Like Ves, Paul, and Linda we’ll leave all the
In the dust of the drags in their quest of the muse
We’ll ride at the point and no longer

Those sound-alike words at the end of the line.
Our poems will sparkle, shimmer and
Ah! The critics will love us. We’ll be the rage
Academics will praise us as we mount a new

To convert the whole West to the joys of free verse
Oh, some will resist. They’ll grumble and
As they cling to tradition, bog down in the mire,
Get rimrocked, rough locked, or caught in the
——————————————-……Gallagher electric fence.

But it’s “Root hog or die,” as the old-timers said
As reps with credentials sort the quick from
——————————————-……those who gather celestial ranges
——————————————- and are now gone but not forgotten.
Yes! Convert! You wranglers who once tangled with rhyme
‘Cause rhyming ain’t worth a tin Roosevelt
——————————————-……social program.

© Wallace McRae, used with permission

In a recent conversation with Wallace McRae, he mentioned that he thought this poem—which takes on free verse—was one of his best poems, and he gave us permission to share it.

Wally McRae is a third-generation rancher, with a 30,000 acre cow-calf ranch in Forsyth, Montana. He was the first cowboy poet to be awarded the National Heritage Award from the National Endowment for the Arts. He is a recipient of the Montana Governor’s Award for the Arts, and has served on the National Council of the Arts.

He’s probably best known for his own least-favorite poem, “Reincarnation.”

Wally McRae has a poetry collection, “Cowboy Curmudgeon and other poems, and a collection of stories, Stick Horses and Other Stories of Ranch Life. This poem, “Let’s Free Up Our Verse,” appears in The Anthology; Celebrating 30 Years of Wrangling Words from the Western Folklife Center, published in 2014 in celebration of the 30th National Cowboy Poetry Gathering.

Find more about Wally McRae at CowboyPoetry.com.

This photograph of Wally McRae is by popular photojournalist Jessica Brandi Lifland (Instagram). It is from her Cowboy Poetry Project with subjects to date who also include Waddie Mitchell, Amy Steiger and Gail Steiger, Rodney Nelson, DW Groethe, Elizabeth Ebert, Henry Real Bird, Doris Daley, Bimbo Cheney, and others.

Jessica Lifland is one of the official photographers for the Western Folklife Center’s National Cowboy Poetry Gathering. Find her gathering photos at her photo blog.

(Please respect copyright. You can share this poem and photograph with this post, but any other uses require permission.)