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                                   I left home barely
soon enough to make one good
bucking horse ride
across a vast canvas of Kid Russell landscape
backdropped by Heart Butte under a fuchsia sky
in Cascade, Montana.                                             

                from "Luck of the Draw," Collisions of Reckless Love, 2006

photo by Gordon Stevens



About Paul Zarzyski

Selected Poems

Books and Recordings

Paul Zarzyski's Web Site


New, December 2006:



Read more below.


About Paul Zarzyski

Paul Zarzyski, the recipient of the 2005 Governor's Arts Award for Literature, has been spurring the words wild across the open range of the page and calling it Poetry for 33 years. In the early '70s, he heeded Horace Greeley's "go west young man, go west" advice and received his Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing from The University of Montana, where he studied with Richard Hugo. In the same breath, he took up a second "lucrative" vocation—bareback bronc riding. He rode both the amateur and the ProRodeo circuits, hung his hooks up in his late 30s, then cracked back out, after turning 40, for a couple more years on the senior circuit or, as Paul prefers to call it, The Masters. On the lee side of his rodeo roughstock years, these days he "makes his living" (to borrow the title of a James Dickey essay) BARNSTORMING FOR POETRY.

Paul has been a featured performer at the Elko Cowboy Poetry Gathering for the last 20 years, has toured Australia and England, and has recited at the National Book, Folk, and Storytelling Festivals, The Santa Clarita and Monterey Cowboy Poetry and Music Festivals, The ProRodeo Hall of Fame, The Library of Congress, and with the Reno Philharmonic Orchestra. He was also featured, in June 1999, on Garrison Keillor's A Prairie Home Companion, aired from The Mother Lode Theater in Butte, Montana.

                                                                                                                   continued below...

photo by Gordon Stevens


Selected Poems


The Bucking Horse Moon

Luck of the Draw  from Collisions of Reckless Love

The Day the War Began  from Collisions of Reckless Love

Ain’t No Life After Rodeo
The Polish-Hobo-Rodeo-Poet's Commencement
To the Chagrin of Every Graduate's
At the College of Buckaroo Knowledge  
                                                            from Rock 'n' Rowel

The Meaning of Intimacy  from Rock 'n' Rowel



The Bucking Horse Moon

A kiss for luck, then we’d let ‘er buck
I’d spur electric on adrenaline and lust.
She’d figure-8 those barrels
on her Crimson Missile sorrel

we’d make the night air swirl with hair and dust.

At some sagebrushed wayside, 3 A.M.,
we’d water, grain, and ground-tie Missile.
Zip our sleeping bags together,
make love in any weather,
amid the cactus, rattlers, and thistle.  

Seems the moon was always full for us
its high-diving shadow kicking hard.
We’d play kid games on the big night sky,
she’d say that bronco’s Blue-Tail Fly,
and ain’t that ol’ J.T. spurrin’ off its stars?

We knew sweet youth’s no easy keeper.
It’s spent like winnings, all too soon.
So we’d revel every minute 
in the music of our Buick
running smooth, two rodeoin’ lovers
cruising to another

beneath Montana’s blue roan
bucking horse moon.

The Augusta perf at 2, we’d place again,
then sneak off to our secret Dearborn River spot.
We’d take some chips and beer and cheese,
skinny-dip, dry off in the breeze,
build a fire, fry the trout we caught.

Down moonlit gravel back to blacktop,
she’d laugh and kill those beams for fun.
That old wagon road was ours to own

30 shows since I’d been thrown
and 87 barrels since she’d tipped one.

We knew that youth won’t keep for rainy days,
It burns and turns to ash too soon.
So we’d revel every minute
in the music of our Buick
running smooth, two rodeoin’ lovers
cruising to another

beneath Montana’s blue roan
bucking horse moon.

© Paul Zarzyski, All rights reserved.  
These words may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.


