Pick of the Week

Loving Words

Contrary to popular opinion, the world of poetry is not only one of high academia and literary ambition. For some poets, the ultimate achievement is writing a few lines of doggerel that make the listener smile with recognition.

Cowboy poet and humorist Baxter Black is one of those folks, and he has become internationally famous for it.

Black will leave his ranch in Benson to visit Tucson and perform Friday night as part of a benefit for the University of Arizona Poetry Center. Poets don't often get opening acts, but Black will have one: up-and-coming local country band Loveland.

Black's the sort of poet who self-deprecatingly describes himself thusly: "Think of Will Rogers without the rope, Mark Twain without the wit, or Superman without the kryptonite." (Wait a sec: Doesn't kryptonite weaken Superman? No matter.)

A former large-animal veterinarian, Black remains a working cowboy and energetic entrepreneur. He has been spinning rhymes since 1982, and his skills have made him the best-selling cowboy poet in the world. He's a regular contributor to National Public Radio's Morning Edition, hosts a weekly syndicated radio show, Baxter Black on Monday, and writes the syndicated column "On the Edge of Common Sense."

Black has written several books (including a couple of novels) and has made more than a dozen recordings of his poetry. His latest book is The World According to Baxter Black: Quips, Quirks and Quotes.

To join this bill, Loveland--which has released one CD of its own--hooked up with the Poetry Center through Winn Bundy, a member of the center's Development Committee and the owner of the Singing Winds Bookshop in Benson. Bundy's a friend of Black and the grandmother of Loveland drummer Tasha Sabatino.

Part of the joy that comes from hearing Loveland certainly derives from the excellent musicianship of its experienced players. Sabatino's partners in the group are husband Nathan Sabatino, owner and operator of Loveland Studio, who plays rhythm guitar; bassist Michael P. Nordberg; lead guitarist Damon Barnaby; and pianist and accordionist Jimmy Carr.

However, Loveland primarily is a vehicle for singer-songwriter Dave Bryan, who uses his songs to subvert and invert country/Western clichés while generating authentic emotion and a sense of devil-may-care whimsy. One writer said of Bryan that "when he opens his mouth, it's as though a crumpled miracle has spring to life."

If you called the songs of Loveland poetry, you'd not be wrong. And Tasha Sabatino wouldn't disagree with you.

"That was one of the reasons I think that we thought that the event would work," she said earlier this week. "Dave's songs are really poetic and cleverly written. I think that a lot of poetry fans who maybe haven't heard the band would probably appreciate the qualities of his songwriting."

Sabatino said Loveland is pleased not only for the opportunity to possibly round up a few new fans, but to support the Poetry Center.

"We think the Poetry Center does a great job in Tucson supporting art and creativity, and the new building is really nice," she said.

Proceeds from the concert will go toward paying for the Poetry Center's new home: the Helen S. Schaefer Building, which is just north of the UA campus proper at the corner of Helen Street and Vine Avenue. It was dedicated last year.

The UA contributed $1.9 million toward the building's $6.8 million price tag; the remaining amount was to come from private donations. So far, $4.4 million of that amount has been paid, leaving $500,000 that must be raised by the end of this year. This concert will contribute to that.

Many generations of word-loving UA students and Tucsonans have taken advantage of the UA Poetry Center since it was founded in 1960. The center is not simply a vast poetry library, but is well-known for its busy schedule of programs at the UA and out in the community.

The Poetry Center is perhaps best-known for bringing to Tucson internationally renowned poets for readings, lectures, classes and workshops. Poets often work in residence, while the center sponsors concerts and exhibitions, encouraging the active creation of poetry by future literary stars. In recent years, the center has branched out to include a number of online resources.

Baxter Black and Loveland will perform at 8 p.m., Friday, Sept. 5 at the Helen S. Schaefer Building, 1508 E. Helen St. General admission tickets cost $20, or $10 for those 18 and younger. Call 626-4285 to buy tickets, or visit the reception desk at the center. Be warned: The show was close to selling out as of our press deadline.

In case you want your Baxter Black experience to be a little more up close and personal, a limited number of $100 premium tickets will be available; holders will get special VIP seating and a pre-performance reception with Black at 7 p.m.

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