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BOOKS & THE CULTURE The Ear Wakes to Listen William Barney’s Fort Worth Verite BY DAVE OLIPHANT ILLUSTRATIONS BY CAISSA DOUWES A COWTOWN CHRONICLE. By William D. Barney. Browder Springs Books. 85 pages. $12.95. Li as Fort t year, on the occasion of Fo Worth’s 150th anniversary, Browder Springs Books of Dallas published William Barney’s A Cowtown Chronicle, a thin, elongated vol ume filled with masterful poetry. Divided into three sections The Arts and Ardors, Some of the People, and The Town this collection of fifty-seven poems depicts a number of public features and figures of and visitors to Fort Worth, as well as some of the poet’s more personal encounters with the sights and sounds of the city that have inspired his writing \(as has his pianist designed by the graphics studio of Margie Adkins, edited by poet-critic Betsy Colquitt, and with separate forewords by Colquitt and Joyce Gibson Roach, the book is a fitting tribute to Cowtown and a worthy sampling of Barney’s poetry from across the years. Born in Tulsa in 1916, Barney has lived in Fort Worth since 1928, employed there for thirty-five years by the U.S. Postal Service. Although active intermittently with the Texas Poetry Society, Barney in large part has practiced his art in private and has remained a rather self-effacing man of letters. However, his talents have been recognized within and without the state and were honored as early as the fifties when his first two collections, Kneel From the Stone and Permitted Proof, won awards from the Texas Institute of Letters. In 1962 Barney received the Robert Frost Award from the Poetry Society of America for his poem “The Killdeer Crying,” with Frost himself making the presentation. In 1977 I had the privilege of publishing Barney’s Selected Poems through my own Prickly Pear Press, with a second, expanded edition printed in 1983. In 1993 the University of North Texas Press issued Words from a Wide Land, a compilation of entries from Barney’s notebooks, one entry for each of 365 days taken from various years in each decade from the thirties through the eighties. Here is an entry from July 2, 1971: I like to sit watching Bermuda grass spring back into place where my foot has crushed it. Blade by blade, stem by stem, like clockwork, it regains its original condition. Being stepped on interlocks it into a three-dimensional jigsaw mix which it has to solve, piece by piece; a blade must give way here before the one beneath can click into place. Over the width of a shoe motions take turns, now at this side, now another yonder. It is a picture of resurgence, of life fighting back after taking a blow. Watched long enough, the grass will return to its fullest deployment. The cost of observing this heroic struggle is practically nothing. Other collections of Barney’s poems, and a gathering of his observations on poetry and nature \(A have appeared from small presses like Counterpoint and Thorp Springs, and his work has been often anthologized, most notably in 1969 by Betsy Colquitt in her A Part of Space: Ten Texas Writers, from T.C.U. Press. A Cowtown Chronicle is fully representative of Barney’s keen eye for detail and his ability to make connections between the natural world and the activities of hu mankind. In “Mr. Watts and the Whirlwind,” Barney wonders if a phenomenon like the tornado that touched down outside an auditorium might have been jealous of pianist Andre Watts as his “hands … deli cately touched Scarlatti” and later produced a “perfect storm” when he “cleanly and powerfully … smote the stays / and timbers of the Steinway / until it moaned with joy.” Similarly, “Rider and Sea” parallels the movement of longhorn steers and a lightning storm. The “lone rider” is “frozen in a sea of bronze,” a sculptured “tempest of horns … lashed into turbulence,” twisting “lank flesh till it screams,” “great heads” flashing “as if lightning / set fire to bone.” Like Frederic Remington \(whose work is on permanent display at Fort Worth’s Amon paint crisis in the air,” or like the birds in “The Cranes at Muleshoe” \(from his Sewhich “struggle to make order where they rise / in staggered thousands gabbling,” trying “again a drift toward design, / scrawling their trail of loud calligraphy / on vacant sky. With no more skill than men / can they arrange a right society, / resolve their noisy dithering….” A quieter, reflective side to Barney’s art is found in a “A Few Leaves from Lindheimer,” which derives from his visit to the nearby Botanic Research Institute of Texas. For Barney, the relationship between man and nature is one in which the former seeks to discover in the latter “a brooding knowledge waiting to unfold.” Lindheimer, the German naturalist of the 1850s who named so many Hill Country plants, came to Texas originally as “a hothead meaning to fight” in the revolution but “arrived too late,” and subsequently became a “friend of Comanches, who in awe 36 THE TEXAS OBSERVER MARCH 17, 2000