Male-dominated world makes room for cowgirl poet

Posted: Thursday, July 06, 2000

MANTECA, Calif. -- Perhaps the horse's gait sets her rhythm. From a walking clip-clop, clip-clop to the dull pounding of galloping hooves, Loretta Lagomar-sino's poetry flows out of her with the same measure and balance.

By day, the 32-year-old Manteca mom with two kids wears a suit and answers the telephone at Beck Properties Inc. After work, she swaps threads and heads for the stables and a horse named Junior.

In between, she writes poetry and calls herself a cowboy poet. One of only a few women who do.

The genre of cowboy poetry is steeped in rhyme, extolling the virtues of open skies and trail life, and Lagomarsino mines poems from the traditional lode. She versifies about broncs and busted dreams, but she also whips out birthday invitations, pens marriage odes and tunes her ear to life's somber chords for funeral elegies.

Born and raised in Elverta, a spot north of Sacramento that floods when it rains hard, Lagomarsino and her sister helped with the horses her mom bred and boarded on a 10-acre ranch. Her parents divorced when she was 2.

''We saw our dad on the weekends. Dad was never a horse person. He didn't like the music, the animals, nothing related to animals,'' she said.

While Mom provided the country setting, Dad still did his bit, reading lots of books to the tots and reciting from memory the poems of another meter master, Edgar Allen Poe. The combo worked.

As a pre-teen, instead of fawning over Rick Springfield, Lagomarsino idolized Baxter Black, one of the undisputed kings of cowboy poetry. At age 13, she rode a bull in the Rio Linda rodeo and started writing about the horses and the heroes.

Her poems have appeared in Southwestern Horseman and Western Horseman. A piece called ''Cherokee,'' about the untimely death of a police horse, appeared in CHP magazine.

''I did a stand-up poetry recital once for a group of RVers for 45 minutes and got paid $300,'' Lagomarsino said, but the trail to success is a rocky, uphill climb.

Betty Ramelli, the organizer of the Vinton Cowboy Poetry Show, recalls a conversation or two with a lady cowboy poet, but hasn't booked one to perform in the four years she's run the show.

''I don't think there's too many (women) out there,'' Ramelli said. ''There's a few and I've talked to a couple. Cowboy poetry, I think, is more a man's thing.''

Since 1984, the showcase has played cowboy poets and western musical talent before an audience of 300 on the third weekend in March in Vinton, a remote California spot, 30 miles from Reno.

Neither Ramelli or Lagomar-sino has ever hoofed it to Elko, Nev., where, on the last weekend in January, the largest gathering of cowboy verse-slingers assembles.

''Cowboy poetry is becoming more mainstream in the way they are writing their poems. They are no longer writing in Baxter Black tradition,'' said Muriel Zeller, a published poet in Valley Springs who directs the Poets Gold Reading Series.

''They have moved beyond the limitations of that verse form,'' she said.

Still, the traditional form prevails in most performance venues, she admitted.

''Rhyme lends itself to easy memorization and recitation in the style of old ballads around the campfire,'' Zeller said.

Ramelli agreed.

''What makes cowboy poetry entertaining is the little stories about their experiences on the ranches,'' she said. ''The ones that seem to be most popular are humorous.''

Lagomarsino finds free verse ''boring.'' The rockin', rollin' rhymin' words are ''what I'm good at,'' she said.

She made a name for herself on the rodeo circuit with poems about world champion bull rider Lane Frost, who was killed in 1989, and Kenny Sutton, a champion cutting horse rider who died of cancer in 1995. But what she'd really like to do is design and market her own line of greeting cards for the modern cowboy.

Life situations and turning points have provide Lagomarsino with plenty of material, as long as they happen to somebody else.

She keeps her ''ugly divorce'' to herself.

''My stuff tends to touch people, especially the eulogies; but on the other hand, I write funny poems,'' Lagomarsino said.

''I have written to myself privately about my relationship, but it just brings back hard feelings and I don't want to be that way. I try to write optimistic and positively. I don't have the strength to write things that hurt.''

