Featured at the Bar-D Ranch


photo by Kevin Martini-Fuller

About John Dofflemyer

Selected Poems

Books and Publications

Contact Information


 

About John Dofflemyer  

Born in 1948 and product of two Central California cattle families, I was raised with the remnants of the Dust Bowl Okies in the San Joaquin Valley along the foothills of the southern Sierra Nevada range, east of Visalia. At eleven, I attended a private school that my parents help establish where I was exposed to daily doses of literature in Latin, French and English prior to my leaving home for the Webb School in Claremont, California, to later graduate in 1966. During high school and while attending the University of Southern California, I spent my summers packing mules for Bill DeCarteret in the Kings, Kaweah and Kern River watersheds, at a time when I first became familiar with the poetry of Gary Snyder. I graduated with a degree from USC School of Business in 1970 before returning home to work full-time on the ranch. 

I began writing poetry while in high school, inspired by my hands-on experiences in the High Sierras. During the Vietnam War years, my writing continued in earnest, influenced by Gary Snyder and Robert Creeley, as well as the awakening folk music scene of the late 60s.  But my involvement with cowboy poetry per se, actually began as a lark years later, when a good friend suggested that we should attend the 1989 Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko, Nevada to hear the music. Having seen Ian and Sylvia several times at The Troubadour while living in Los Angeles, I was desperately curious about this new brand of cowboy song. Even though I was unimpressed by the glossy "big hat" spread of the 1988 Gathering in Western Horsemen, I submitted some poems anyway, as long as I was going to be there.  

For me, Elko was like a cowboy Disneyland. To learn that there were so many isolated ranchers and cowboys, like myself, connecting through poetry and music made my head spin. In those days of predominantly traditional, oral recitations, there were only a half-dozen books on sale at Elko, (three of which were Wally McRae’s). So in 1990, I began publishing the Dry Crik Review hoping to encourage not only original written expression, but poems that embraced contemporary ranch issues.  After living eight years in Southern California, I was well-aware of the urban misconceptions of our rural lifestyle. Eclectic for the times, the first issue of Dry Crik Review also included two fresh Vietnam War poems by Rod McQueary and Bill Jones, the beginnings of a cathartic collection from both men that later evolved into Blood Trails, published by Dry Crik Press in 1993. In 1994, I edited the anthology, Maverick Western Verse, for Gibbs Smith Publishers. But due to added responsibilities at home in the years prior to my father’s death in 1997, the quarterly sputtered—the last, "Lost Issue" was electronically published in 2005 within the weblog that I share with my wife Robbin, Dry Crik Journal, Perspectives from the Ranch

                                                                                                                                               continued below...

                            


 

Selected Poems

 

Home

Morning Pause

John Cutler's Cowboys

Bull Pen

Near Mote, Nevada  separate page

 

Home

Long-haired horses watch the house
exhale smoke that spills off eaves—
taste oak and manzanita, listening
for the screen door’s slap awake.

Gentle nickers with each step closer,
they fidget and angle for the first flake
of alfalfa to shatter in their feeder,
while the bay horse waits with hoof at rest

on the bottom rung of his own gate.
At twenty-six, he knows my walk
has slowed, no less impatient
than I made him. Looking back

from the barn, the house breathes.
Through its eyes I can see you moving—
feel all the years compressed into one
sure moment of belonging here.

© 2008, John Dofflemyer, All rights reserved, Poems from Dry Creek
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.
 

View "Home" here on John Dofflemyer's Dry Crik Journal, Perspectives from the Ranch blog, where it is accompanied by Robbin Dofflemyer's photos. That blog is an archive; the most recent blog entries are found here.

.

 


 

Morning Pause

At the speed of light
the seasons change
wet to hot and
dry to cold again

that through young eyes
seemed like lifetimes, when
each minute hung-on
the black hand of the clock.

Horses bend to morning hay,
red heifers graze the fence
along the lawn, the sun's
white blaze beyond the ridge

arrives later each day.
Nothing stays the same, yet
damn little's changed
except my perspective.

© 2008, John Dofflemyer, All rights reserved, Poems from Dry Creek
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

 


 

John Cutler's Cowboys

We at last struck a trail that has recently been cut for the
purpose of bringing in cattle. It is at an altitude of 7,800
feet. Here is a succession of grassy meadows—one called Big
Meadow is several miles in extent.
                                      —William H. Brewer, 18 June 1864

I know the place
my grandfather's grandfather found
to escape the drought, heard the voices

of his vaqueros when I got turned around
in the tight pines near Ellis Meadow—easy
to lose yourself and time altogether—feel

them close to the black rings of stone.
Up from Eshom where the Yokuts held
their last Ghost Dance that upset the settlers

in Visalia and over Redwood Saddle
to graze Rowell and Sugarloaf bunchgrass.
After nearly a hundred summers,

the cows knew the way.
It's much the same once off the trail:
pine needle carpets and granite cut

by snowmelt creeks and green stringer
meadow, wind and river talking loud
enough to hear damn-near anything.

