Friday, April 15, 2011

"Zarzo" what Tom Russell calls Montana poet, sometime cowboy, and hard- core writer Paul Zarzyski Recently Tom sent me Zarzyski's 51--"30 poems, 20 lyrics, 1 Self- Interview", and it is the best "Western" book and the best "Writing" book I have read in an age.

Paul is often lumped with the Cowboy Poets and has some things to say about that. While he has rodeo'd and written some great "cowboy" poems (and a classic western ballad, recorded by Tom, I'll quote below), he is also a "serious" (I hate that term) modern poet who studied under the likes of Richard Hugo in Missoula. And he was not born in the saddle-- he came from Wisconsin, and like me is half Alpine- Italian. Which means he not only eats better than most cowboys; he can write about it.

His subjects are as varied as his styles. Let me give you a few examples; first, a sample of that rodeo ballad he did with Tom, "All the Way for the Short Ride":

Well the chute door swings open
Here we go again
The desperate dance
The swing and the spin
Dust rising from a crossbred bull
Fire meets with pride
A man comes a long way
For just the short ride

Second, something true from the Italian side, from "Sadly-- Oh-so-Sadly-- I have to Explain The Sopranos to Someone Who Just Does Not Capice":

Which is all to say we work goddam hard
at being sad. It's simple logic-- bah-da- boom,
bah- dah- bing. No sad, no mad. No mad,
no glad, no glad, no mangia! And we
all live to mangia, am I right or am I right?
Good! You finally got it! It looks like
maybe I won't have to kill you after all

A poem about autumn among other things, that reminds me just a little of Ted Hughes' October Dawn, but with boxing, a recurrent Zarzyski theme:

Autumn puts its overnight kibosh
on summer, buckles the hot
August knees with a crisp hook
to the liver, a definitive i-dotting
body shot, then drops it
with a sockdolager to the jaw. Rocked,
summer does the sunfish-
tossed- on- the- dock death
rattle flop. I, quivering, bones
chattering with thrill, lust after this
socked- in morning, thick air
pungent with whiffs of the unpicked
edible inky caps-- words stirred
so near I can catch the staccato ticking
of my Muse's red stiletto heels...

I could go on, but buy the book!

The "Interview" is almost a book in itself, a passionate poetical rap on the working writer's life, with observations both thoughtful and pungent. He tells tales of horses and fishing, of Cowboy Poetry gatherings and late night parties, some with long- gone characters I drank with too. A few opinions I would mildly disagree with; for instance, I am not as hard on the "New Formalists". Paul is unusual himself in that he writes rhyming pieces-- what he calls "songs"-- as well as "modern poetry". Perhaps my mixed "Kiplingite" heritage inclines me to straddle the line, but so does he! No matter-- he is still somebody I'd stay up drinking and arguing with and I suspect mostly agreeing with...

Elsewhere, he gives excellent, opinionated advice (especially relevant to today's generation of ironists). He quotes mentors William Kittredge and Richard Hugo: if you are not risking sentimentality you are not even in the ballpark. He riffs on "wild": "Did you come to hide? Or did you come to ride? To spur the words wild? Nets, roll bars, seat belts, helmets,bullet- proof vests, panoplies, bear bells, shark repellent, sun screen, safety glasses, rain gear, mosquito dope, ginko biloba not encouraged". He tells of defending Brokeback Mountain to a crowd of official cowboy poets-- I have tried that task one- on- one, and take my hat off to him. He gives near- recipes any real cook can figure out (look at page 172)...

And more, and more-- and it left me wanting STILL more; maybe, say, some of his early stuff with wild food and hunting- 51 still has a little bit of fishing. But that doesn't even rise to the level of a complaint-- this is the one to get, even if you have, as I do, all his earlier stuff. Paul, next time you are in NM, stop by Magdalena and I will buy you a drink of your choice (Polish vodka?) at the Spur. And we'll eat risott' with wild funghi...


danontherock said...

This is not related to your post but I thought you might appreciate these photos. They are not mine but on a site about hunting with Salukis in Namibia


Steve Bodio said...

Dan- would love to see- but where?

danontherock said...


copy and paste

Steve Bodio said...

Good stuff Dan-- will blog. Next time just email me at "ebodio- at- gilanet- dot- com".