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14th Annual National Cowboy Poetry Rodeo, Kanab, Utah, August


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September, 2011
14th Annual National Cowboy Poetry Rodeo  Kanab, Utah

  story and photos where noted by Susan Parker
photo of Susan Parker by Jeri Dobrowski

(information about the tribute to Colen Sweeten from

additional photos by Stella and Jim Cathey

additional photos by Jeri Dobrowski; see her gallery of western performers and others here.
photo of Jeri Dobrowski by Jen Dobrowski

See our feature on the National Cowboy Poetry Rodeo here


14th Annual National Cowboy Poetry Rodeo, Kanab, Utah

by Susan Parker

Surrounded by cliffs that appear to have been hand-brushed from a painter’s palate in shades of blood-orange red, gun-metal gray and sandy beige, Kanab, Utah was once again the home of the National Cowboy Poetry Rodeo. In its 14th year, the Rodeo partnered with the Western Legends Roundup in this bustling tourist destination.

Decked out in cowboy hats, boots and kerchiefs, Italians, Germans, and other Europeans on vacation strolled the streets alongside American tourists and locals. Riding horseback in their minds, all were ready to re-live the days of the Old West, completed by the presence of actors from western movies, including Clint Walker, James Drury, Ed Faulkner and even Paul Petersen. Yep! Petersen had a few western roles after his “Donna Reed” days. Echoes of sharp-shooter’s pistols cracked the still summer air as re-enactors added flavor throughout the weekend. The fragrance of beef on the bar-b-que and garlic bread wafted in the air.

photo by Stella Cathey
Sam Jackson, National Cowboy Poetry Rodeo originator and producer

Thursday afternoon Rod Miller kicked off the Rodeo with his workshop on the principles of good recitation titled, “Get Up On Your Hind Legs and Howl.” With a title like that how could you not attend? Just the visual of the quiet and somewhat shy Rod Miller howling on hind legs brings a chuckle to my gut.

I’ve been to many workshops on writing poetry but don’t recall one exclusively on recitation. Whatever I’ve learned about reciting has come from carefully observing the pros such as Joel Nelson, Randy Rieman, Virginia Bennett, and Jerry Brooks. And I learned from American Idol to “Always bring your A-game.” So I was eager for something in print, to have someone knowledgeable share with me his tips on becoming the best reciter possible.

photo by Stella Cathey
Rod Miller

First and foremost, to be a good reciter, according to Rod, you need to do one thing: practice; practice; practice. You need to etch the poem into your brain cells until it becomes second nature. But even then, sometimes you will blank out and forget a word or perhaps the entire poem. Everyone does at one time or another. (Trust me: that is true!)

The sounds of the words are paramount. It is what separates a poem from prose, what gives it the “music.” You need to know the definition as well as the sentiment of the words. Learn the purpose of the poem (they all have one), and understand the story in the poem as well as the “back story.”

Know how the words are correctly pronounced, especially “regional words.” For example, in some areas of Texas it is “chaps” with a hard ch, whereas in other parts it is “chaps” with a soft ch.

Use a Western dictionary such as Blevins Old West Dictionary that gives the meanings as well as the derivations of the words. In your search you might learn a new word.

As to performing, find your own style. You can’t be another Nelson, Rieman, Bennett, Brooks, Zarzyski…well, you get the picture. The audience wants to get to know you.

If you are reciting another person’s work, always get permission from the poet if he/she is still alive. If the poet has passed on, it would be nice to get it from the family or heirs. Definitely give the poet credit on stage. If it was someone reciting your work you would certainly want the audience to know you wrote it. (Recording or reprinting another person’s work has its own set of rules relating to copyrights. There are numerous articles at that address this issue, but basically you need to get permission from whoever owns the copyrights.)

When reciting, vary the pace and cadence based on emotional content or action in the poem, not randomly. Also, use dialects and accents sparingly, making sure the meaning is clear to the audience.

Don’t emphasize rhyme and meter; let them reveal themselves. Otherwise it sounds sing-songy and monotonous.

Meet the expectations of the audience when it comes to material, avoiding getting into a rut. Mix favorites with new material.
To wrap it up Rod says, “If you want to be a reciter, be willing to devote the time and effort it takes to do it well. Otherwise, join me in the audience.”