© 2008, John Dofflemyer, All rights reserved, Poems from Dry Creek
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

 


 

Bull Pen

Torsos thick as trucks rise from a huge,
silted tangle of roots, colossal limbs
embrace the other’s empty space,
side by side, like old friends—twin

Valley Oaks entwined in one thatched
canopy for centuries where eagles
choose to roost above corrals,
where lumbering bulls claim shade

and the remnants of natives come
for a feather—and where boy and father
learned how anger works.
After fifty years, voices soften,

the horse dance sort of cattle slows
as eagles idly share a myth of men—
recalling swallowed tears and a boy’s
sweet solace found in booming mantras

of profanity, iambic ire and the mountains
of alliterative discord that finally drove
the old bull off. They come less often now
that one lets go its grasp, sheds hollow

limbs of marrow tunneled by decades of ants.
Great white heads cocked, they still stay
for the entertainment—looking down their
hooked yellow beaks at the show below.

© 2008, John Dofflemyer, All rights reserved, Poems from Dry Creek
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

 

 


About John Dofflemyer  continued from above
 


photo by Robbin Dofflemyer

In the beginning, my poetry focused on the solid touchstones and familiar landscapes of home during the turbulent 60s, as I clung to the ranch and its practical lifestyle. Early on, the ranch and I were one, despite the conflicts and legal battles over and upon this piece of ground at the confluence of Dry Creek and the Kaweah River.

After the historic flood in 1955, I remember loud and heated conversations between my father and grandfather as they discussed the condemnation action by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to build a dam across the Kaweah River that took some of our best grazing ground for the earthen core of the dam as well as the riparian along the river required for the dam and subsequent lake. Dad and Granddad persevered however, to have some of that original take revested back to the family. Nevertheless, many cultural treasures, deemed insignificant in those days, were lost. 

By the mid-70s, the family was engaged in a bitter partition action that not only divided the ranch but the family as well.  The better part of the 70s was spent with litigation and acrimony, and after all the appeals were heard our family fight had set precedent for Partition Law in the State of California. But no one wins in a partition action—only the attorneys benefit. Comprised of countless proceedings and legal harassments, I don’t believe my father ever forgot or forgave the loss of family and grazing ground.


photo by Robbin Dofflemyer

Once divided, a creekside parcel of the ranch was sold for in-stream mining in 1990, at which time my thirteen-year battle with a rock and gravel operation began. Not only did the operation destroy Dry Creek road, the canyon’s peace and tranquility, but it changed the course of Dry Creek through the ranch, up and downstream of the operation. The original permit also allowed the removal of a portion of one of the largest Sycamore Alluvial Woodlands (SAW) in the world, clearing 142 sycamore trees, some three to four hundred years old.  Within the framework of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), I spent many nights petitioning State and local monitoring agencies, as well as environmental organizations, as I sought help. Though my legal appeals were ultimately denied at the Fifth District Court, ours was the first CEQA litigation in Tulare County since the State law was enacted in 1971. Seemingly futile at the time, the united opposition of our Dry Creek community has since empowered and awakened local people and agencies to their rights and responsibilities. In 2003, the mining operation went bankrupt. I lobbied successfully to have the 150-acre property donated to the Sequoia Riverlands Trust for reclamation.

After my father’s death, I managed to consolidate my mother’s interests into some additional grazing ground contiguous to the ranch, essentially repairing much of the economic damage resulting from the partition action years before. Robbin and I, tired of fighting, thought we needed some practical assistance and expertise so that we could concentrate on raising cattle. Concurrent with the last gasp of the rock and gravel operation on Dry Creek, we explored a conservation easement for the next three years—my hope for an outside partner to participate in our defense against certain and continued litigation, for the timely protection of this piece of ground over which so many legal battles had already been fought.  But ironically, agreeing to a conservation easement proved unworkable.

Fortunately, I have been blessed with partners to share the ranch with, especially my wife Robbin, in addition to good friends and neighbors, cowmen and horsemen, real characters shaped by this unforgiving landscape—good men and women who have instilled the value of humor and observation that has shaped me. 

My writing now has evolved into a pleasant habit that helps me sort and incorporate all the odd and wonderful realities of this uncertain way of life. It continues to be an exciting "search and listen" for fresh words grounded in this place, a satisfying exercise that might even be artful or applicable beyond this ranch, this lifestyle and this fleeting moment in time. 


photo by Robbin Dofflemyer

 


Books and Publications

See John and Robbin Dofflemyer's blog here for other publications available from Dry Crik Press.
 

