Cow Poked: Oklahoma’s New-ish Poet Laureate, Joe Russell Kreger

Growing up in Texas, in those small-time, small-town grocery stores that dotted the barren landscape, there would always be a spinning rack of postcards and greeting cards with usually grotesque paintings of an old-timer using the outhouse while a donkey peeks his head in, often filled with cowboy poetry about horse manure, sleepy Injuns and nagging wives with rolling pins.

I’m pretty sure that’s the type of cowboy poetry Gov. Kevin Stitt likes and what he thought he was getting when he recently named cowboy poet Joe Russell Kreger as Oklahoma’s latest poet laureate. From

“It is an honor to appoint Joe Russell Kreger as the 2021-2022 Oklahoma State Poet Laureate,” said Governor Stitt. “Joe’s journey to creative writing shows that it is never too late for new ventures and I look forward to this rancher turned ‘cowboy poet’ carrying on our Oklahoma tradition and promoting his work across the state.”

Kreger’s second time as Oklahoma’s poet-in-charge, the Tonkawa resident probably has many home-on-the-range musings that I’m sure your doddering grandparents—or even your parents, these days—might enjoy. But in a growing culture where even Trump’s glaringly white cabinet named Tulsa-born and Muscogee (Creek) citizen Joy Harjo as the National Poet Laureate, you have to ask yourself the question: wasn’t there someone—anyone—better?

Growing up, I was never a fan of poetry—we’re not counting song lyrics, right?—mostly due to the pretentiousness of many poets I encountered in high school. But Harjo and her appointment made me stand up and take notice, purchasing An American Sunrise when I found myself at Commonplace Books not too long ago. I fell in love with her words of Indigenous blessings and Native hopes for any and everyone.

Meanwhile, Kreger has two books: Lookin’ at Life and, of course, Still Lookin’, I’m sure found on the toilet tanks of many Oklahomans.

As good as poems like “Cows Don’t Know It’s Christmas”, “Calvin’ Time” and “Food” might be, Oklahoma has reached a brand new day—especially in our art scene—where writers and poets actually have something important to say and, honestly Gov. Stitt, those poets might be Black, Latino, Indigenous and so on. Nothing against the man, but to cast Kreger in this role is literally a defiantly close-minded return to yesterday.

Whether done out of brash anger, imbecilic laughs or, sadly, an attempt to stay in Trump’s appallingly low erectile flow, it’s hard to look at any decisions that Stitt makes and not see the intense dislike for non-white races in Oklahoma—something that he’s proven time and again. Kreger is a problematic choice that seems more like a stilted frat-boy tearing up a writer’s work before class than anything else.

Kreger just isn’t what Oklahoma’s about anymore, no matter how hard people in power try to keep it like that.

But if there’s a poet that actually speaks to the people of this state and reflects the troubled times and constant hopes of who we all are—and not just the imagined pleasantries of cattle-drives long dead—then that’s who should truly be our laureate. If they can do it in Washington D.C, then they sure as Hell can do it in Oklahoma.


Follow Louis on Twitter at @LouisFowler and Instagram at @louisfowler78.

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14 Responses

  1. Haven’t read any of the man’s poetry, but I don’t expect Stitt-Billy to hire somebody who is ethnically diverse in any role.

  2. Stitt doesn’t need diversity. He’s from south Tulsa!

  3. Excellent points, and I think what this really shows is Governor Stitt is only the Governor who voted for him, or at least who agree with him. Being Governor, mayor, or any elected official who claims to represent the public requires that you do things for everyone, not just your supporters. You can’t legislate for only the people in the country club that you run around with, or want to run around with.

    Stitt likes to always tell us what he believes in, and his opinions. He leads that way, as opposed to what people will compromise so everyone is satisfied. Everyone is never going to be happy, and both sides need to give each sides some things they really want. You can pander to the right to call the state a 2nd Amendment Sanctuary State. However you probably should also add some laws so when someone does something stupid with a gun then there are some laws to make those people think about acting responsibility with their right to carry. Charter schools should be funded, as long as they play by the rules the public schools have to be run. If the playing field is equal and the public prefers charter schools over public they should be able to chose, but everyone should have the that right. You can’t fund a school that requires chapel attendance, and then forbid the public school from even discussing Darwinism.

    Bottom line is Stitt is the Governor for those who agree with him, it’s his way or the highway. Hopefully the voters will realize this is a two way highway, and should he decide to run for re-election the voters will suggest he take that same highway.

    Hopefully there will be a good candidate, be they Independent or Democrat, or even Republican in the primary. Best to vote for the person, not the party, or you get people like Kevin Stitt, and Nathan Dahm who seem to think they are the chosen ones, and evidently can do whatever they want and stay in power. They probably think they could go out in the middle of the street and shoot someone, and get re-elected. Sadly they are probably right, as they would have some bizarre reason on how shooting that person saved the state from some terrible situation, probably involving taking away of your guns, and probably Nancy Pelosi, or a radical Islamic. It’s worked for years for them, no reason to think the public will wake up and figure this out.

