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Many poems have been written about the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering, and below we list some of those and share a diverse sampling of them, as a part of our celebration of the Western Folklife Center's 20th National Cowboy Poetry Gathering at Elko, Nevada (January 24-31, 2004).

Our celebration includes these special features:

Poetry and Song
poems and songs celebrating the Gathering
(below)

The First Time....
recollections from the stage and the audience...send us your story about your first visit to Elko...
(separate page)

The Programs
with thanks to Western Folklife Center Archivist Steve Green, we have indexed past program books, 1985-2003, and displayed lists of the contents and the invited participants (separate page)

More...
news and features
(separate page)


Western Folklife Center

Visit the Western Folklife Center web site for information about the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering and other Western Folklife Center programs and events,  membership information, and to participate in their on-line activities.

 

 

www.WesternFolklife.org

 


Poems and Songs inspired by the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering 

A Growing List

Selections

Books and more from the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering


A Growing List 

The January, 2004 issue of Western Horseman included an article by Sally Haueter of the Western Folklife Center, titled, "20 Years in Elko," in which she mentioned some of the poems that have been inspired by the Gathering: "Many have shared their experience of the Gathering through poetry and song.  Examples include Charles Kortes' 'The Treasure of Elko,' Baxter Black's 'The Cowboy Poetry Gathering,' Sue Wallis' 'Elko the Eighth,' and Gail Steiger's 'Elko Haze.'"

With her fine start, following is a list of poems and songs and some sources.  Do you know of others?  Email us.

Darrell Arnold, "Cowboy Poultry Gatherin'"
   included in his book, Cowboy Poultry Gatherin', posted below
Virginia Bennett
, "We Are the Poets"
   written for the 2004 Gathering, posted below
Baxter Black
, "The Cowboy Poetry Gathering" 
   included in the 1994 Gathering program
Steve Dirksen, "Elko" 
   included with a report about the 2003 Gathering
John C. Dofflemyer, "Near Mote, Nevada"
   published in Dry Crik Review of Contemporary Cowboy Poetry, "1994 Elko
   Commemorative Double Issue," and posted below.
Peggy Godfrey, "Elko Reflections"
   published in Dry Crik Review of Contemporary Cowboy Poetry, "1994 Elko
   Commemorative Double Issue," included in the introduction to
   Cowboy Poetry: The Reunion, posted below.
Charles Kortes, "The Treasure of Elko" 
   published in Western Horseman magazine, Cowboy Poetry: A Gathering,
   and the 1994 Gathering program
Janalee Martin, "The Long Rope," a song inspired by the 2005 Gathering
   posted below
Howard Parker, "The Cowboy Poet"
   about gatherings, including Elko, posted here
Mike Puhallo
, "Elko"
   posted below
Pat Richardson, "Ed's Funeral" and "Ed in Elko"
   published in Pat Richardson, Unhobbled, 2003 and posted below
  
Georgie Sicking, "Glory Trail" about the first gathering, in her book, Just More Thinking
Gail Steiger, "Elko Haze"; "You'll be in Elko on Your Own" (Western Folklife Center Ranch Rhymes)
Kent Stockton, "Fillin' the Gaps" (Western Folklife Center Ranch Rhymes)
Colen Sweeten
, two poems named "Elko," "Afterglow in Elko," and "Traditions"
   One of the "Elko" poems is published in his book, Cowboy Poetry, 1987, 
   and posted below
   "Afterglow in Elko" is unpublished, posted below.
   The other "Elko" poem is unpublished, posted here.
    "Traditions" is unpublished, 1991
Sue Wallis
, "Elko the Eighth"
   included in the 1994 Gathering program
Bill Wood, "Elko Rag"
   a song included in the Live from Elko video

The above are partial references. We welcome corrections, additions, and submissions for consideration. Email us.


Selections

We Are the Poets by Virginia Bennett
Cowboy Poultry Gatherin' by Darrell Arnold
Elko  and Afterglow in Elko by Colen Sweeten
Ed's Funeral by Pat Richardson
Elko, by Mike Puhallo
Elko Reflections by Peggy Godfrey
Near Mote, Nevada by John C. Dofflemyer

 

We Are the Poets
For the Western Folklife Center and the Gathering audiences

Can you see us bent oe'r kitchen tables
        and our pencils' worn erasers
           as we pour our hearts in liquid words upon the lowly page?
Can you see us stopped in parking lots
        searchin' for scraps among the floorboards
           then, with pen to note, we scratch words to show a life, a love, an age?

