Kenai poet earns recognition after decades of writing

Posted: Thursday, June 05, 2003

After writing poetry on and off for the last 67 years, it's about time William Rowe was recognized for his work.

In May, Rowe, of Kenai, won his first ever prizes in a poetry contest the Shakespeare Trophy of Excellence and the Poet of the Year Medallion for 2002 from the Famous Poets Society.

Rowe's lack of accolades before these awards has nothing to do with his talent at writing, however, and everything to do with the fact that he's simply never cared about getting prizes or money for his poems, so he never felt compelled to enter contests.

Poetry for Rowe is more a part of who he is than some hobby he wants to be recognized for.

"It's not something I have a desire for, it's something that has to be; I have to write," he said.

Rowe wrote his first poem when he was 17 and stuck in a hospital with the flu. He got bored lying there, so he started writing. It was a military-themed poem, and when an Army commander passed through the hospital and saw the poem, he told Rowe he would have it published.

Now 84, Rowe has been writing poetry on and off throughout his life. He is a self-taught in the art, yet he writes in a classic style.

"I believe in the old school," he said, "A (poem) must identify a subject, identify a story, and must have an ending.

"All of my poetry is written like poetry in rhyme and rhythm. A poem that isn't rhymed is nothing but a short story."

Much of the fodder for his writing comes from his life experiences and the culture he grew up in. Rowe was born and raised on a ranch in Colorado, where he learned to be a horse trainer. To this day he is a fan of Westerns he owns everything ever written by Louis L'Amore and that style often comes out in his writing.

"I can and do write about anything, but it's easier for me (to write in the Western theme) because I know it, it's more accurate," he said.

"Bunkhouse In The Sky," the poem Rowe won the Famous Poets Society contest with, is a story from his youth. When he was about 15 and doing ranch work in Colorado, Rowe came across an old cowboy caught in a bad storm.

"He was all done for," Rowe said of the man. "I helped him home to the ranch, but he didn't make it and I couldn't get him off my mind, so I wrote about him."

Though "Bunkhouse In The Sky" has a melancholy feel to it, Rowe doesn't think much of poets who constantly try to sadden people with their poetry, he said.

He also doesn't favor poems about "sweethearts, roses, flowers or religions."

"My poetry is strictly hard core," he said. "My style is action and shock and feeling."

"The Gunfighter," which also was recognized in the Famous Poets Society contest, is a poem in that vein. It tells of a fierce gunfighter who comes to town and is beaten at the draw by another man, who turns out to be his brother.

Not all his poems are about cowboys and Western themes, however. Others represent different times in his life, like "The Ring-Tailed Kabezzo," a poem about a fierce creature that could take apart a mountain yet was afraid of a calf, that he wrote for his two youngest kids.

Not all his life was spent on ranches, either. He joined the Navy when he was 21 and was on detached duty with the Marine Corps until the end of WWII, when he was nearly 26. Rowe has owned an auction company, competed in the pro boxing ring, worked for an aircraft company, and had a 28-year career in law enforcement, including two years as the chief security officer at 20th Century Fox's ranch in California, and 11 years as the chief of police in a Colorado town.

He retired from law enforcement after his stint as chief, and he and his wife decided to move to Alaska, since that's where four of their six children had moved to.

"We wanted to get out of Colorado," he said. "You spend 11 years as a police officer in a small town and it's moving time."

The Rowes moved to Kenai in 1987 and have been there since. Rowe spends his time writing and pursuing his other interests, including painting, reading and keeping the stray cats in the neighborhood fed.

Rowe said he was honored to have his work awarded in the contest, but doesn't feel any need to seek monetary gain for his writing, though one of his daughters is putting together a book of his poems.

"I like money sure, everybody does but I have all I need," he said.

'Bunkhouse In The Sky'

By William D. Rowe

Your days on the range are over Old Cowboy.

Winter has come into your life.

Gone are the days of hardship, the days of toil and strife,

So give Old Buck his head, for he is tired and ture.

Once he was wild and firey,

But now he is old like you.

So give him the reins old Cowboy,

And he will take you there on high.

Ride that last trail together,

to the bunkhouse in the sky.

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