    1. Great points. Unfortunately the voting trend since the election of Obama has been to vote against something, rather than for something. I stopped counting how many people began to vote straight Republican tickets to “show Obama” “hurt Obama” yada yada…….not realizing that their vote did nothing to or for Obama, Obama is gone. It has resulted in people who 25 years ago couldn’t even get invited to Republican/Democrat party meeting to try to be a candidate, now those same people are being term limited and seeking appointments, other offices and so on. Its how we got Mary Fallin, Ralph Shorty, Stitt and the long list of complete incompetent people elected to public office. Trump (whether you like him or not) came along with a plan that ramped that up 10 fold and created the template so many others follow now.
      I hope at some point the political process can again be something other than the candidates seeing who can lie the most/longest and best and/or be the most brutal-never discussing issues/policy.

      1. And Nathan Dahm.

  4. Okay, okay, I’ll be the laureate. I’ve written poems, although I can’t quite get the squinty eyed, lovable old codger look down like this fella, even though I’m older than dirt .
    My latest is a collection entitled “Man from Nantucket”.

    1. “Old Hermit Named Dave” was one of my early efforts. You may or may not have read it, but it was repeated many times over the years…..

  5. Louis, I’m with you most of the time, but your response is just as parochially limited as the subjects Mr. Kreger chooses. Similarly, the poets of the minorities you mention would be limited to their own world views and of limited appeal to those who don’t share their backgrounds. And, there WERE ranchers out in the February misery prying newborn calves from the frozen ground. Constructing universal sentiments from this material is the challenge.

    Poets looking to an idealized past begins with Homer, another regional poet, and is evident ever since. And, that forerunner of cowboy poetry, pastoral poetry — sheep instead of cows — has a heritage almost as old, with the same theme of rural wisdom exploding the notion of urbane superiority.

    Yeah, I’m one of those “pretentious” poets — who has spent my life reading poets from throughout the ages and throughout the world. I have not limited my exploration to waiting for a voice which I think my agree with me. But, if that’s your preference, let me suggest N. Scott Momaday’s new collection, “The Death of Sitting Bear.” Really fine stuff.

    All that said, there are many worthy poets in this state — cowboy poets included — who would do honor to the position. And, since there are precious few rich poets, the honor would serve as an appreciative reward for their efforts at trying to make sense of the world.

  6. Yes, there were plenty of other options. Personally, I would have chosen Quraysh Ali Lansana, but hey, that’s why I’m not gov I suppose. But still, the fact that Jeanetta Calhoun Mish, an excellent, working-class poet, is being replaced with…well, this, is disheartening.

  7. Louis, I’m with you most of the time, but your response to Mr. Kreger’s second term as state poet laureate is just as parochial as his subject matter. Similarly, the work of poets representing the minorities you mention would reflect their own backgrounds and would likely create an indifference among many who do not share their histories. The key is to start with the personal and strive toward the universal.

    Poets looking to an ideal past for subject and inspiration is as old as Homer, another regional poet, and has been evident ever since. The forerunner to cowboy poetry, pastoral poetry (sheep instead of cows), has been around almost as long. Both genres emphasize rustic wisdom, often at the expense of urban elitism. (And, there WERE ranchers out in the February misery prying newborn calves off the frozen ground.)

    Yeah, I’m one of those “pretentious” poets who has spent his life exploring poetry throughout the ages and throughout the world. I was not so “close-minded” as to wait until I found a voice I thought might agree with my own. But, if that is your preference, let me suggest N. Scott Momaday’s new collection, “The Death of Sitting Bear.” Really fine stuff though I’ll warn you that his subjects stray from strictly Native American topics.

    All that said, there are many worthy poets in the state, certainly enough that we don’t have to recycle the honor of poet laureate. Pre-pandemic, I read monthly with a group of Lawton poets. Those who have published books (or have publishing in process) would do honor to the position. And we have had some talented guest readers as well. There are similar groups throughout the state. There are few rich poets. Spreading honorifics around would demonstrate an appreciation of those trying to make sense of our world.

    (This is my second attempt to post this. Hope it gets through.)

  8. I’ve read his 1st collection. He ain’t Shakespeare or Edna St. Vincent Millay, but he’s not half bad.

  9. Do you search out things to be offended by ?

  10. Since many Oklahomans are still white, I wouldn’t hold Mr. Kreger being a person of no color against him.

    My tastes in poetry are very lowbrow. I haven’t even noticed previous Oklahoma or national poet laureates. When I hear “cowboy poet,” I think of Baxter Black.

  11. More like Captain Kangaroo or Wilford Brimley.

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