We, who fight with nature
        never slacking, always believing,
            We strive 'gainst cold, heat and drought to keep the wolf from door...
But these battles seem wan in comparison
        to the war with words we wage
            as we seek to convey a thought, a poem to last and live forevermore.

Why, we were fine and fancy...
        no cares beyond the ranch gate
            our only worries keepin' calves alive and shippin' 'em eight months later.
'Til we tasted immortality
        on a stage or 'round a campfire
            And you, who came back to hear our words, became the instigator.

So, we take it all in and write it down
         in between the endless chores
           Amazed and honored that there are people who listen and seem to are.
We try to make you laugh or cry
         in portrayin' all we really savvy
           And somehow make it all of value and somethin' worthy to share.

Most give little thought to such an act,
        this tryin' to capture in ink a sunset,
           when an artist or photographer can hardly succeed at such a task.
Without paint or film or music
        armed with only our imaginations
           we connect the dots and record our lives, our futures and our past.

Thus, we dance with you as partners
         in this waltz of verse and lingo
            As long as you continue to listen, we'll try to get it right.
With words that bind us close together,
         transcending times and borders
            We are the poets, and you the reason that we write.

© 2003, Virginia Bennett, reprinted with permission
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission. 

Virginia Bennett, a long-time Gathering participant, wrote this poem "to express my feelings that the gathering has spurred so much writing into existence."  The poem was delivered for the first time at the 2004 Gathering, and a version illustrated by Meghan Merker along with a barnwood frame custom made and donated by Mark Oehling of Dillon, Montana was donated to the Gathering's silent auction:

Virginia Bennett is the editor of the 2004 anthology, Cowboy Poetry:The Reunion, described below.  Read more of her poetry here.

 

Cowboy Poultry Gatherin'

I learned about this gatherin'
When a neighbor passed the word,
And it struck me as the dumbest thing
That I had ever heard.

He said a bunch of cowboys
Had been comin' here for years
For a great big poultry gatherin'.
I could not believe my ears.

Now, gatherin' cows is somethin'
That I know they always do,
And some will even gather sheep
Believe me folks, it's true.

I know they gather horses
Off the wild Nevada range,
But this gatherin' all these chickens
Really sounded kinda strange.

I imagined some ol' cowpoke
Jobbin' spurs into his steed,
Chasin' chickens through the sagebrush,
Colonel Sanders in the lead.

Just how do you rope a chicken?
On that I wasn't clear,
Or brand four sixes on his hide
Or swaller-fork his ear?

And when you've got 'em gathered,
Do you bed 'em down at night?
Do you cut out those bull chickens
If they're mean and on the fight?

I could hear the trail boss holler,
"Get 'em up, Boys, move along,
Take these hens to Ogallala."
Well it sure did seem all wrong.

So I came here to Elko
'Cause I had to check it out
And find out what this poultry stuff
Was really all about.

Well, now I feel foolish.
It's not poultry after all.
It's po-et-ry, with rhymin' words
And other folderol.

A bunch of tongue-tied punchers
With manure stuck to their heels
Are tellin' rhymin' stories 'bout
The way a cowboy feels.

But callin' this stuff poetry
Would make ol' Shakespeare howl.
I b'lieve it's poultry after all,
'Cause most of it is fowl!

© 1993,  Darrell Arnold 
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission. 

Darrell Arnold, editor and publisher of COWBOY MAGAZINE, has been a featured poet at Elko.  The above poem is included in his book, Cowboy Poultry Gatherin'.  Read more of his poetry here.

 

 

Elko

They came to the mid-winter gath'ring,
Leaving haystacks and dehorning chutes.
Dressed true to old west tradition,
Levis, Stetsons, and high heeled boots.

A few were in casts or on crutches,
Some looked like I'd seen them before.
Each wore the hat no one touches
And had high polished boots on the floor.

The faces were brown as a saddle.
Some mustaches wide as a door.
And they walked with a half cocked straddle,
Like the part that they sit on was sore.

Their poetry, sprinkled with sagebrush,
Was not meant for the city galoots.
And there each one sat in his ten gallon hat,
And a cow and a half worth of boots.