  Wylie & the Wild West's 2006 CD, Bucking Horse Moon, dedicated to Paul Zarzyski, includes three songs written and co-written by Paul: the title track (with Tom Russell);  "Whispering Hope" (with Ian Tylson) and "Rodeo to the Bone (with Wylie Gustafson). Wylie comments, "Paul’s reputation as a poet and songwriter cannot be overlooked. We wanted a lot of depth on this project—it’s meant to grow on the listener. I like to take chances, to stretch the boundaries of Country music. It’s my goal to make great old-style music available to a contemporary audience. It’s for the listeners who want something different in their Americana."



Luck of the Draw

That holy moment I rode the bay,
Whispering Hope, this rodeo arena

like a shrine I return to, like sanctuary
or religion itself
was filled with bawling holler,
dust and hoof beats. The blur of cowboy colors
shimmered brilliant as boyhood Septembers
among birch and sugar maples, where I played
decked-out like TV bronc twister,
Stoney Burke. 

                               But that was before
high school fans cheered us
galloping against rivals under gladiator lights
those fall Fridays in the pits, number 72
afire for 48 minutes of forearm shiver
and crack-back block.
                                 It’s hard to believe
there was a time I forgot the roughstock
rider gutting it out
to the final gun, the whole
gridiron game’s-worth of physical grit
concentrated, pressed into one play,
into one 8-second ride. All I needed was a horse
and the words of Horace Greeley in a dream,
a western pen pal, a cowboy
serial flashback, some sign or cue
to make me imagine the chutegate
thrown open to the snap
and spurs, chaps and pads, high kicks,
hard hits and heartbeats synchronized
a thousand miles apart.
                               I left home barely
soon enough to make one good
bucking horse ride
across a vast canvas of Kid Russell landscape
backdropped by Heart Butte under a fuchsia sky
in Cascade, Montana.
                              Through these cottonwoods,
high above the Missouri River’s silent swirls,
the flicking together of leaves
is the applause of small green hands, children
thrilled by a winning ride, by their wildest wish
beginning, as everything begins, with luck
of the draw, with a breeze in the heat,
with whispering hope
a first breath
blessed by myth, or birth, in the West.

© Paul Zarzyski, All rights reserved.  From Collisions of Reckless Love, 2006
These words may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.


Paul on Grubstake, Montana Pro-Rodeo Circuit Finals, Great Falls, Montana, 1987


The Day the War Began

I fed the dog and he was glad,
a bald eagle lit in the red
willows ignited
by a sinking winter sun, and prairie
chickens swept low in squadrons
over the hay meadow. Wind swirled
through glacial upthrust country, around
the nosecone rock named Haystack Butte,
old snow smoldering
during countdown. I breathed hard
toting haybales and grain
to the horses, to a field mouse
trapped in the slick tin feeder. Undaunted,
it sat on its haunches and lifted,
with deft fingers, a single
rolled kernel of corn
and ate in the warmth
inches from the filly’s nostril. Three
lone coyotes on a trio of knolls
stopped me cold in the center
of a triangle of cry. They called to mind
the Hopi, their ancient tablet
warning of this war. East of here,
a crow-flown mile, the missile silo
lights, powered as always by the right
darkness, flickered on—less innocuous
in the dusk of that day. I forgot
I’d already fed the dog
licking his bowl clean a second time
within the war’s first hour—so lovely,
the oblivion of another world
where instinct says, this simply, live on.

© Paul Zarzyski, All rights reserved.  From Collisions of Reckless Love, 2006
These words may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.


Ain't No Life After Rodeo


The Polish-Hobo-Rodeo-Poet's Commencement
To the Chagrin of Every Graduate's
At the College of Buckaroo Knowledge  

There ain’t no life after rodeo
Sulled-up old cowboys will tell you so

So when you feel your spur-lick weaken
And your bareback riggin’ goes to leakin

Bury your gripper elbow-deep
To hell with looking before you leap!

Fight for those holts, sight down that mane
Spit in the face of age and pain

Give that hammerhead a hardware bath
Dazzle the judges with 90s math

Spur the rivets off your Wranglers
A cappella rowels don’t need danglers

Rake like a maniac, tick for tick
Tip your Resistol, flick the crowd’s Bic

Fast-feet-fast-feet, gas-it-and-mash
Toes turned out with each jab and slash

Insanity, love, plus aggression
Call it passion, call it obsession

Adrenalined fury, 200 proof
Like guzzling moonshine up on the roof

Running on Bute, LeDoux songs and caffeine
You rollicking, rosined-up spurring machine

Too lazy to work, too scared to steal
Slaving for wages bushwhacks your zeal

So charge that front-end for those 8
You ain’t no rodeo reprobate!

