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Texas Poet Laureate Celebrates Southern Style

The state of Texas boasts a long line of famous story tellers and poets. The state has also inspired poetry. Each year, the legislature selects a resident bard to serve as Texas Poet Laureate. This year, the honor went to a son of the deep South who came to Texas more than 30 years ago and feels right at home. His name is Paul Ruffin.

Paul Ruffin may not fit the image many people have of a poet. He's a proud member of the National Rifle Association and he fits right in here in the woods of eastern Texas.

When he is not writing or teaching classes at nearby Sam Houston State University, Ruffin does chores around his home. He prefers a rural life style over city life.

"I wanted more land and I wanted out of the city. I am out in the county now where I can be a little more relaxed, I can shoot guns in the back yard if I want to," he said.

Ruffin has a collection of guns that he uses for sport shooting, a popular pastime in rural America.

One of his ancestors fired the first cannon at Fort Sumter in 1861, starting the Civil War.

Ruffin says such men and their deeds inspired the first recitations of verse.

"Poetry began in the oral tradition," he explained. "You would have these warriors or hunters come in from a hunt or battle and they would re-enact the hunt or battle and do it in poetic form."

Ruffin grew up around rough rural people often called "rednecks."

He discovered he had a knack for writing poetry as a child. At university, he studied literature.

"I know that there are people who, upon encountering me out somewhere, would consider me a redneck - and I can talk the language too - but I am equally capable of sitting down with the most educated people and carrying on a conversation."

Ruffin uses the culture and language of rural southerners to enrich his poems and stories.

"I love writing in the Southern idiom. I love Redneckese, quite frankly," he noted.

Now that he is the Texas Poet Laureate, Ruffin has more opportunities to share his stories with audiences.

Ruffin has published 800 poems, two novels and several collections of essays and short stories.

And he's working on a new book of poems, to be published next year.