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Family shares patriarch's 'pomes'
Lavonne Forman, right, and her son, Levi, show a photo of her late husband, Mark, whose poems have been released in a book called "Pomes by a Cow Psychologist."

Levi Forman's favorite poem that his father wrote, "I Ain't no Damn Cowboy," pokes fun at the romantic notion of a cowboy and extols the real thing.

Levi didn't have to look any further than his father, Mark Forman, to find that authentic Eastern Montana rancher.

A photo of Mark on the cover of a recently published a book of his poems shows a lean rancher in a battered, sweat-stained cowboy hat, jeans, jean jacket and black overshoes standing in a snowy field feeding a red Angus bull like an oversized pet.

When Mark's wife, Lavonne, looks at that photo, she remembers how happy he was when he was working with cattle.

He also loved writing, perhaps as much as ranching.

After Mark, 55, died in a ranch accident in March 2008, his family gathered his poems and published them in a book, "Pomes from a Cow Psychologist."

"Pomes" is the word Mark used to describe his verses to keep them - and himself - from being taken too seriously.

"He always thought 'poetry' was a little ostentatious," Lavonne said.

A significant number of the poems were written for friends and relatives on their birthdays, graduations or other special days.

Many have a wry twist like the one, "Three-Quarters Kid," that he wrote for his mother, Elaine Forman, for Mother's Day. The poem describes a man close to 50 who should be saddled with all of the worries and responsibilities of adulthood:

But I don't have to grow up yet,

take blame for what I did:

Long's a feller's got his mom,

He's still three-quarters kid!

Some poems chronicle memorable hunting trips or an incident from someone's life. Others are about enduring the blistering heat and frigid winters on the Montana prairie.

Often the original poems were left without fanfare on the kitchen table after a visit to a friend or tacked to a door.

In addition to the more than 70 poems, the book is interspersed with essays by his family and friends.

Mark's poems were unapologetically rhymed, not the "stream-of-consciousness, drum-tapping Beatnik type," wrote his oldest son, Levi.

Even though Mark grew up on a dairy farm near Miles City, he might not have become a rancher had he not fallen in love with Lavonne Brown, whose family ran a wheat, hay and cattle ranch 50 miles east of Miles City near Knowlton.

Mark seemed to turn away from agriculture when he headed to Missoula, not the agriculture school at Bozeman, for college.

He began writing his first poems at the University of Montana, where the psychology major took several poetry classes from acclaimed poet Richard Hugo.

Mark and Lavonne married in 1973. After they graduated from college the next year, they returned to her family's place to ranch and raise three children.

Levi recently left California's Sandia National Laboratories, where he was an electronics engineer for 10 years, to come back to Montana to help run the ranch.

Luke is an electrician in Billings. Lona is a senior at Montana State University Billings. Lavonne continues to teach fifth- and sixth-graders at a rural school near Miles City.

From the time that Levi was a young child, he remembers his father typing away at his basement desk before leaving the house to do ranch chores.

Not only did he write poetry and keep a daily diary, Mark was a meticulous record keeper, storing details of every bale of hay and bushel of grain on computer spreadsheets. He also kept the financial books for several rural school districts and other groups.

A man of wide-ranging interests, Mark was difficult to pigeonhole.

"Dad experimented extensively with everything regulated by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms …," Levi wrote in the book. "He had a love of impractically large handguns and a steady habit of chewing Copenhagen."

After a fling with alcohol, Mark gave it up for good.

He played classical music in his pickup. He was a passionate fly fisherman. He fought rangeland fires.

A quiet man, Mark didn't like crowds, but enjoyed people one by one. He didn't talk a lot, according to Levi, but was a great listener and storyteller.

Mark probably would be embarrassed by the attention if a book of his poems had been published in his lifetime, but it brings much comfort to his family.

Through his poems, people can still laugh at his jokes and learn from his wise words, Lavonne said.

"For people who knew him, you hear his voice in the poems," she said. "It's like he's still living."

Contact Mary Pickett at mpickett@ billingsgazette.com or 657-1262.

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