photo by Jeri L. Dobrowski from Elko, 2007; 
used with permission.

About Jerry Brooks

Shoulder to Shoulder CD

Poetry

 

About Jerry Brooks

"Why poetry?  Why a life long love of the well-crafted lines?  Well, if we were able to define or describe feelings, they wouldn't be feelings.  Poetry is as close as we can come to communicating the feel—with feeble words." 
                                                                                                                                        Jerry Brooks

 

Jerry Brooks of Sevier, Utah, is known as a respected reciter throughout the West.  She's been an invited performer at the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering, the Arizona Cowboy Poets Gathering, the Colorado Cowboy Poets Gathering, and many other events. We asked her to tell us something about how she came to reciting, and the story she told us displays the same wisdom, thoughtfulness, and character that comes through in her recitations:

I was brought up in circumstances where the spoken word was perhaps more valued and appreciated than it is elsewhere.

My Padre (that's "Dad," to most folks) was ordained a Baptist preacher, later became affiliated with the United Church of Christ and was a hospital chaplain. He was always visiting homes, the elderly, prisons, and mental institutions. I met some fascinating folks.  He talked to people every day of his life and took the time to listen as well.  He kept up his pastorship and had at least a part-time or interim minister position until the last year of his life. He also loved stage plays and musical productions, always involved with amateur theatre groups wherever we lived.

Mama was brought up in a cabin built just after the Civil War in deep south Mississippi.  She was raised Southern Baptist in a matriarchal family on a dirt-patch farm.  Her mama supplemented the household income as a school teacher.  I heard so many of Mama's, Grandmammas, and Mamama's (that's great-great-grandma, to most folks) stories when I was growing up that I felt I  knew my Mississippi ancestors well. Great-Grandma Liza wasn't a major storyteller—she ran the farm.  The family name of Fillingame is one of the rarest in the country, as most of the men were killed in the "recent unpleasantness" or "war of Northern aggression" as it was known.

My eldest brother admits to continuing the storytelling tradition mostly in self-defense.  I recall he'd tell us Davy Crockett and Paul Bunyan stories pretty well, and would make up new ones as he went.  He'll tell you now that he'd "Make up a story about most anything just to get her (that's me, to most folks) to shut up and go to sleep!"

But the younger of my two older brothers may have had the greatest influence of all. We were only 2 1/2 years apart in age, and since he was bedridden most of his childhood, we were close companions when I was small.  He taught me to read and to write when I was four.

Everyone in the family read a lot.  Radios and later TV's were short-lived hand-me-down types from church parishioners that never lasted long and never really became very important to us.  We rarely bothered or could afford to have them fixed when they died their swift and natural deaths.  I can remember listening to serial dramas in the nights' forbidden hours in my brother's bedroom (the radio turned as low as we could get it and still make out the words).  Whatever the station was we listened to would "sign off" with "High Flight," a poem by young Pilot Officer John Gillespie Magee, Jr., a pilot killed in WWII.  (My father kept a copy of the poem in a small notebook among his possessions until his death—you may imagine how I felt when I heard Joel Nelson recite it, so many years later at a Cowboy Poetry gathering.)

The Ramsdell Public Library was next door to the church and manse, and a second home in ways.  By the time I was six, I was bored with the children's room, went upstairs and attempted to check out a couple of Jack London's books.  After being made to open a book at random, read about a half chapter to the librarians to prove my sincerity, I was given free rein anywhere in the building.  I didn't learn until many years later that my father had once interceded on my eldest brother's behalf when he had attempted to borrow a notorious "banned" novel and had been refused.  Padre read the librarians the riot act, made it clear that his children were allowed to read "whatever they damned well pleased," and it was not the librarians' place to edit or limit our exposure to any literature available— I guess the poor darlin's were terrified of us —kind of like maiden aunts in some families.

It was about this time that I made some discoveries about life's realities. Mama and Grandma made most of my clothes -- good stout cloth and two sizes over so I'd get full value and wear out of them.  Of course, when I started my education at Housatonic Grammar School, my clothes were explained by one pretty little classmate in her store-bought finery, by her saying I was just the preacher's kid—and poor—what did you expect?

Her father was a realtor, and a member of our church.  One evening, when Mama'd gotten home from work and was fixing supper, I asked her, "Mama, are we poor?"  She stopped stirring whatever she was fixing, gave a little laugh, and said, "Poor? Ah, no Hon; we just travel light." (The first time I heard R. W. Hampton's song, "Travelin' Light," the memory of that day came over me like an epiphany, and I damn near laughed myself silly.)

