Link to Grand Rapids Herald-Review

August 15, 2004 --

Help wanted: Poet

Sometimes I wish I were a poet.

Oh, sure, I’ve penned a bit of doggerel from time to time, but just enough to make me realize that I wouldn’t recognize an iambic pentameter if it came up and bit me on the ankle.

Reading the article about A. B. "Banjo" Paterson — the famed Australian poet who created "Waltzing Matilda" and "The Man from Snowy River" — in the latest issue of National Geographic left me wishing that Itasca County had its own "Banjo" Paterson.

Someone who could capture the beauty and drama of the ever-changing northwoods environment. Gentle snowfalls. Postcard blue skies. Vicious green-tinted thunderstorms.

Someone who could record the heroic struggles of the men and women who overcame the difficulties of building a life here. Native Americans. Fur traders. Loggers. Miners. Homesteaders.

Someone who could capture the unique — and often amazing — history of the area. The logging camp "sky pilot" who proceeded to dunk an overly-agressive logger in a rain barrel. The logger and the LaPrairie town marshal who had a gun fight at high noon in the village’s main street. The hazards of a river log drive, or the high drama of watching a forest fire in the Sherry’s Arm area as it sends balls of burning gases across Pokegama Lake to ignite trees on the north side.

Paterson’s Australia may claim the only "Clancy of the Overflow," but Itasca County certainly has had its share of equally rugged individualists; free-spirits who moved to a decidedly different beat than the rest of the world.

Prose may contain the facts of a situation, but only poetry can convey the rhythm of an event. Paterson’s "The Man from Snowy River," for example, starts with the cadence of a trotting horse, then builds to a canter and crescendos with a full-speed gallop that gives the reader a real feel for the ride. Where is the poet who can capture national attention with our rhythms; the hush of a summer evening that turns into a deadly thunderstorm; the rumble of a mine truck as it strains up the grade under a load of ore?

I’ve often longed for a muse to perch on my shoulder and whisper the words that would capture my own memorable moments on the trail. Take, for instance, the case of the poor snowmobiler who, deafened by the roar of his machine, didn’t realize that he shared the trail with a horse and rider until he rounded a curve and saw — towering above him — a half-ton of horseflesh galloping straight at him. There was never any real danger (I could hear him coming a mile away), but the look of panic on the snowmobiler’s face still gives me a chuckle whenever I recall it!

The Snowy River rider’s wild ride down an outback mountainside may strain our sense of credulity; but is it really any more bizarre than my drive up County Road 62 a few days ago... when I was suddenly faced with a runaway llama weaving down the road toward me?! Surely a good poet could spin a yarn out of that!

Perhaps rodeo promoter Howard Pitzen — author of the unique volume of cowboy poems titled "Here Lies Wild Bill" — could do it. He’s very much in touch with the rough side of life in the northwoods and certainly has mastered the poet’s craft. Or maybe Don Boese could apply his feel for the nuances of history to a new style of expression.

Paterson was a lawyer; is there a local barrister whose gift for courtroom oratory has prepared him or her to argue the case for our unique area before the literary jury of the world?

Sometimes I wish I were a poet.

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