 

Winner of the Western Heritage Wrangler Award
from the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum

  From Jeri Dobrowski's May, 2012 Cowboy Jam Session:

Fifth-generation California rancher John Dofflemyer recites “Our Time” on the seventh BAR-D Roundup. The piece appears in Proclaiming Space, his thirteenth collection of poetry, published in 2012. Dofflemyer began writing poetry in high school, attended the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko, Nev., for the first time in 1989, and was awarded a Wrangler from the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City for Poems from Dry Creek in 2009.

Dofflemyer carries on a family tradition:  harvesting grass from the Sierra Nevada foothills with cattle. His poetry captures contemporary ranch issues, some mundane, some milestones. Since 2005, he and his wife, Robbin, have maintained Dry Crik Journal: Perspectives from the Ranch, a blog that features poetry, prose, and photography (drycrikjournal.wordpress.com). John says his writing “has evolved into a pleasant habit that helps me sort and incorporate all the odd and wonderful realities of this uncertain way of life.”

While the flora and fauna in John and Robbin’s world are often foreign to my Montana eyes and ears, I am nonetheless appreciative of this glimpse into their world. I’ve a new appreciation for John’s free verse poetry, his inherent connection to land, his keen eye, and willingness to share his innermost thoughts.

Contained within Proclaiming Space, “Docs No Sox 1666851” is a tribute to a beloved equine partner, buried beneath a lone oak tree. “Waiting for Daylight” recounts an anxious night before the all-important branding day. “Sideshow” is timely in its hope that political candidates are genuinely interested in the duties of the office.        

Proclaiming Space sells for $15 (cash or check) from John Dofflemyer, Dry Crik Press, PO Box 44320, Lemon Cove, CA  93244-0320.           


One of today's most masterful Western poets, fifth-generation California rancher John Dofflemyer's 2010 chapbook, Uneven Green, presents bold and organic observations and revelations. It is exceptional in the force of its vision and the contrast of the humility of its expression. The work of life, its pain and blessings, finds a steadfast place within the book's covers.

There's life's ripeness throughout the selections, which gives way to natural reflections on the past. "Finding Home," which begins "Packed mules all summer of '66..." exemplifies the rare beauty and force of his writing, "my ears were eyes. Sometimes/you could hear the beasts inhale/before the ropes got tight, before/the story you hoped to tell exploded..." "To Hell in a Handbasket," politically charged—or is it?offers some philosophy for our times: "The rock doesn't care any more, rivers/laugh off mountains, but the deserts/remember every word in our heads/....just/to find a way to keep the wagon moving without the weight of hate."

He writes of grief, including some elegies from a small, privately printed tribute to his mother. The emotion of those poems is never for grief's sake. They are without sentimentality, told for what can be wrung from the experience of it, often going back to that effort of finding the way forward, again, the work of life.

John Dofflemyer is planted deeply in the soil where his family settled soon after the Gold Rush. His work grows from the dirt and sweat of that land. It often gives the promise of what men, women, and life can be; what nature offers for that quest; and always, his words show how poetry can illuminate the way.

John Dofflemyer's recent book, Poems from Dry Creek, was awarded the prestigious Western Heritage Wrangler Award from the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in 2008. The book included some poems that have been published in his engaging blog, Dry Crik Journal, Perspectives from the Ranch.  

John Dofflemyer is the editor and publisher of the Dry Crik Review of Contemporary Cowboy Poetry, published in print editions from 1991-1994. The respected, innovative publication, "Dedicated to the well-crafted and artful insights of a disappearing breed of men and women," sparked some controversy by publishing free verse along with traditional rhyming forms. See our feature about Dry Crik Review here. See www.drycrikreview.com for a 2010 web edition that maintains the original maverick vision and high standards of the print publication.

Uneven Green is available for $10 postpaid from from John Dofflemyer, P.O. Box 44320, Lemon Cove, CA 93244.


  Rancher, editor, publisher and poet John Dofflemyer's 2009 Dry Crik Journal includes 30 poems in a limited-edition (150 copies) chapbook. The poems appeared throughout the year at at John and Robbin Dofflemyer's blog sponsored by the Western Folklife Center.

Of the third generation to ranch in Central California at the confluence of Dry Creek and the Kaweah River, John Dofflemyer's dedication recognizes "our Dry Creek community, both wild and domestic." He comments here, along with the introduction of the new chapbook, that "2009 has been a wonderful year for Robbin and me, blessed to pursue this lifestyle in a place a little more removed from the media hysterics and the impacts of Wall Street. Ours has been an every day affair invested trying to stay here, trying new things while trying to stay out of the line of fire..."