When I was about seven or eight, I had to give a poetry recital, although I don't remember where—school, church or at the library, or even why—I do know I had committed some poems to memory from a wonderful old book titled, "One Hundred and One Famous Poems."  Among them were "Oh Captain! My Captain!" (Walt Whitman) and "The Charge of the Light Brigade" (Alfred Tennyson), but for this recital, I (or my brother) decided on "The Highwayman" (Alfred Noyes). To this day, I cannot even read "The Highwayman" without remembering how difficult the concept seemed; that "Bess the landlord's daughter" would plait a "dark red love-knot into her long black hair."

"How did she do that?" I'd ask my brother.

"Just shut up and do the next line!" he'd mutter, in frustration.  He was my coach, you see.

Why poetry?  Why a life long love of the well-crafted lines?  Well, if we were able to define or describe feelings, they wouldn't be feelings.  Poetry is as close as we can come to communicating the feel—with feeble words. 

All the peoples in the world 'round have poetry—song and music—to try, desperately, to share with each other something we're not sure how to say any other way.

Why do I recite other folks' poems and not my own?  Primarily because I'm not happy with my own poetry—yet. I used to say that poets are kinda like saddle makers. There's lots of good ones around, and I'm not averse to using gear someone else built.  But I think I found a better explanation—where else but in a poem—the seventh verse of Robert Browning's "The Last Ride Together."

What does it all mean, poet? Well,
Your brains beat into rhythm, you tell
What we felt only; you express'd
You hold things beautiful the best,
    And pace them in rhyme so, side by side.
'Tis something, nay 'tis much: but then,
Have you yourself what 's best for men?
Are you--poor, sick, old ere your time--
Nearer one whit your own sublime
Than we who never have turn'd a rhyme?
    Sing, riding's a joy! For me, I ride.

I started out on my own long road West fairly early—earlier than most kids leave home, anyway. I finished my last year and a half of high school living in a place of my own.  Foolishly flinging away some enviable scholarship opportunities, I was headed for Alaska, but wound up stuck in Chicago for a couple years. I escaped in a $250 Rambler 220 (circa '65) with three spare tires and an extra rear view mirror.  I've decided since that the last thing a person needs on this earth is another rear view mirror.

Taking a more southerly route, the money ran out in Southern Utah, where I fell in love with the Tushar Mountains.  When I got cold and hungry enough—sick of eating fresh trout--I went to work in underground coal mines.  Talk about spending time in the mountains.

A few years later, I met Paul and Suzie Henrie.  When I stepped through the door of their home where Manning Creek meets the Sevier River, my eyes lit on three volumes of Robert Service poems on the bookshelves.  That afternoon, Suzie and I shared Service poems over a cold beer and a cribbage board and I went home loaded down with Songs of the Sage (Curley Fletcher), Lomax's Cowboy Songs and Other Frontier Ballads (2nd Edition), and a copy of Teddy Blue Abbotts' We Pointed Them North (that's "Continuing Education," to most folks.)

© 2004, Jerry Brooks

 

Jerry Brooks' fans cite these recitations among their favorites:


"Men of Vision"  by Andy Wilkinson
"The Walking Man" by Henry Herbert Knibbs
"Morning on the Desert" by Katherine Fall Pettey
"The Men Who Don't Fit In" and "
Land of Beyond" by Robert Service
 "Boko" an Australian poem written in 1894 by Julian Stuart, known as "Curlew" 
"Rosie's Eagle" by J. W. Beeson
"50/50" Split by Trey Allen
"The Legend of Boastful Bill" and "The Free Wind" by Badger Clark
"When They've Finished Shipping Cattle in the Fall" by Bruce Kiskaddon
"When Maw Turned the Stampede" by Sharlot Hall
"Advice to the Traveler" by Larry McWhorter
"The Riding of the Rebel" by Will Ogilvie
"Sully's Bucket" a mining poem by Dick Gibbons

... and those they've yet to hear. 

Shoulder to Shoulder CD



2010

Includes:

"Morning on the Desert" by Katherine Fall Pettey
"The Free Wind" by Charles Badger Clark, Jr.
"The Wanderlight" by Henry Lawson
"The Walking Man" by Henry Herbert Knibbs
"Who's Riding Brown Harlequin Now?" by Harry H. (Breaker) Morant
"When They've Finished Shipping Cattle in the Fall" by Bruce Kiskaddon
"Anthem" by Buck Ramsey
"In the Droving Days" by  A.B. (Banjo) Paterson
"The Shallows of the Ford" by Henry Herbert Knibbs
"The Old Prospector" by Charles Badger Clark, Jr.
"A Bronco Shod with Wings" by Henry Herbert Knibbs
"Saddlin' Up Time" by Andy Wilkinson