Grit each stroke out with every tooth
You’re swimming the cowboy fountain of youth

Love that sunfish and love that high-dive
Believe you will ride ‘til you’re 95.

© Paul Zarzyski, All rights reserved.  from Rock 'n' Rowel, 2006
These words may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.




The Meaning of Intimacy

Not reasoning, but romantic
prehistoric instinct
coaxes my whiskered cheek to the bristled
muzzle of a colt working long-stemmed timothy-brome
hay evenly inward. My heart beats brisk
time to the rhythm of grinding teeth
crunching tiny pipettes of perfume—sweet
breath and music piped through the pink
nostrils into February air, so still,
so microscopically cold, I see its molecules
misting leafy green. The simplest poetic gift,
if we listen close, sings to the most
primitive sound churning into vision. Graced,
late last night, I sat in the easy
breathing warmth of cottonwood burning
without the slightest wheeze,
not a single creaking from the pine
joints of the ninety-year-old house. In the whisper
and whiff of fresh pencil lead
pressed firmly into notebook pages
curling, I felt the cat
rest her chin against my wool-
stockinged toes—purring and purring
her aboriginal rhythms into the fur-
bearing nerves of my words.

© Paul Zarzyski, All rights reserved.  from Rock 'n' Rowel, 2006
These words may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.


Recordings and Books


51: 30 Poems, 20 Lyrics, 1 Self-Interview


From the publisher's announcement:

Bangtail Press is delighted to announce the release of a new collection, 51: 30 Poems, 20 Lyrics, 1 Self-Interview, by Paul Zarzyski, an author known to thousands of fans for his sometimes wild, sometimes poignant, sometimes wildly poignant, and always engaging performances on both lariati (cowboy) and literati stages around the world.

“On one hand, I've been focused on this book for a mere 5 or 6 years; on the other hand, since it's a work that began when I was a child just beginning to walk, as evidenced by two of the five snapshots adorning the front cover, I’ve lived the poetic moments of the 250 pages for over 51 years,” Zarzyski said in a recent interview. “It’s the culmination of not only a body of unpublished poetry, but also my forays into song lyrics and, for me, even rarer, prose—much of it qualifying, I suppose, as memoir?"

Memoir, indeed. In his new collection, Zarzyski’s Western Writers of America Spur Award-winning poetry and lyrics are augmented, bolstered, by an autobiography that—via artful, self-interview “discussions,” of the events that shaped Zarzyski’s life—shines insightful, revealing lights through the many and varied scrims back-dropping the stanzas, verses, choruses and bridges.

Recipient of the 2005 Montana Governor’s Arts Award for Literature, as well as a Western Heritage (“Wrangler”) Award from the National Cowboy Hall of Fame, Zarzyski extends the reach of his iconoclastic career with one of his most inspired collections yet. After establishing base camps in both the Midwest and the cowboy West, 51 climbs into the most rarefied kind of literary air, touching on the most essential matters of both head and heart. The Publisher of Bangtail Press, Allen Jones, said, “I can’t tell you how proud we are to see Bangtail’s logo on the spine of Paul’s book. This is one for the ages, for posterity. This one’s going to outlive us all.”

51: 30 Poems, 20 Lyrics, 1 Self-Interview is available from Bangtail Press, Amazon, and other booksellers.



      Rock 'n' Rowel                             Collisions of Reckless Love

Open Path Music, San Jose, California, joins with The Western Folklife Center in presenting:



Within and throughout this keenly arranged and choreographed troupe, poetry integrates and interacts with music in fresh and engaging ways, as Paul demonstrates yet again that all poetsCowboy" or otherwiseare, first and foremost, human being poets writing about living and dying on Planet Earth. (And sometimes beyond.) This recording of 15 poems includes Luck Of The Draw, Snapshot Gravity, Blue-Collar Light, How The Beluga Spoons, What Stephen Hawking Might Find....


