Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Fred Ross, Logger Poet

Fred Ross, mentioned in my entry below on Robert Service, probably has passed by now. He never had anyone pay attention to his poetry until I met him in the early 70s. "Sally," a folklorist, collected him in a scholarly way, and later I wrote an article on him for Northwest Magazine, The Poet of Juniper Mountain and even later used some of his work in my play, Christmas at the Juniper Tavern. The play later was produced for public TV, giving Fred's logging poems even more exposure.

Some memories. When I decided to use Fred's work in my play, I had to get permission. The theater where I was resident playwright at the time was willing to pay him for the rights, so it was a big deal. Fred wrote his permission out in schoolboy print on a wide-lined Indian Chief tablet, saying something to the effect that he granted me permission to use his poems in my play, as well as in TV shows, books, motion pictures -- he had stars in his eyes!

On opening night, a wonderful fluke happened. Fred was there, dressed to the cowboy nines with a new string tie. I found myself a last minute replacement in the role of the sheriff because the actor had an opening night conflict already worked out with the director, and I was the only guy around large enough to wear the uniform. But this meant that I was the one who recited Fred's poems! I loved it, knowing he was out there. Probably the highlight of my small acting career.

Fred was in ill health last time I heard about him, some 20 years ago. I was glad to contribute to his new respect after my article came out about him, which was read statewide. Before that, his local town considered him something of the town drunk. Suddenly he was a poet! Quite a difference, he told me.

Most of his work is in some scholarly archive somewhere, which I don't have access to. But the poems in the article and play demonstrate his talent for the Service form. "Robert Service never wrote a logging poem in his life!" Fred would insist. I close without argument. RIP, Fred.

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