Bard on horseback: Dale Pavlis writes poems with a Western flairHADLEY — If you listen real closely, you can detect a bit of a Western twang in Dale Pavlis’ voice. The country cadence is most pronounced as he recites his poetry. Cowboy poetry. Poetry inspired by rides on horseback, childhood idols and a heritage on the plains of South Dakota.
By: Beth Rickers, Worthington Daily Globe
HADLEY — If you listen real closely, you can detect a bit of a Western twang in Dale Pavlis’ voice. The country cadence is most pronounced as he recites his poetry.
Poetry inspired by rides on horseback, childhood idols and a heritage on the plains of South Dakota.
Growing up, Dale had every intention of becoming a cowboy. He lived near Platte, S.D., and his father was a rancher/farmer while his mother and sister sewed wedding dresses for neighbors.
“I went to high school in Gregory, S.D.,” Dale explained. “That’s where I met my bride, Cindi. I met her at the drive-in movie when she was 16 and I was 17. We were married in ’72.”
Dale likely would have followed in his father’s footsteps if tough economic times hadn’t intervened.
“From ’75 to ’76, there was a severe drought in South Dakota,” he related. “I guess there was drought here, too, but to me it looked like an oasis. There were no jobs, and all the cattle were sold or taken to Nebraska and put out in the cornstalks. It was like a ghost state. Through a Sioux Falls employment agency, I got a job here on a livestock operation.
“You either made it or you didn’t,” he said about the South Dakota ranches. “It was a tough life. But it gave me a lot of memories and a work ethic.”
Dale and Cindi settled in Hadley, raising three children. (They now have 10 grandchildren and another on the way.) For the past 25 years, Dale has been in the auction and real estate business.
Although he’s not riding the range for a living, Dale surrounds himself with cowboy paraphernalia: horses, a wardrobe full of Western shirts, hats and boots, Western art and collectibles. He participates in the occasional trail ride, such as last year’s Casey Tibbs Memorial Ride from Fort Bennett to Fort Pierre, S.D., honoring a famous South Dakota cowboy and rodeo rider.
His heroes continue to be cowboys like Tibbs and those he grew up watching on TV —the Lone Ranger, Hopalong Cassidy, Roy Rogers — especially Roy Rogers.
“We don’t have heroes like that anymore,” Dale said. “Who we look up to today, to me, those aren’t real men at all.”
Penchant for poetry
Dale isn’t sure when the poems began to run through his brain. They would just surface, like when he was out riding.
“I always said that I sort of did poetry in my head, but I never wrote it down until the later years,” he explained. “I probably started about 2003.”
The urge to put the words down on paper surfaced as he sorted through some of his Western memorabilia.
“I had a huge cowboy collection in Slayton in a building — Western art, toys, primitives. I made a decision to sell it out,” he recalled. “We were having a big auction, so I was packing up all those toys, and at the same time I watched a video narrated by Roy Rogers. It took you through his museum.
“Sure enough, that night I had a dream, and then the second night I had the same dream. So I got up at 4:30 in the morning, sat down at the table and wrote it down.”
Cowboy poetry is a genre that encompasses many different types of poems. Classic cowboy poetry is “rhymed, metered verse written by someone who has lived a significant portion of his or her life in Western North American cattle culture,” according to www.cowboypoetry.com, but there are also more contemporary forms. One of the most well-known cowboy poets, Baxter Black, who has been featured on RFD-TV and public television, uses a “more animated storytelling” style, according to Dale.
“A lot of mine seems to be more thought-provoking,” reflected Dale on his own work. “Mine are a different pace than his. Once in a while I’ll rob something of his, but for the next part I do my own.”
“Baxter Black — he called the house here one night,” Dale added as an aside. “… He just started talking like he’s a neighbor who’d known me forever. Nice fella, like he had all the time in the world to talk.”
In recent years, Dale has shared his poems as part of the nightly entertainment on trail rides. But he recently received an invitation to an event dedicated to his craft: the 19th annual Nebraska Cowboy Poetry Gathering, part of Old West Day in Valentine, Neb.
“It’s invitation only,” he noted, adding that the event committee became aware of him through his trail ride readings. “So I sent them a CD and some printed material.”
During the first weekend in October, Dale joined his fellow cowboy poetry enthusiasts in Valentine, doing three readings himself and listening to many others.
“I told Cindi that it was what I expected in some ways and not what I expected in some ways, but all in a good way,” he said. “There were a lot more violins, guitars, harmonicas. It wasn’t just poetry; it was storytelling and music. The talent was unreal. I was so proud to be part of that talent, and one of the board members said I was invited back for next year. … There were a lot of colorful characters and people who inspired you. As I listened to the others read and sing, I got a lot of new ideas I need to put on paper.”
Home on the range
Dale and Cindi are currently in the process of downsizing and moving across the road to a new house; their daughter and son-in-law have bought their former abode on the shore of Summit Lake in Hadley.
But the new house has an office where Dale can display his most beloved Western artifacts, conduct his business and write down his poetry, although the inspiration usually strikes when he’s not at his desk.
“It takes getting away from the telephone, the computer, the kids in the background,” he said. “There are nice parks in the area, and you ride and get to thinking. I compose as I ride, put them together and write it down later. …What’s tricky about my poems is I write the way I talk. It drives the computer spell check crazy.”
When he’s satisfied with a poem, Dale prints it out and files it in a tooled leather binder, a gift from his children.
“Some of the tougher ones, when there’s tears dripping on the paper when you write it, you know you got it right,” he said. “Sometimes I’ll write one, and it sounds hollow, doesn’t feel right, so I’ll start all over.”
The Pavlises have forged a life for themselves in southwest Minnesota, and Dale doubts they will ever return to South Dakota. But he keeps his love for the cowboy way of life on the South Dakota plains alive through his poetry.
“I found myself transported to Minnesota, but my heart is still there.”