Alaska's cowboys recite poetry

Posted: Sunday, April 14, 2002

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- If you were looking for cowboys Friday night, you weren't going to find them on the ranch.

Alaska's cowboys were reciting poetry at Fireside Books in Palmer.

They didn't ride in on horses.

''I don't even own a horse,'' Randy Bonnell said. That wasn't always the case. ''I'm an adventurous type of cat. Back in my drinking days, I rode my horse downtown,'' he said.

The bookstore hosted cowboy poetry night as part of a series to celebrate National Poetry Month during April. Next week Alaska poet Anne Coray will present original poetry, and the series ends with a Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson look-alike contest.

Store owner David Cheezem said he wanted to showcase a range of poetry during the month and cowboy poetry seemed a natural choice.

''It's as far from the academics as you can get,'' Cheezem said. ''But it's still a vehicle for expression.''

Besides, he said he couldn't find any cab driver poets.

Bonnell, who has been a mechanical foreman for the Matanuska-Susitna Borough School District for the past 18 years, dressed for the part. He wore Levis, scuffed brown boots, a straw hat and red silk scarf.

The poets spoke in cowboy vernacular, describing the best and worst of life on the prairie.

''It's a code that you carry through life,'' said Carl Luce of Wasilla, who is a carpenter by day. For him, poetry is a way of life.

Luce and Bonnell may have day jobs, but at night they speak in rhymes about sage, green grass, a gurgling creek and cowboy pride.

Bonnell's silver spurs clanked and his suede chaps flapped as he shifted with his rhymes. Between images of flatbed trucks, cattle drives, drop pens and pastures, the New Mexico native recited lines from cowboy poets, such as Waddy Mitchell and Baxter Black.

''Soon, the small farmers and ranchers will all be gone except for a few,'' Bonnell recited.

Luce's poem ''Progress'' also struck a serious tone.

''There'll be no place to grow the food, each farm and ranch marked sold,'' he recited.

Mike Gibson of Palmer recited a more humorous poem about cowboys and computers.

''They got megabytes and Internets and things like perfect words,'' Gibson recited. ''If they got a mouse that smart I ain't even gonna try.''

All three agreed there's something special about the cowboy code.

''We can't share what it really is,'' Luce said. ''If you've never lived it, you can't understand it.''

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