Poets and wranglers have two things in common: a tough way to make a living and Baxter Black.
Black, a ranching expert and cowboy poet, has made successful careers in both professions.
Building on 10 years as a veterinarian for the J.R. Simplot Co., he turned to writing and radio commentary to bring his humorous perspective on the world as he knows it to a wide audience.
His efforts earned him accolades from The New York Times, which described him as "probably the nation's most successful living poet."
During the Trailing of the Sheep Festival, he'll share his tales with the Wood River Valley.
Though Black, who lives in Benson, Ariz., has written more than a dozen books and has his column in hundreds of newspapers, he doesn't consider the written word his main stock in trade.
"I don't think of myself as a writer but an entertainer," he said.
"I've always been the hood ornament on the car," he said, adding that by being there, he doesn't have to see the speedometer.
Black was a musician in a band during his 20s.
"Way back before I'd ever written a column and thought I was a songwriter, I found out I wasn't," he said.
Despite a lack of faith in his songwriting abilities, he began writing down stories and other musings.
"I put a collection of my stuff in a book," he said. "I hadn't thought of publishing anything."
Reading them to himself, he made a startling discovery: He didn't find the stories funny.
Trying another tack, he made an even more startling discovery.
"I recorded it on a cassette player, verbatim, and I read it and it was funny," he recalled. "If you can talk funny and you want to write funny, then you gotta write like you talk."
His material comes from his life: his family, his work, his travel and his encounters with myriad people along the way.
"I covered five states for Simplot," he said. "I'd hear a good joke and I'd tell it at the next five places I was at."
Experience in the sheep business, cattle industry, rodeos, dairies and many other lines of work gave him plenty of fodder.
"I have a depth of knowledge, in particular about agriculture—the people and the lives they lead," he said. "I can pinpoint what can make them laugh. I'm telling them stories about themselves."
Those stories, however, are relayed with a certain charming twist—"Baxterized," he calls it.
But it's not just those with similar lifestyles who are entertained by his work, though tapping into a wider audience took perseverance.
His effort to appear on "The Tonight Show" with Johnny Carson rendered him an answer of, "You're just too cow-y," he said. "Nobody will get this stuff."
By selecting the more mainstream cowboy stories, he convinced those and other producers of his appeal. A romanticized view of the cowboy lifestyle, bolstered by cowboy poetry gatherings, also stirred interest.
"Cowboy poetry has broken a lot of barriers," he said.
He appeared on Carson's show multiple times and was a contributor to NPR for 20 years.
Black's unique imprint on and evaluation of Western ways helped ensure his success.
"Baxter has a sense (of) place which is so important in radio," said NPR's Ellen McDonnell. "He is a fabulous storyteller and when you hear his commentaries you are automatically 'placed' somewhere other than where you are. And that is the charm and the brilliance of his comments."
Rebecca Meany: firstname.lastname@example.org
Baxter Black performs in Ketchum at the nexStage Theatre at 7:30 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 8. Tickets to his performance are available only online, at www.trailingofthesheep.org.