These are just a few of Rod’s "tips” that he revealed. Perhaps you’ll be able to catch his entire workshop on this subject at another time. [Ed. note: Find Rod Miller's essay based on the workshop presentation here.]

photo by Jeri L. Dobrowski
Colen Sweeten

The 14th annual National Cowboy Poetry Rodeo was dedicated to the memory of beloved Utah poet, Colen Sweeten, Jr. (1917-2007), who had a long involvement in the event. There was a commemorative display and tributes were made on Thursday evening. Among those tributes were: a recitation of his poem, "The Flying Cowboy," by his son, Colen Sweeten III (affectionately known as "Semi-Colen"; Almeda Bradshaw's musical version of "Daddy's Bells"; and Jerry Brooks' recitation of his poem, "Meadowlark's Song":


Meadowlark's Song

Sometimes I look out at the waving grass
Spread far as the eye can see,
This beautiful world we live in
Must be part of eternity.

Then I scan the distant horizon
And look up at the hawk on the wing
And everything comes together for me
When I hear the meadowlark sing.

Suddenly bluebells are up to knees,
The buttercups cover the sod,
Perfumes that please on the gentle breeze
And in the distance the sunflowers nod.

I hear sandhill cranes high above in the sky
As they migrate North in the spring,
My youth passes by in the blink of an eye
When I hear the meadowlark sing.

And now I have told you my secret,
You know why I stand here so long;
To you it may seem just an old man's dream
If you don't hear the meadowlark's song,

So I'll gladly share all the magic
If you want to give it a fling,
Come along with me for memories are free
When I hear the meadowlark's song.

Old memories are still clear as crystal
And who knows what tomorrow may bring,
All those places I've been, are here once again
When I hear the meadowlark sing.

© 1996, Colen Sweeten, from Hoofprints and Heartbeats
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without written permission.

A friend and a favorite to all who knew him, Colen Sweeten died August 15, 2007. He had an enormous repertoire of poems, stories, wisdom, and humor. He always had a kind and cheerful word for all, and as he often said, so many friends that he "wasn't even using them all."

Find some of Colen Sweeten's poetry in a feature here and find tributes here.


photo by Stella Cathey
Colen Sweeten III and Kanab Mayor Nina Laycook

photo by Stella Cathey
Jim Cathey, Jeri Dobrowski, Rick Pitt, Verlin Pitt, and Keith Ward

Friday’s morning sun was just creeping over the treetops and peeking into the hayloft of the barn-turned-theater when the Rodeo Riders got a chance to put all they’d learned to work. In both the Poet and Reciter categories I was thrilled to see my friends Susie Knight, Almeda Bradshaw, and Keith Ward had come to ride.

photo by Susan Parker
Bj Smith

It was just as thrilling to listen to poets and reciters I’ve never heard before such as Dick Warwick, Marleen Bussma, Bj Smith, Hal Hamblin, Jim Cathey, Donna Hatton, Paul Bliss and JV Brummels, to name a few.

photo by Susan Parker
Jim Cathey

There were a great number of entries in each of the categories. Per the rules, the top half scorers in each category make the cut to present their work to the audience on Saturday. It was hot and humid in the barn but all riders hunkered down, set their grip, and rode hard ‘til the end.

photo by Jeri L. Dobrowski; copies of this photo and others are available here.
Participants and officials
Among the participants, f
rom 12 states and 3 countries, were Duke Aiken, Paul Bliss, Almeda Terry Bradshaw J.V. Brummels, Marlene Bussma, Jim Cathey, Jan Corey, J.B. Gans, Del Gustafson, Hal Hamblin, Donna Hatton, Tom Hatton, Dennis Hunter, Tim Jenne, Mark Kerr, Susie Knight, Terry Nash, David Nordquist, Laurali Noteman, Verlin Pitt, Francine Roark Robison, Orvil Sears, B.J. Smith, Keith Ward, Dick Warwick, Loren Wendt, and C.R. Wood.

Also incuded: National Cowboy Poetry Rodeo producer Sam Jackson and judges Darrell Arnold, Rod Miller, Ed Nesselhuf, and Ed Meyers (not pictured,  Jeri Dobrowski).


photo by Susan Parker
2011 Winners
Dick Warwick, B.J. Smith, Orvil Sears, Keith Ward
C.R. Wood, Paul Bliss

The competition was tough, tough, tough. I heard poetry that could stand up to the best of the best. Those lucky enough to take home a buckle were Poet/Serious, Paul Bliss; Poet/Humorous, Dick Warwick; Reciter/Serious, Dick Warwick; and Reciter/Humorous, Orvil Sears. Winners of trophies in the Silver Buckle division (previous winners and those who chose to compete with them) were: Poet/Serious, Dick Warwick; Poet/Humorous, Bj Smith; Reciter/Serious, C.R. Wood; and Reciter/Humorous, Keith Ward.

photo by