This recording offers one Grand Entry, one song, and 13 poems, including Ain't No Life After Rodeo, Potatoes, Telemarketer Malediction, The Day Beelzebub Gave His Jezebel A Hotfoot, Ridin' Double Wild.... Metaphorically put, Charles Badger Clark crosses trails with George Carlin and "Deadwood's" Calamity Jane. Go aheadeavesdrop on the banter and antics of their colorful romp, to a backdrop of dancehall piano, rodeo organ, speak-easy saxophone and roadhouse cello and drums.

Paul Zarzyski, recipient of the 2005 Montana Governor's Award for Literature, has authored 10 collections of poetry, including ALL THIS WAY FOR THE SHORT RIDE (1997 Western Heritage/Wrangler Award winner from The Cowboy Hall of Fame) and, most recently, WOLF TRACKS ON THE WELCOME MAT (2004 Spur Award winner from the Western Writers of America). Fifteen years as a rodeo bareback rider along with 35 years spurring the words wild across arenas of the blank page qualified Paul for the past 21 National Cowboy Poetry Gatherings. He has appeared on PBS's The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, CBS's Sunday Morning with Charles Kuralt, and has performed on Garrison Keillor's A Prairie Home Companion. Born and raised in Hurley, Wisconsin, Paul has called Montana "home" since 1973.

COLLISIONS OF RECKLESS LOVE and ROCK 'N' ROWEL CDs are available exclusively at the Western Folklife Center for $15.99 each plus shipping and handling.

CDs can also be ordered online at www.westernfolklife.org or phone 775-738-7508, ext 2.  
The Western Folklife Center is located at 501 Railroad Street, Elko, NV 89801.  
Visa, MasterCard and American Express credit cards are accepted.  
Store hours:  Monday to Friday 10:00 am - 5:30 pm (Pacific Time)  
Saturday 10:00 am
5:00 pm, Sunday 11:00 am4:00 pm (November and December only)  


What emboldened us on our Open Path launch into Collisions Of Reckless Love is the belief that poetry recited will, at times, blossom into song lyric sung. It might come as no surprise, then, that the front and back covers of this project metaphorically reflect my moseying into the studio most days with a Led Zeppelin Stairway To Heaven riff in my head, and heart: "There's a feeling I get, when I look to the West, and my spirit is crying for
leaving." What ultimately defined our year-long journey, however, were lines from one of my own poems, "Hard Traveling," dedicated to George Harrison
what defined us was our willingness to "...lay bare / all our magic, our miracles, all / the musical truths we are made of / before we move on." We now invite you to unveil your unique musical truths, to sing along. Welcome to the cosmic choir.
                                                                                                     With infinite thanks,
                                                                                                     Paul Zarzyski

This record ascended out of Friendship
nothing more, everything less: thank you Elizabeth Dear, Judith Stevens, Tom Russell, Jim Rooney, Betsy Hagar, Quinton Duval, Lou Sorkin, Gordon, Tim, Lee, Scott of Open Path Music, the staff and fans of The Western Folklife Center in Elko, Nevada, and all the artists whose music collided recklessly and, therefore, creatively and lovingly with my words.


pzcoll.jpg (14856 bytes)


Luck of the Draw
The Hand
What of the Ugly?
Snapshot Gravity
Las Ballenas de Bahia Magdalena / I Believe
Blue Collar Light
Hard Traveling
Last Rematch
Black Upon Tan
How the Beluga Spoons
What Stephen Hawking Might Find
The Day the War Began




When my bareback-bronc-twistin' hero Chris LeDoux first sang his hit Even Cowboys Like A Little Rock And Roll, I KNOW Hank Williams applauded from Leonard Cohen's Tower of Song. I too cheered and dittoed Chris's credo with a wild "You Bet! And a whole lot of ROCK 'N' ROWEL, to boot!" Because I'm a Rodeo Poetbecause my roughstock lines are rendered, ridden, with all the musical jump-'n'-kick-lilt-'n'-lingo I can infuse into them, be they "cowboy poems" or otherwise. And speaking of the latter, this CD has a fraternal, yet somewhat identical, twin, COLLISIONS OF RECKLESS LOVE. The simultaneous release of both titles was our way of intimating from Open Path Music that there's a little ROCK 'N' ROWEL in every reckless love collision, and vice-versa. As well as a little hilaritylest we forget French philosopher Voltaire's view that "God is a comedian playing to an audience who's afraid to laugh." May our fearless laughter during the production of this record shine through and spur you raucously toward a similar celestial response. Sax, Drums, and Rock-'n'-Rowel! (And BUTTE!)