© 1987, Colen Sweeten, reprinted with permission
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission. 


 

Afterglow in Elko

We had just wound down the third go-round,
Cowboy poets of recent renown
The musicians pitched camp on the mezzanine ramp
At the Stockman's Hotel downtown.

Each corner had strummin' while cowboys were hummin'
One big session was out in the hall,
And two old boys I know from here in Idaho
Found a spot against one empty wall.

The squeeze box and guitar didn't reach very far
But the cowboys soon picked up their ears
And they quietly moved in with bow legs and grin
To hear what they'd not heard for years.

The strummer was "Red" but from the looks of this head
He got that moniker some years ago.
They both had white hair so we gave them a chair
And they soon had their share of the show.

"Red" took Slim's bass viol and it made old Slim smile
With a smile that used most of his face,
As the young Cowboy Stars filed in all of the bars
Of strummin' that came from that bass.

Old "Red's" pretty wife, the joy of his life
Wasn't brought along just for her looks,
Oh, how she did yodel (hey, what rhymes with yodel?)
And they tell me she also cooks.

Along about five in the morn we all looked forlorn
But all agreed it had been a great show
Some went to bed, but not Kelland and "Red,"
They hit the trail back to old Idaho.

The fire burns bright in the early night
But when the embers simmer down low,
The real brotherhood gained from burnin' the wood
Is found in the afterglow.

© Colen H. Sweeten, Jr.
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission. 

Colen Sweeten has attended every Gathering except one, since its inception.  The first poem above, "Elko," is in his 1987 book, Cowboy Poetry.  Read more of his poetry here. 

 

Ed's Funeral

The applause that he got was deafeaning
as Ed took center stage,
A great cowboy poet -- the fans seemed t'know it
a rare treat in this day an' age.

He acknowledged the crowd, with a tip of his hat
and a modest sorta' grin,
then adjusted the mike -- to the level he liked
cleared his throat, and prepared to begin.

He related a poem he had written
that he'd never shared with folks yet
They loved old Ed's style -- as they rolled in the aisle
when suddenly Ed starts to sweat.

The color had drained from his head,
his voice became halting an' cracked;
they heard his espouse, "Is there a doc in the house?
I'm having a heart attack!"

The crowd went wild with laughter
as Ed hit the floor like a rock!
He was gagging and choking...they thought he was joking,
and his family was totally shocked!

Well, they're having Ed's funeral tomorrow,
his family will be at his side.
It's a private affair -- his fans won't be there,
Hell, they all laughed when he died.

© 2003, Pat Richardson, reprinted with permission
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission. 


Ed in Elko

Well, Ed Brown was in his glory, each time he told a poem,
and there was great anticipation, as he took the microphone.
They were packed into the rafters, every show, the critics said,
in direct correlation of performances, by Ed.

His credentials were impeccable, his euphemisms great
until that fateful afternoon in Nineteen ninety-eight.
He was reeling off his classics, the crowd clamoring for more,
when Ed turned peculiar colors, and he crumpled to the floor.

There were several paramedics, that responded in a flash
said, "I hope he's got insurance, 'cause he sure ain't got much cash."
Now t'shorten up this story, the ambulance arrived,
and God bless the paramedics, they had kept old Ed alive.

The crowd was stunned to silence, their jaws were hanging slack
'cause this had all the earmarks, of a massive heart attack.
Just as luck'd have it, Pat and Jess were on the show;
They told the crowd, "Don't panic...stay calm an' take it slow."

"We'll stay with the bugger, 'till they get him past th' hump,"
then held up some jumper cables, "But we're gonna need a jump."
Ed's vital signs were smoothing out, he'd sorta stabilized;
the doctor said, "He'll make it," just as Pat an' Jess arrived.

Pat took his wallet out of habit, from his jeans;
Jess tried on Ed's jacket, Jess sure liked gabardine.
They were eyeing up his boots, Ed starts bubbling at the nose,
seems they hadn't even noticed they were standing on his hose!

Convulsions wracked Ed's body, Pat sez, "By God this is great!
It's the only I ever seen, a human levitate."
Jess was unimpressed, he kept trying on Ed's clothes;
a nurse comes running in, an' screams: "YER STANDIN' ON HIS HOSE!"