BYLINE1:By PAULA SHEIL

BYLINE2:For The Associated Press

MANTECA, Calif. -- Perhaps the horse's gait sets her rhythm. From a walking clip-clop, clip-clop to the dull pounding of galloping hooves, Loretta Lagomar-sino's poetry flows out of her with the same measure and balance.

By day, the 32-year-old Manteca mom with two kids wears a suit and answers the telephone at Beck Properties Inc. After work, she swaps threads and heads for the stables and a horse named Junior.

In between, she writes poetry and calls herself a cowboy poet. One of only a few women who do.

The genre of cowboy poetry is steeped in rhyme, extolling the virtues of open skies and trail life, and Lagomarsino mines poems from the traditional lode. She versifies about broncs and busted dreams, but she also whips out birthday invitations, pens marriage odes and tunes her ear to life's somber chords for funeral elegies.

Born and raised in Elverta, a spot north of Sacramento that floods when it rains hard, Lagomarsino and her sister helped with the horses her mom bred and boarded on a 10-acre ranch. Her parents divorced when she was 2.

''We saw our dad on the weekends. Dad was never a horse person. He didn't like the music, the animals, nothing related to animals,'' she said.

While Mom provided the country setting, Dad still did his bit, reading lots of books to the tots and reciting from memory the poems of another meter master, Edgar Allen Poe. The combo worked.

As a pre-teen, instead of fawning over Rick Springfield, Lagomarsino idolized Baxter Black, one of the undisputed kings of cowboy poetry. At age 13, she rode a bull in the Rio Linda rodeo and started writing about the horses and the heroes.

Her poems have appeared in Southwestern Horseman and Western Horseman. A piece called ''Cherokee,'' about the untimely death of a police horse, appeared in CHP magazine.

''I did a stand-up poetry recital once for a group of RVers for 45 minutes and got paid $300,'' Lagomarsino said, but the trail to success is a rocky, uphill climb.

Betty Ramelli, the organizer of the Vinton Cowboy Poetry Show, recalls a conversation or two with a lady cowboy poet, but hasn't booked one to perform in the four years she's run the show.

''I don't think there's too many (women) out there,'' Ramelli said. ''There's a few and I've talked to a couple. Cowboy poetry, I think, is more a man's thing.''

Since 1984, the showcase has played cowboy poets and western musical talent before an audience of 300 on the third weekend in March in Vinton, a remote California spot, 30 miles from Reno.

Neither Ramelli or Lagomar-sino has ever hoofed it to Elko, Nev., where, on the last weekend in January, the largest gathering of cowboy verse-slingers assembles.

''Cowboy poetry is becoming more mainstream in the way they are writing their poems. They are no longer writing in Baxter Black tradition,'' said Muriel Zeller, a published poet in Valley Springs who directs the Poets Gold Reading Series.

''They have moved beyond the limitations of that verse form,'' she said.

Still, the traditional form prevails in most performance venues, she admitted.

''Rhyme lends itself to easy memorization and recitation in the style of old ballads around the campfire,'' Zeller said.

Ramelli agreed.

''What makes cowboy poetry entertaining is the little stories about their experiences on the ranches,'' she said. ''The ones that seem to be most popular are humorous.''

Lagomarsino finds free verse ''boring.'' The rockin', rollin' rhymin' words are ''what I'm good at,'' she said.

She made a name for herself on the rodeo circuit with poems about world champion bull rider Lane Frost, who was killed in 1989, and Kenny Sutton, a champion cutting horse rider who died of cancer in 1995. But what she'd really like to do is design and market her own line of greeting cards for the modern cowboy.

Life situations and turning points have provide Lagomarsino with plenty of material, as long as they happen to somebody else.

She keeps her ''ugly divorce'' to herself.

''My stuff tends to touch people, especially the eulogies; but on the other hand, I write funny poems,'' Lagomarsino said.

''I have written to myself privately about my relationship, but it just brings back hard feelings and I don't want to be that way. I try to write optimistic and positively. I don't have the strength to write things that hurt.''



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