                                                                                        Paul Zarzyski

Muchas gracias to all who contributed a "musical voice," especially to Gordon, Tim, Lee, Scott, and Garythe Open Path Hole-In-The-Wall gangas well as to The Deacon, Tom Russell, for his double-aught-buckshot "sawed-off Remington" critique. And our most fervent gratitude to artist Walter Piehl, whose paintings ricochet and reflectboth in color and sharp-stroked, high-voltaged, consonant linethe visceral energy of my poems. Willem de Kooning crosses trails with Wild Bill Shakespeare, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Calamity Jane, Star Trek's Spock and The Twilight Zone's Rod Serling"Imagine, if you will...."  


pzrock.jpg (25832 bytes)


Grand Entry
Ain't No Life After Rodeo
Why I/We Like Butte
Long Sagebrush Drives
Love the Color of Trout
A Cowboy Reel
The Meaning of Intimacy
BIZARzyski Feeds the Finicky Birds
Telemarketer Malediction
The Day Beelzebub Gave His Jezebel a Hotfoot
Tumbleweed Munchies
Calico Fever Blues
Ridin' Double Wild


And ...


Wolf Tracks on the Welcome Mat
2003 Western Writers of America Spur Award

Blue-Collar Light

All This Way for the Short Ride
1996 National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum Western Heritage Award for Poetry 



The Glorious Commotion of it All

Words Growing Wild


Audio clips, video clips, ordering details, and more are on line at 
at Paul Zarzyski's web site



More About Paul Zarzyski (continued from above)


photo by Gordon Stevens

His recent publications include WOLF TRACKS ON THE WELCOME MAT (OreanaBooks, 2003), winner of The Spur Award from the Western Writers of America, BLUE-COLLAR LIGHT (Red Wing Press, 1998) and ALL THIS WAY FOR THE SHORT RIDE (Museum of New Mexico Press, 1996), which received The Western Heritage Award for Poetry from the National Cowboy Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City. Two recordings—WORDS GROWING WILD (1998) and THE GLORIOUS COMMOTION OF IT ALL (2004)—both produced by Jim Rooney in Nashville, offer poems with accompaniment by Duane Eddy, John Hartford, Rich O'Brien, and other fine musicians.

Of his "Roughstock Sonnets" collection—ALL THIS WAY FOR THE SHORT RIDE—the March 16, 1997 New York Times Book Review proclaimed:

"Mr. Zarzyski alternates between bluster and lyricism. For the former, he uses lopingly metered stanzas and punch-drunk, self mythologizing bravura... But he proves equally adept at meditative free verse..."

Paul also has collaborated on song lyrics with Ian Tyson, (Rodeo Road, Jerry Ambler, and Whispering Hope), Tom Russell (Bucking Horse Moon and All This Way For The Short Ride), Dave Wilkie of Cowboy Celtic (Black Upon Tan and Flying, Not Falling, In Love With You), Don Edwards (West of the Round Corral), Wylie Gustafson (Saddle Broncs And Sagebrush and Rodeo to the Bone), and Betsy Hagar (Home Chest, The Christmas Saguaro Soiree, Star Light Star Bright, and others).

Born and raised in Hurley Wisconsin, Paul now lives west of Great Falls, Montana.

Paul gets an autograph from his cowgal hero Brigid
Elko, 2005
Photo by Jeri L. Dobrowski, obtain permission for reproduction rights

Paul Zarzyski's Web Site


Visit Paul Zarzyski's web site

Read his (now discontinued) online journal at the Western Folkife Center web site 




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