I first met Clark Crouch, Poet Lariat and Sandhill Sage, at the Spirit of the West Cowboy Gathering in Ellensburg, WA, 2005. He and his wife, Barbara, introduced themselves after a Nevada Slim & Cimarron Sue show. We’d touched a chord with them with one of our selections, “Don’t Fence Me In” (by Cole Porter); it had been the theme for their high school junior/senior banquet and Barbara was Clark’s date. The four of us have been friends ever since and have shared some wonderful performing experiences.
Clark Crouch-Poet, Speaker, Publisher
Do the three words following your name, above, adequately reflect who you are? If not, what three words would you choose?
When did you first become interested in cowboy poetry?
I met Charles Badger Clark, the classic cowboy poet and then Poet Laureate of South Dakota, about 1940 and he got me so interested in cowboy poetry that I wrote my first poem then. That poem, “Cowboy,” won first prize at the Blaine County Nebraska Fair. I wrote no more of consequence until I was 73 and met Sherman Alexie, an outstanding Native American Poet, in 2001 and he encouraged me to resume writing poetry.
You had a long and impressive working career, starting at age twelve. After a 60 year hiatus, what brought you back to cowboy poetry? What skills did you pick up along the way that helped you become a successful cowboy poet?
Shortly after meeting Badger Clark, I went on my own economically working summers as a cowboy in order to pay my way through high school. All-in-all I was a cowboy for nearly six summers at a man’s wage of a dollar a day plus found (board and room in today’s parlance). That work as well as association with ranchers and cowboys provided a wealth of experience and a basis for creating western and cowboy poetry in my more recent years.
Winters in town while attending school I worked at whatever job I could find that would pay for my board and room. Jobs over the four years included store clerk, telephone messenger, telephone switchboard operator, school janitor, printer’s devil, and truck driver delivering coal to town folk as well as local farmers and ranchers. These jobs offered an ever-changing opportunity to learn about people and their lives.
As an aside, I averaged a weekly wage of $7.50 for about 18 hours of work each week during all four years of high school. Room and board was $5.00 a week leaving me $2.50 a week for other expenses and, due to low prices, that was a very comfortable amount during the early 1940s.
As noted above, I returned to writing poetry after meeting Sherman Alexie. He encouraged me to capture my family life and history in poetic form. That resulted in two books of poetry authored in free form. They were sufficiently successful that I harkened back to my chats with Badger Clark and began writing cowboy poetry in traditional form, primarily ballad form with verse lines in 8-6-8-6 syllables and true rhymes.
Who are the poets, writers and others that have influenced your writing?
Everyone I’ve known has influenced my writing through enhancing my understanding of their persons, their viewpoints, their biases, and their very lives. Even the daily newspaper can trigger a cowboy poem, witness a poem capturing George W. Bush’s philosophies by placing his attitude in the late 1800’s with a cowboy who saw the world in pure black and white.
As to poetic influence: certainly Badger Clark, Sherman Alexie, Robert Penn Warren, and Walt Whitman were favorites…the latter primarily because of his disruptive influence on traditional poetry.
You’ve performed your poetry for many years and in many settings. What do you like best about sharing your work with a live audience? Do you have a favorite performance memory?
The best audiences for me are the infirm and the young. When an elder is wheeled into the room…head down, eyes closed, slumped in her wheelchair, and totally detached from the world…there can be a moment of awakening as I mention a windmill or Monkey Ward. Her eyes open and a smile touches her lips as she comes alive for even a moment or two. There is no greater reward!
As to youth, a favorite audience is a sixth grade elementary class sharing stories of life as a cowboy enhanced by poetry. This group of youngsters has an insatiable interest in the bits of life and history which poetry can reveal.
My favorite performance was during a wonderful week long, expense paid trip for Barbara and me, including a generous stipend, to open a dinner show in Glenrock, Wyoming, featuring Michael Martin Murphy in 2009. The venue was an indoor arena, the food was great, and the audience was moved to provide a lengthy standing ovation after my performance.
Is it true that cowboy poets have groupies?
