Poet Drum Hadley: Back with 'Borderlands' In the 1960s, poetry lovers were likely to see Drum Hadley in the company of Alan Ginsberg. Then he left for a Southwestern ranch. Now he's about to publish his first new book in more than 40 years.
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Poet Drum Hadley: Back with 'Borderlands'

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Poet Drum Hadley: Back with 'Borderlands'

Poet Drum Hadley: Back with 'Borderlands'

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Drum Hadley was a respected and admired poet when he published his last book more than three decades ago. Then he bought a ranch smack on the border of Arizona, Mexico and New Mexico. He raised a family, cattle and the consciousness of fellow ranchers. Now Drum Hadley has published a new book, a collection of poetry called "Voice of the Borderlands." NPR's Ted Robbins went looking for Drum Hadley in the land along that border.

TED ROBBINS reporting:

Hello! Anybody home?

(Soundbite of dog barking)

ROBBINS: I arrived at Drum Hadley's ranch in southeastern Arizona right on time. No small feat given that it's 40 miles from the nearest town on a road so rough it ripped up two of my tires. But no one was there to greet me except two Brittany spaniels and a cat.

(Soundbite of dog barking)

ROBBINS: It took awhile, but Drum Hadley and his partner, Rebecca West, finally heard me, or the dogs, from the other side of the house.

Ms. REBECCA WEST: Hello? Hi.


Ms. WEST: Hi. I'm Rebecca.


Ms. WEST: Nice to meet you, Ted.

ROBBINS: Nice to meet you.

Mr. DRUM HADLEY (Poet): Hello, Ted.

ROBBINS: Drum Hadley is a ruddy-faced man with a graying beard and bushy eyebrows who laughs easily, and from the moment we actually met, he gave me a rancher's welcome. Over a lunch of home-made stew on a screened-in porch, we talked about the point of his poetry.

Mr. HADLEY: I like to think that these are very practical poems. They're practical in the sense of getting a job done like saddling a horse or a bronc, and they're practical in letting go of something in your life or in bringing something into your life.

ROBBINS: Say you're going through a divorce. Hadley's gone through a couple. Now he's working on some imagery to help deal with losses like that.

Mr. HADLEY: If you sit beside an arroyo and you watch the water going away from you, that will then help you because visually you are seeing something leaving your body. I mean, almost in a kinesthetic way.

ROBBINS: That's not customary rancher talk, but Drum Hadley is not a customary rancher. In the 1960s, he hung with many of the major poets of his generation--Allen Ginsberg, Charles Olson, Gary Snyder--then he moved to this remote location. He made new friends and he kept the old ones. Drum Hadley has a lot of friends. Why so many?

Mr. HADLEY: Because I need them.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. HADLEY: You ask any one of them.

ROBBINS: I did ask one of them, poet Gary Snyder, who wrote the forward to Hadley's new book.

Mr. GARY SNYDER (Poet): He's a really great guy, and fun to talk to, and smart, and he's really interested not only in the landscape but in the working people of Southwest. Drum speaks so much from the landscape that it's all kind of a piece. It's like ecosystem poetry, really.

ROBBINS: But Drum Hadley is still as much a cowboy as he is a poet. One night, years ago, in Bisbee, Arizona, he gave a reading with friend and fellow poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti. Hadley thought one of his own poems needed some punctuation.

Mr. HADLEY: It just needs a gun to be shot off in the poem, that's all.

ROBBINS: Tell me.

Mr. HADLEY: I'll show you. Well, this ain't a talking place, this is a showing place.

ROBBINS: But it's not so easy these days for him to read the poem. About 10 months ago, Hadley and Rebecca West were in a head-on car wreck.

Mr. HADLEY: I thought, `How the hell am I gonna get out of this?' and I didn't. I'm a ghost.

ROBBINS: Hadley suffered a broken hand, bruised ribs and an undiagnosed vision problem. As he reads part of the poem called "A Colt .45 and the Chile Queen," his companion has to whisper the lines to him. Oh, and at the age of 68, it's easier to clap his hands than fire off a round.

Mr. HADLEY: `I sat there on my horse watching what was going to happen to the mule. "Hold it, hold it," old Lee said, "I'm just gonna vaccinate that mule once and for all."'

(Soundbite of hand clap)

Mr. HADLEY: `Boom! The mule just stood there and flicked his ears a little.'

ROBBINS: Hadley's poetry and his life are devoted to sustaining a way of life. His commitment to ranching is legendary. He started the Animas Foundation and, with others, the Malpai Borderlands Group. Both organizations help support ranching in harmony with the environment.

(Soundbite of footsteps)

ROBBINS: We walk down the road away from the house so he can show me some of the places he loves.

Mr. HADLEY: Well, I like to pot cottonwoods because they give pretty good shade. I like this roping arena right here on our right. I'd go watch clouds sometimes, and where it rains on that hill right over there.

ROBBINS: We keep walking until I wonder where he's taking me. The answer is pure Drum Hadley.

Mr. HADLEY: Oh, I was just following you. I mostly just follow.

ROBBINS: And so we turn back, this day's journey over.

Mr. HADLEY: Until another day to see where the road ends.

ROBBINS: Ted Robbins, NPR News.

NAYLOR: You can hear Drum Hadley read some of his recent work and sing "Alma of My Soul" to boot at our Web site, npr.org

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