Ed was nearly incoherent, as he rode home on the train;
it seems the lack of oxygen, had killed off half his brain,
Most folks didn't notice the slight slurring of his speech,
and his job was unaffected, 'cause all he did was teach.

© 2003, Pat Richardson, reprinted with permission
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission. 

Pat Richardson is a frequent featured poet at the Gathering.  These poems refer to poet Ed Brown.  Pat's book, Pat Richardson, Unhobbled, also includes another poem that involves Elko and Ed Brown, "Ed's Pickup."  Read more of Pat Richardson's  poetry here

 

Elko


In the deserts of Nevada,
There's a quiet old cow town,
that was on the verge of folding up,
when the nearby mines shut down.

Where Garcia's made their silver bits,
and they still grazed a cow or two,
Until the Government decided the wild horses,
should have all the grass that grew.

Then Elko nearly blew away,
with nothing left to hold things down,
... rusty rails and empty store fronts,
another soon to be... ghost town.

Then twenty years ago some poets,
gathered there to swap some lies,
and Elko started drawing crowds,
Like "You know what" draws flies.

Now the place is booming,
'though the mines are still shut down,
It's where cowboy poets walk like kings
because their BS saved the town!

© 2004, Mike Puhallo
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission. 

In 2004, Mike Puhallo and other Canadians involved with the Kamloops Cowboy Festival traveled to Elko. Read their story here.  Read more of Mike Puhallo's poetry here

 

Elko Reflections

The pain of parting
On Sunday
At Elko
Is like the drag
of barbed wire
Across my hand
Or a paper cut
It brings the blood
To the wound
For days I bleed
Poetry. 

© 1994, Peggy Godfrey, reprinted with her kind permission
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission. 

Peggy Godfrey is a Colorado rancher, and a frequent Gathering participant.  See our feature about Peggy Godfrey here. This poem is included in the introduction to Cowboy Poetry:The Reunion, described below.

 

Near Mote, Nevada

the landscape blurs again,
unmeasured Highway 80 miles away
from the Stockman's coffee shop,
     late Monday morning
     after the Gathering
where he recited "Western Pleasure."
I fall back into our watering eyes,
    as my forgotten rig ran,
    idled warm in the icy parking lot.

Though small mote it is
in the desert sagebrush between
whitehaired hills smiling & humming
a new Tyson tune—
I can almost see the cloud of dust:
     riders from a dream
     as if we are the names
          to why I came
          the first time

It's an addiction, now,
that bein human—our catharsis—
that epiphany we draw from
so-damn-near everready & immortal
a man can     see anything.
     We're cast to the wide wind again,
this family full of brothers & sisters,
Grandmothers Thelma & Marie
& Wallace, the grandfather,
spinning propriety with wisdom balanced
against the week of frayed emotion,
     all synapses sandpapered
     into a high-pitched song.
     We wail inside.

There were times we might have claimed
something in our eye—
but we are too familiar
for that.

© 1994, John C. Dofflemyer, reprinted with permission
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission. 


John Dofflemyer is a long-time participant in the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering. He edited Dry Crik Review of Contemporary Cowboy Poetry, an innovative periodical  published by his Dry Crik Press in Lemon Cove, California, from 1991-1994.  We have an index of each issue here, including the 1994 Elko Commemorative Double Issue, which commemorates the tenth Gathering and includes this poem, Peggy Godfrey's "Elko Reflections," an essay about the Gathering by Kathy Ogren, and at least two other poems that mention or refer to the Gathering, including Scott Preston's "hal—" and John Dofflemyer's "Bad News Home."

The Long Rope
A Gathering

I heard the cowboy tell a tale,
Of broken hearts and dusty trail,
Everything he'd loved so well,
In a simple poem.
Old woman who had gotten by,
A man who never learned to cry,
Four legs folding up to fly,
When God called 'em home.

He drove the storm where thunders roll,
Drank the driest deserts whole,
Been to hell to save his soul,
Maybe did that twice.
He'd touched the earth and touched the sun,
And kissed creation's very tongue,
Then he told what love had done,
When he'd paid the price.

Chorus
I could feel the  sunshine when he spoke about the hills.
I could smell the water and the night air gave me chills.
And when the story ended and the people left the show,
It still held me, with a long rope and it wasn't letting go.