Yes, but not in the same sense as those following rock groups. My groupies tended, perhaps unfortunately, to be ladies interested in the poetry rather than the person. My youngest was a thirteen-year-old girl who collected all of my books and was in attendance at three different shows which I did during two different trips to Wyoming.
Do you sometimes write outside the cowboy poetry genre?
My first two books, Voices of the Wind and Reflections, were in modern free form verses. Earlier during my work as an administrator with the Atomic Energy Commission and its successor organizations I served as technical editor and was, for several years, the technical information officer for the Hanford Project.
More recently, I have worked to feature other poets who, for whatever reason, have never been published. This has resulted in four anthologies which I edited to feature them: Eight Viewpoints (8 western poets), Poetic Reflections at the Creekside (30 modern poets), Western Viewpoints (16 cowboy poets), and Poetic Images (17 cowboy poets).
Publishing technology has changed a lot since you published your first book of poems. What are some of your favorite technological advances? What “old style” technology do you miss?
Frankly, I miss old fashioned printing with hand set type, real ink, and a clanking antique press. When I was a sophomore in high school I served as a printer’s devil at The Brewster News, the official weekly for Blaine County, Nebraska, and still have some ink in my veins. Later in life, I acquired an antique print shop, put it in the basement, and became a hobby printer for about twelve years or so.
Despite that nostalgic feeling, I greatly value modern digital technologies. The computer and dedicated software enable me to bypass the expensive layout and printing support which would have been required to pursue my publishing interests. Incidentally, I do own and operate a non-profit educational organization, The Resource Network, which I founded in 1981. It is dedicated to remembering and celebrating the history, including the poetry, of our Great American West.
In recent years you’ve served as editor for western and cowboy poetry anthologies. What prompted you to undertake this type of project?
There are a great many talented modern and cowboy poets who have never been published. Through my nonprofit organization, we have been able to give them access to the reading public by making their work available internationally.
You have quite a digital marketing platform- -Facebook, Twitter, Weblog. How have these tools helped you promote your writing?
While these platforms have helped to generate and maintain interest in my books, as well as cowboy poetry in general, they tend to be a distraction. The lure of the net is seductive and maintaining the sites tends to take away time which might be better spent in writing and publishing.
What’s the best way to keep cowboy poetry alive for future generations?
The best way is to belong to and support related nonprofit organizations such as CowboyPoetry.com, Western Music Association, and similar organizations. They have the structure, the dedicated staffs, and the resources to keep the genre alive and well.
Besides writing, performing and publishing, what other pursuits do you enjoy?
Reading is, and has always been, a major interest. The internet and the millions of publications which are freely available there provide access to books I always wanted to read but never did…until now!
Listening to classical and western music on my new Amazon Echo is a technological treat.
We now reside in a retirement community in Woodinville, Washington, and I am a founder and host for a monthly poetry venue here. Most of the readers are modern poets but traditional verses are evident and also appreciated by residents and other attendees.
Where can people find your books and performance schedule?
All books are available through internet and local booksellers worldwide. A major vendor is Amazon.com. I do not personally sell books…it’s less work to leave the marketing, sales, tax collection, business reporting, etc. to others while enjoying the royalties they collect and remit to me.
Although still in pretty good health for an 87 year old (88 next August), I have retired from performing but am still open to occasional visits to local retirement homes and elementary school classes.
What’s your next literary project?
I plan to continue writing western and cowboy poetry, mentoring others who are interested in the genre, and publishing any resulting books.
What would you like us to know about you that hasn’t been covered in the previous questions?
You are a very good and thorough questioner and I really have no further secrets to share except, perhaps, to admit that cowboy poets never lie although we might sometimes stretch the truth a bit.
Most of my past performances are listed at http://poetlariat.org/performances-by-clark-crouch/ and a brief bio with bibliographic notes is posted at http://poetlariat.org/bio-bibligraphy/.
Clark Crouch, Poet Lariat
… two time winner of the Will Rogers Medallion Award for Cowboy Poetry …
18200 Woodinville-Snohomish Rd NE #402, Woodinville, WA 98072
firstname.lastname@example.org — 425-286-1182 — http://poetlariat.org
Thank you, Clark, and Happy Cowboy Poetry Week!
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