Available for $15 postpaid from:

Jerry Brooks
4845 W. Clear Creek Canyon Rd.
Sevier, UT 84766
 

Rick Huff's review (also posted here):

Like the great Georgie Sicking, Jerry Brooks is one lady who has actually done much of the toughest work “shoulder to shoulder” with the guys. Georgie, at the branding fire, and "Brooksie," in the mines. Unlike Ms. Sicking, "Brooksie" doesn’t write her own verse.  Instead she is an exceedingly capable interpreter of the words of cowboy poets. In fact, as this CD will prove to you, she is not only one of the best natural reciters around today…she may well be one of the best ever!

"Brooksie" brings a calmly gutty authenticity to the poems she delivers like few artists you will encounter. She unswervingly lets you hear even the more familiar works for the first time.  On this CD she told me the story of “The Walking Man” through her rendering of the Henry Herbert Knibbs classic.  As she neared that point in it of sad betrayal, I began to feel a strong sense of dread, fearing she would actually make me cry.  She did.

There is a wider than usual source base for poems on the album.  Some examples: Katherine Fall Pettey’s “Morning On The Desert,” Henry Lawson’s “The Wanderlight,” "Breaker" Morant’s “Who’s Riding Brown Harlequin Now,” "Banjo" Paterson’s “In The Droving Days,” and Andy Wilkinson’s “Saddlin’ Up Time.”  Plus she gives us wonderful versions of Badger Clark’s “The Free Wind” and “The Old Prospector”; Bruce Kiskaddon’s “When They’ve Finished Shipping Cattle in the Fall”; Buck Ramsey’s “Anthem”; and two more Knibbs greats, ”The Shallows of the Ford” and “A Bronco Shod With Wings.”  From this last poem she omits a stanza, but offers it in her salty album notes as proof of its superfluous character, saying of the edit, “Forgive me!  Or don’t!”

If you really want to experience how it should be done, here’s your chance. Jerry Brooks and her CD are treasures.

© 2010, Rick Huff

Rex Rideout comments:

Jerry Brooks has gone and done it. Those of us who love "Brooksie" have been waiting for her to record some of her favorite poems. The wait is over, Jerry is offering Shoulder to Shoulder: A recording of poetic recitations. And it makes for some great wordsmithing.

Some of the best: "...Sage brush ain't so pretty? Well, all eyes don't see the same...." How can you beat that? You'll find the great ones here: Badger Clark, Knibbs, Kiskaddon, Banjo Paterson, Buck Ramsey, all recited with the intensity and force that Jerry delivers. The tracks have all been professionally recorded with care in studios in Colorado and Utah. For all of you who've longed to take Brooksie home with you, Yeehah! Now you can.
 


 

Jessica Brandi Lifland (www.jessicalifland.com), the official photographer for the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering, has been working on a project documenting the lives of cowboy poets. Her photoblog includes images of Jerry Brooks and others.

 

The Fall, 2010 issue of Range Magazine profiles Jerry Brooks in a piece, "Brooksie," by Jessica Brandi Lifland (www.jessicalifland.com). The article introduces Jerry Brooks, "...she is one of the foremost reciters of classic cowboy poetry....She plays a big role in keeping the poems, and thus the culture, of westerners of past and present generations alive..." View the entire article here (pdf file).

 

 


Poetry

 

From the BAR-D column in the July/August, 2006 issue of Rope Burns:

Popular Utah top reciter Jerry "Brooksie" Brooks has appeared at the Texas Cowboy Poetry Gathering (Alpine), the Colorado Cowboy Poetry Gathering (Arvada), the Arizona Cowboy Poets Gathering (Prescott) and many other regional gatherings. Her appearance with master reciters Joel Nelson and Randy Rieman at the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko, Nevada, earlier this year made for one of that event's most memorable sessions. Brooksie is known for performing others' classic and contemporary poems, and she's a writer as well. She often draws on her mining work for material, and this poem was written in part in a workshop at Elko with well-known Colorado poet, author, and teacher Laurie Wagner Buyer:



First at the Face

The smell of fresh-cut coal
Rolling off the working face like a dark dream.
Cut and roll, cut and roll,
Steel gathering arms scooping and slinging
Black nuggets to the conveyor
Running at a staccato beat,
Like a jack hammer, almost hypnotic.
Breaking the beat, the seam's counterpoint
Of crack as it surrenders
To the cutting bits.
I carve these pathways
No one else has traveled.

© 2005, Jerry A. Brooks, All rights reserved

 

Read the rest of the column here.

 

 

 


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