According to our Convention & Visitors Bureau, “Scottsdale has you covered with boredom-busting options that run the gamut from world-class museums and a renowned botanical garden to guided city tours, architectural wonders and the nation’s largest wilderness preserve.”
But did you know? Scottsdale also has a poet laureate.
I must admit that when I first heard the news, I had to look up the definition. I’ll share it with you, just in case you’re in the same boat. According to Wikipedia,
A poet laureate is a poet officially appointed by a government and is often expected to compose poems for state occasions and other government events. The term dates back to the appointment of Bernard André by Henry VII of England, though analogous appointments date back to ancient Greece and (in Padua) to Albertino Mussato.
Have you ever spoken with a poet laureate?
I had preconceived notions that Scottsdale’s poet laureate would be a fancy-pants kind of guy, someone around whom I’d be nervous and would have to be careful not to say the wrong thing.
Boy, was I wrong.
Bob Frost – Scottsdale’s official Poet Laureate – is down-to-earth, easy to talk to, and doesn’t take himself too seriously.
What a relief.
Frost is considered a Cowboy Poet, a style which typically includes rhyme, meter, and narrative – traditional poetic devices out of fashion in other literary circles.
When asked how Cowboy Poetry came to be, Frost replied, “It’s storytelling. It harkens back to old days when the guys were on the range. They didn’t read or write very much, but they told stories to each other. That evolved into Cowboy Poetry.”
A member of the Arizona State Poetry Society, Frost has been writing poetry since 1959. He reports that Cowboy Poetry was not an initial interest – it came to him later.
“When some people had me over to read from my first book, one of the poems was sort of cowboy. They asked about it, I claimed it was simple and they said ‘No, it’s not.'”
Soon after that he realized he really did have a knack for it.
At that point he tested the waters and included some of his poems in a daily newsletter during the annual 6-Day Verde Vaqueros Trail Ride.
The results? Frost reports that he “got no complaints, and a few chuckles.”
With that success behind him, he then entered his poetry in a contest, and eventually wrote a book of cowboy poetry, Cowboy Poems About The Old West and New. After that, he set a goal to become Scottsdale’s Poet Laureate. In July 2010, he achieved that goal.
His favorite part about the role?
“Sharing my poetry with others. It’s tough sometimes to be able to create a poem for a special occasion, though. A friend of mine in organization team building asked for a special poem with cowboy theme that had metaphor to relate to an organization’s success. Stuff like that is more difficult.”
Frost started a series of poetry shows on Cable Channel 11 called Poetry Voices. To watch it, you’ll need to check the City’s programming schedule here.
Last week’s event celebrating the growing legacy of Scottsdale’s McDowell Sonoran Preserve included a presentation by Frost. For the occasion he wrote this poem, The Song Will Never Be The Same:
The morning air drifts by in near silence
Sun shafts begin to light the darkened sky.
My morning walk is a special quiet time
I can ease into a private personal space.
Almost dreaming, I hear sounds of the past.
Footsteps of a Hohokam family from the valley floor
Here searching for saguaro fruit and seeds
They left a message almost like a song “Let it be”.
Walking further up the ancient trail, I see life abundant
From the valley these mountains appear lifeless and brown,
Existing as a pale backdrop for colorful imports.
But, here up close, it’s all shades of life.
Home to the bobcat, coyote and mountain lion.
Home to the cactus wren, darkling beetle and chuckwalla.
Home to the field mouse, fox and javalina
Together they sing to me, “Let it be”.
I feel like every plant here is in its proper place.
Each rock and cliff and wash speaks its character.
Ancient plates moved to push the ground skyward
Wind and rain, heat and cold were the design team
Time has worn the granite smooth and round.
Some tumbled down, some remain in place.
Alluvial fans like fingers reach down and embrace.
Slightly trail scarred, the McDowell’s reiterate, “Let it be”.
Walking back down the trail, rising heat distorts the valley scene.
My view is long and wide upon the sprawling busy city
The mountain song remains in my mind, “Let it be”, “Let it be”.
Before retirement, Frost had a long-term career with the City of Scottsdale, including – among other roles – managing the Parks, Library, Recreation, Social Services and Arts divisions. During his tenure, he worked with developers and city planners to create parks, bikeways, libraries and planned communities. He was also involved in the development and construction of the Scottsdale Stadium, Scottsdale Ranch Park and WestWorld.
So I couldn’t help but ask him what challenges he sees our city facing.
“Continued economic development,” he said. “McDowell Road – that’s absolutely major. We need to get it put together in economically viable way.”
He continued, “As you spread out, you have to figure out how to pay for the life to which you’ve become accustomed. Your economic engine has to be balanced. We need to create shopping, create tourist destinations, places for people to spend money. At some point you can’t cover it with just property taxes.”
Not exactly your typical poet laureate, eh?