Still makin’ ‘em laugh
IDA GROVE – If you’re going to write cowboy poetry and share authentic stories of rural life, you’ve got to know what you’re talking about
Just ask Baxter Black, the well-known speaker, radio commentator, syndicated ag columnist, author, and self-described “starvin’ cattle feeder” who has captivated audiences from RFD TV to National Public Radio.
“My inspiration is my audience,” said Black, 65, who spoke on Nov. 19 in Ida Grove to a group of nearly 800 people who attended United Bank of Iowa’s ag appreciation dinner.
“People are always telling me things, and I add my own take on these tidbits from the point of view of a cowboy. Seriously, I can’t make all this stuff up and these stories just keep coming.”
Talking with Black is like chatting with a neighbor over the fence. While the conversation ranges from crops to cattle, the subject drifts to cowboy poetry, in Black’s case. This former large-animal veterinarian from Benson, Ariz., admits that he followed an unusual path to his current occupation.
“I owe it all to the fact that I refused to carry slides,” said Black, who used to speak at more than 90 producer meetings each year about livestock nutrition and cattle diseases.
“I made my points with humor instead of pictures, and apparently I was more entertaining than informative.”
When the company where Black worked as a tech veterinarian changed hands and let him go, this spurred Black’s transition to cowboy poet.
“I was doing speaking on the side and people just kept calling, so here I am,” said Black, who has written his syndicated column, “On the Edge of Common Sense,” for more than 30 years.
In praise of farmers
Black, who dabbled in songwriting before he began writing poems in his mid-30s, does most of his writing today on airplanes. It’s a logical choice, since Black’s many speaking engagements across the country take him away from home about half of the year. During the week that concluded with his appearance in Ida Grove, for example, he arrived in Iowa after traveling from Texas to Montana and beyond.
It’s always a privilege to speak to rural audiences, said Black, whose poems about “recycled chlorophyll” (cattle manure) and the cowboy mentality strike a chord with Iowa farmers and ranchers, who often tell him that they’ve lived most of his stories.
“You know that statistic that only 2 percent of Americans farm for a living? Some people think that’s an alarming statistic, but I think it’s amazing that so few can feed so many,” said Black. He reminded his Ida Grove audience that farmers are stewards of the land who need to put their best foot forward with consumers.
“Look at how much corn production has increased in the past 20 years. Although farmers are still raising crops in the same fields, better genetics and better management mean we can feed ourselves and the world.”
Preserving a classic American art form
Although new equipment and technology have revolutionized agriculture in recent years, Black admits that he doesn’t own a cell phone or a television, and he jokes that Velcro chaps are his idea of a modern convenience. “I’m not anti-technology; I just haven’t burdened myself with it,” said Black, who credits his employees for managing his website www.baxterblack.com and his Facebook page.
While Black prefers to spend his time entertaining people with his cowboy poetry and passing on this classic American art form, his work often reflects current events, ranging from the mundane to the absurd. When singer Sheryl Crow encouraged Americans to taper their use of toilet paper for personal hygiene, Black said he realized that farmers and ranchers, who often heed the call of nature in the great outdoors, were way ahead of the game.
“We should give them carbon credits,” joked Black, who wrote a poem about the issue, noting that people should “recognize cowboys and give them their due, for being number one in the art of number two.”
This type of down-to-earth, humorous poetry reflects Black’s unique perspective on life. “I laugh at myself and I enjoy making other people laugh. I always tell my rural audiences, ‘Thanks for letting me make a living in your world.'”
You can contact Darcy Dougherty Maulsby by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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