wally-mcraekmfphoto © Kevin Martini-Fuller


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
This poem should not be reprinted or reposted without permission

This is another poem in the week’s theme of “who we are missing at Elko.”

In a conversation with Wallace McRae last year, 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 for the Traditional 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.

While Wally McRae may like to put forth a curmudgeonly exterior, as in the photograph by Kevin Martini-Fuller, his true character is quite the opposite.

Kevin Martini-Fuller has photographed the cowboy poets of the National Cowboy Gathering for 35 years. This photo is included in “Portraits from the Gathering,” a great project of last year’s 35th annual National Cowboy Poetry Gathering, which placed photos of poets with audio links around Elko, Nevada, during the event.

Also, check out some chronological portraits and more at the link for Kevin Martini-Fuller’s new project. Find more of his work at his site.


>>>>This is a schedule post while we’re on a break for the National Cowboy Gathering, returning February 4.

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