His rhyme became a living thing,
This life of every human being.
For the first time I was seeing,
A pattern to it all.
And in the pattern was a plan,
That started before time began,
When everyone could understand,
The writing on the wall.

Chorus

Strand of love and strip of pain,
Twisting round our hearts remain,
The common threads that bind and strain,
The bonds we cannot break.
The earth will roll until complete,
Another year and then we meet,
To sit and listen at his feet,
And somehow ease the ache.

Chorus

© 2005, Janalee Martin
This song may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

Janalee Martin comments, "I wrote 'The Long Rope' after a wonderful experience at the Elko Gathering this past year [2005].  I co-taught a saddle-blanket making class for the Western Folklife Center and it turned out to be so worthwhile.  Everyone who participated in our class was amazing.  Friendships were formed, lives were touched and it was the real thing.  Those things that tie us together as human beings. 'The Long Rope.'"

Read more about her here.


Books and more from the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering 

 

Three anthologies have grown from the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering:

cpreunionbk.jpg (25377 bytes)  Virginia Bennett has edited Cowboy Poetry: The Reunion, a volume published by Gibbs Smith in celebration of the 20th Annual National Cowboy Poetry Gathering.

The book includes 75 poems by 75 poets.  Some of those poets with poetry here at the  BAR-D include Bruce Kiskaddon, Wallace McRae, Rod McQueary, Larry McWhorter, Darin Brookman, Jess Howard, Debra Coppinger Hill, Charles Badger Clark, Wylie Gustafson, Dennis Gaines, Howard Norskog, Dee Strickland Johnson, Jeff Streeby, Waddie Mitchell, Sally Bates, Buck Ramsey, Doris Daley, Colen Sweeten, Sunny Hancock, Red Steagall, Yvonne Hollenbeck, Rhoda Sivell, Robert W. Service, Chris Isaacs, Banjo Paterson, Andy Hedges, Pat Richardson, Linda Hasselstrom and many others.

Read our feature here, which includes Virginia Bennett's introduction and the complete table of contents.


There are two outstanding Cowboy Poetry collections edited by the founding Director of the Western Folklife Center, Hal Cannon:

Click to purchase from Amazon.com   Cowboy Poetry : A Gathering
by Hal Cannon (Editor)

Amazon.com says:  As tough, lean, and honest as those who create it, cowboy poetry has entered our culture as literature. In these selections from some of today's and yesterday's finest practitioners, Hal Cannon has corralled the best of the genre. How good is it? The poems have the smell of sagebrush and campfire in them. You can't get any higher praise.

Tough, lean and honest, cowboy poetry has entered our culture as literature. Here are selections from some of today's and yesterday's finest practitioners: Curley Fletcher's 'The Strawberry Roan,' Badger Clark's 'A Cowboy's Prayer,' Georgie Sicking's 'To Be a Top Hand,' Baxter Black's 'The Big High Lonesome,' and Wallace McRae's 'The Lease Hound.'" 

See a complete index here in our Anthologies Index.

 

Click to purchase from Amazon.com  New Cowboy Poetry : A Contemporary Gathering
by Hal Cannon (Editor)

This
second collection includes Leon Flick, Mike Logan, Rod McQueary, Wallace McRae, Waddie Mitchell, Vess Quinlan, Buck Ramsey, Henry Real Bird, Red Steagall, Paul Zarzyski, and many others.  See a complete index here in our Anthologies Index.


  Released in 2005, the Elko! A Cowboy's Gathering 2-CD set was recorded live in January 2004 at the 20th Annual National Cowboy Poetry Gathering.  It includes nearly 40 tracks of music and poetry by today's top poets and musicians.  Read a review here.


     Live At Elko, Cowboy Poets  

This video, recorded at the 10th Gathering, includes Buck Ramsey, Joel Nelson, R. W. Hampton, Virginia Bennett, Gwen Peterson,  Waddie Mitchell, Bill Wood, Ian Tyson, Michael Martin Murphey, Don Edwards, Wallace McRae, Stephanie Davis, Riders in the Sky, the Sons of the San Joaquin, Paul Zarzyski...and many others, in a film that is about the next best thing to being there.

 


Visit the Cowboys' Store at the Western Folklife Center, where there are many books and recordings -- many by participants in the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering

 

 

 

www.cowboypoetry.com

 

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