TRYING TO CLIMB INTO BANJO PATERSON’S BRAIN
by Baxter Black
I went to seeking how he did it. I mean not just how he writ it,
Not in pencil, brush or ink stain or a thumbnail dipped in tar
But just how he played my language,
the proper and the slang which
I myself have twisted into verse and scattered near and far.
Just to spend some time beside him
as the muse roils inside him
Like a seed or yeast or lava that ignites his sharpened quill
I would learn within that hour how the bud becomes the flower
While I watch him take my mother tongue and bend it to his will.
It’s the process that I covet, great magicians make us love it
But alas not every oyster can make a grain of sand a pearl,
DNA is overrated, rhyming verse is complicated
And the Banjo ranks in my book as best poet in the world.
It’s a bit like building arches with each syllable he marches
Cross the consciouness of listeners who anticipate the ride
And a lilting rises from it, I’m convinced that he must hum it
As he locks in rhyme and meter like the moon conducts the tide.
He’s a sculptor carving fiction using consonants and diction
To create poetic mountains moles like me could never climb
I dissect the rhyme and meter,
how it plays through woof or tweeter
And no matter my attempts I am found wanting every time.
He’s the Einstein, the Da Vinci, like them with every inch he
Built a monument to genius, deftly chiseled from thin air
Laying mines of letters lyrical, each uncut gem a miracle
And then welded into meter perfect as any answered prayer.
When you’re good at some endeavor
and you work hell bent for leather
You eventually get very good, of which you can be proud
But–it you’re naturally gifted like the man who never shifted
In his seat you are invincible, acknowledged and unbowed.
Which to me is the description of his patent predilection
To pursue the strictest guidelines he imposed upon himself.
But what good is word selection if in striving for perfection
One obscures the human heart song
and leaves soul up on the shelf.
Banjo’s subjects are not famous, nor are they entirely blameless
But their greatness he uncovers with respect and wit and grace
And they rise to the occasion on his words of adulation
That encircle our emotions like a lover’s long embrace.
Ah, the man from Snowy River
on that ride that makes us quiver
And the fiery horse undaunted that he paints for us in rhyme.
Let us glimpse them through his portal;
he has made them both immortal
As he takes us down the mountainside
beyond the reach of time.
Where I wait, a lowly comma ‘neath his monumental drama
Like Sir Edmond pondered Everest wondering will it be in vain
Yet the power of his writing keeps the muse in me relighting
And ever trying to climb into Banjo Paterson’s brain.
© Baxter Black, used with permission
See notice below about reproducing and reprinting this poem.
Baxter Black, top cowboy poet and occasional philosopher, is the man who put cowboy poetry on the map.
If asked about poets he admires, Baxter Black speaks of “perfect” writers such as Carlos Ashley (1904-1993), Elizabeth Ebert (1925-2018), and A.B. “Banjo” Paterson (1864-1941).
Few Australian Bush Poets are as well known as Banjo Paterson, author of the famed “The Man from Snowy River” and “Waltzing Matilda.”
Baxter Black often names “Clancy of the Overflow” (see our previous post from Wednesday for that poem).
In a conversation last year, Baxter mentioned this poem, “Trying to Climb Into Banjo Paterson’s Brain,” which he says he wrote after trying to analyze the genius of Paterson.
What an excellent model for any poet, though possibly only Baxter Black could successfully rhyme “language” with “along which.” He weaves in some of Paterson’s style and refers to his language, but no one but Baxter could have created this beautifully acrobatic poem.
Find this poem in Baxter’s book, Poems Worth Saving.
Baxter is busy with many media projects; he has retired from live performances. He wants to relay this message, a policy announcement: Since Baxter Black is no longer doing live performances, there are inquiries about others using his material in their performances. His policy is that anyone is welcome use his material in appropriate occasions, including non-profit or paid-for performances. He requests that the poems or stories be performed the way they are written, allowing for editing of length if needed. Please give the author credit.
His office adds that no one, for any reason, has permission to include his work “on cds, books, or dvds…or to try to sell it in any manner, including online.”
(Please respect copyright and see the message above for information about the use of Baxter Black’s poems. This photo is courtesy of baxterblack.com.)