Most of the incisive and deeply thoughtful poems reflect that life, with the "outside" sometimes making an appearance. The work and world of ranching dominates, with side trails to observations as diverse as wrens, Cerberus, mortality, and to other worthwhile diversions. A few poems recognize the importance of other writers and the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering in the poet's life, including a steamy piece, "Stockman's," dedicated to the outstanding harp player of Cowboy Celtic, Kerri Lynn Zwicker.

"Branding Belle Point" stands out as a certain heart of the work, "There is so much we cannot say with words....No time to ponder more than who we are—/or what we've done for generations, now/the why of it worth reverence one more time." Fortunately, other times throughout the year did give time for contemplation, and this book delivers far more than a year's worth of wisdom, inspiration, and ideas for the reader's own pondering.

John Dofflemyer's previous book, Poems from Dry Creek, received the 2008 Western Heritage Wrangler Award
from the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum.


2009 Dry Crik Journal is available for $12 postpaid from Dry Crik Press, P.O. Box 44320, Lemon Cove, CA 93244.


Winner of the Western Heritage Wrangler Award
from the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum

The poems in John Dofflemyer's tenth collection, Poems from Dry Creek (2008), are deeply rooted in place, a place where his family has ranched since soon after the California gold rush. He writes in the book's notes:

After forty years of harvesting grass with cattle, what I know most of all are the things I have learned within this watershed, watching for weather harbingers and observing and inspecting intertwined relationships that beg to be personified.

Poet Gary Snyder (recent recipient of the Poetry Foundation's Ruth Lilly Poetry Price) comments on Poems From Dry Creek, "...a diverse set of poems really, political, personal, historical, in the moment. Reminding me again it's not that there need be a 'cowboy' poetry but, as we move toward it, a poetry of work and daily life and the land..."

The book includes new and selected poems, including some published in John Dofflemyer's engaging blog, Dry Crik Journal, Perspectives from the Ranch, hosted on the Western Folkife Center web site. In that blog, regular posts follow his work and daily life and include poetry, commentary, and observations. Robbin Dofflemyer's photography is found throughout.

Poems from Dry Creek is available for $17 postpaid from John Dofflemyer, P.O. Box 44320, Lemon Cove, CA 93244.


 

Earlier collections:

 

April Bullfrogs, 2007
Still in the Mountains, 2004
Shrewd Angles & Other Undertones, 1999
Cattails & Other Poems, 1993
Hung Out to Dry, 1992
Black Mercedes, 1991 
Muses of the Ranges, 1991 
Sensin' Somthin', 1989
Dry Creek Rhymes, 1989

Find information about ordering and availability here in John Dofflemyer's Dry Crik Journal blog

 


 


John Dofflemyer's Dry Crik Press has published books by Laurie Wagner Buyer, Rod McQueary, Paul Zarzyski, and others, and published the respected journal, Dry Crik Review of Contemporary Cowboy Poetry. A publication for serious writers and readers, Dry Crik Review was published from 1991-1994. 

See our feature about Dry Crik Review of Contemporary Cowboy Poetry here, which includes an index of all issues. A "lost" issue is published on the Dry Crik Journal blog.


 

John Dofflemyer's work appears in a number of anthologies, including:
 

Click to view at Amazon.com  New Cowboy Poetry: A Contemporary Gathering, edited by Hal Cannon

"Blackrock Pass" 
"Drought of Seventy-seven" 
"'Til I Depart" 

Click to view at Amazon.com  Between Earth and Sky; Poets of the Cowboy West, edited by Anne Heath Widmark

"Chagoopa Plateau" 
"The Sierra's Spine" 
"Upstream" 
"When the Redbuds Come" 

  Cowboy Poetry Matters: From Abilene to the Mainstream: Contemporary Cowboy Writing, edited by Robert McDowell

"The Aliens"
"One, April"
"To Have a Man"
"Twenty-sixth Winter"

cpreunionbk.jpg (25377 bytes)  Cowboy Poetry: The Reunion, edited by Virginia Bennett

"One Moment, Please!" 
 

John Dofflemyer recites "From Town" by Charles Badger Clark on Cowboy Poetry Classics, compiled, produced, and annotated by David Stanley
 


 


Contacting John Dofflemyer

 


photo by Kevin Martini-Fuller

 

John Dofflemyer
Dry Crik Press
P.O. Box 44320
Lemon Cove, CA 93244-0320

email


Dry Crik Journal includes entries about the John and Robbin Dofflemyers' California ranch life in their prose, poetry, and striking photography.

From 1991-1994, John Dofflemyer edited and printed Dry Crik Review of Contemporary Cowboy Poetry, an innovative periodical. See our feature here. Dry Crik Review resumed publishing on the internet in 2010 at drycrikreview.com, where it showcases the work of writers, poets, musicians, and photographers and includes reviews of recent books and recordings.

 

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