The ruggedness and romance of the West has influenced writers, musicians, artists and even poets for more than a hundred years. Cowboy poets in particular are a breed that could only have hatched from the mountains of the American West.
The Sun Valley Center, as part of the current multi-disciplinary exhibit "What We Keep," will host two such poets, Paul Zarzyski and Wallace McRae, at a special event at the nexStage Theatre in Ketchum. Sponsored by artist Theodore Waddell and Lynn Campion Waddell of the Wood River Valley, "A Sense of Place" will be held at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 11.
McRae, who manages a 30,000-acre ranch in Forsyth, Mont., was the first cowboy poet to receive the National Heritage Award from the National Endowment for the Arts. A traditionalist, he is the author of four books of poetry: "It's Just Grass and Water," "Up North Is Down the Crick," "Things of Intrinsic Worth" and "Cowboy Curmudgeon."
McCrae also won the 2005 Montana Governor's Arts Award, which in the past was presented to such well-known authors as William Kittredge, Ivan Doig, Norman Maclean, Steven Ambrose and Thomas McGuane. For the past 20 years he has been a featured performer at the Elko Cowboy Poetry gathering and in 1999 appeared with Garrison Keillor on "A Prairie Home Companion."
In the early 1970s, Zarzyski studied with celebrated poet Richard Hugo at the University of Montana. He rode bareback bronc for nearly 10 years as an amateur and then on the ProRodeo circuit. With a less traditional style, Zarzyski has recited and performed poetry nationally and in Canada. He has preformed at the National Book, Folk and Storytelling festivals, the Santa Clarita Cowboy Poetry and Music Festival, the ProRodeo Hall of Fame, the Library of Congress and the Reno Philharmonic Orchestra.
Zarzyski has published four collections of poetry including: "Wolf Tracks on the Welcome Mat," which won the Spur Award from the Western Writers of America for poetry, and "All This Way For The Short Ride," the Western Heritage Award winner for 1996.
Zarzyski has collaborated on song lyrics with musicians Ian Tyson, Tom Russell, Dave Wilkie of Cowboy Celtic, Don Edwards, Wylie Gustafson and Betsy Hagar, among others.
The poets will visit the Silver Creek Alternative School in Hailey where they will discuss how they work and write, how an idea germinates and the creative journey that follows.
"We'll talk about living and dying on planet earth," Zarzyski said. "We will find common ground and have an equal exchange."