Joe Russell Kreger is Oklahoma's poet laureate again
Wednesday, August 25, 2021
Media Contact: Mack Burke | Editorial Coordinator | 405-744-5540 | email@example.com
Joe Russell Kreger is Oklahoma’s poet laureate again — the first to hold the position on two non-consecutive occasions.
The self-described cowboy poet has written around 200 poems, released two books — Lookin’ at Life and Still Lookin’ — and spoken across the state, the Red River and beyond. But the 82-year-old Tonkawa resident didn’t find his voice until he wrote his first poem at age 56.
Growing up, Kreger was involved in farming and ranching and wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps at Oklahoma State University. After graduating from OSU in 1961, he went into the Army Reserves and to work for Redbud Hereford Ranch. From ’65 to ’68, he pursued a master’s degree at OSU in agricultural education while teaching at Northern Oklahoma College.
He eventually returned to his hometown and purchased what is now Kreger Ranch. In 1993, his ranch sustained heavy flooding. The silver lining was it opened the floodgates on his creative calling.
“I was totally frustrated because of the damage we’d sustained time and again,” he said. “I started getting a poem running in my head about the Salt Fork Arkansas River. I wrote it down, and I kind of sprung a leak after that. I’d start getting poems running through my head, and I’d jot ’em down. I’d be on horseback or in my truck. I’d write ’em down on whatever I could, a feedsack, maybe.”
He had plenty of material to work with after decades of living the cowboy life, and his goals, like his style, were simple.
“I just started writing things down for my son … lessons I’ve learned along the way.”
Soon, he made the leap from hobbyist to prolific poet, and, in 1998, Gov. Frank Keating appointed him state poet laureate for the first time. “
It came on me like some sort of surprise, you might say,” Kreger said. “I’m not a poetry expert by any means, but for some reason my stuff, which is simple, has resonated well with most of the audiences I’ve been in front of. … I feel like I was somewhat successful in promoting poetry and encouraging young people to express their thoughts and write down some of these things they felt strongly about.”
Kreger said his passion for writing still burns bright, and he’s ready to hit the reading trail again, working with the Oklahoma Arts Council to bring poetry to underserved schools and encourage young people to express themselves.
“I never sat down to force a poem out. It’s just if something got to rattling around in my head, I would write it down,” he said. “We’ve all got things going on in our minds that most people don’t write down. I really would encourage folks to embrace that. Sometimes just putting it down on paper and looking at it can help you figure out a dilemma you’re faced with, almost like self-therapy. And that might help someone else, too.”
Photo By: Phil Shockley
Story By: Mack Burke | STATE Magazine