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What are your opinions?

Is cowboy poetry only rhymed, metered verse?  

Must poets be cowboys or ranchers?  

Should it be written only for recitation?

Has cowboy poetry lost its way or is it evolving?  

These questions often spark controversy, and we're interested in what everyone has to say.

We welcome your short submissions on these subjects.  We hope for serious, considered submissions that further the debate.  We welcome documented quotations, your opinions and responses to posted opinions.

 Just email us

We'll post some of those submissions here at CowboyPoetry.com.

 

 

Below:

Some published commentary and readers' submissions

 

Utah writer and poet Rod Miller offers an excellent introduction to cowboy poetry in "A Brief Introduction to Cowboy Poetry, or, Who's the Guy in the Big Hat and What is He Talking About?," an essay that first appeared here in 2009  in the poetry journal  RATTLE.

Two other recommended articles about cowboy poetry appear in the program of the Western Folklife Center's 25th National Cowboy Poetry Gathering (2009), and are available on the Western Folklife Center's web site: "Cowboy Citizen Poet," by Kim Stafford, the founding director of the Northwest Writing Institute at Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Oregon, and "Cowboy Poetry in 2009," by Hal Cannon, Founding Director of the Western Folklife Center.

People unfamiliar with Cowboy Poetry wrestle with entirely different issues. In 2001, Professor Tom Mayo, columnist for the Dallas Morning News shared his views. Read his article, "Learning the Pleasant Truth About Cowboy Poetry," here.

The Western Folklife Center has an excellent article about the history of cowboy poetry here.

 

  Read some of our supporters' comments here,  
visit the
Wall of Support, and join in and be a part of it all!


Following are a few starting places that are characteristic of the wide range of opinions expressed in print and on the web, in a somewhat chronological order:

Cowboy poetry is rhymed, metered verse written by someone who has lived a significant portion of his or her life in Western North American cattle culture. The verse reflects an intimate knowledge of that way of life, and the community from which it maintains itself in tradition. Cowboy poetry may or may not in fact be anonymous in authorship but must have qualities, content, and style that permit it to be accepted into the repertoire of the cultural community as reflecting that community's aesthetics in style, form, and content. The structural style of cowboy poetry has its antecedents in the ballad style of England and the Appalachian South. It is similar to popular works of authors such as Robert W. Service and Rudyard Kipling."

"All cowboy poets live in the rural West.  At the center of the tradition are the men who spend the majority of their time horseback, keeping track of grazing cattle and moving them to market. Many of today's poets are ranch housewives, ranch owners, auctioneers, rodeo cowboys, dude wranglers, and people that hold down eight-hour workaday jobs but raise cattle on the side."

"Despite the proliferation of printed cowboy poetry, it is still essentially a spoken art form. It is continuous with other preliterate traditions stretching back to the ballad singer as oral historian and conveyer of news.  The poetic form of cowboy verse has traditionally been basic--regular meter and simple rhyme scheme, a structure that facilitates memorization and gives a formal aspect to recitation without getting in the way of the story line." 

He notes that the poetry in the anthology is "well within the traditional bounds" and that a minority of the poems "are adept presentations using less-structured verse, irregular rhymes, and broken meter; these free verse poems are included because they also tell good stories."

"Cowboy Poetry has over the years expanded rapidly in its use of available poetic forms, subject matter, and technique, moving outward from its balladic center to other fixed forms and, increasingly, to free verse.  And although the most-admired poets of the pre-World War II era, Bruce Kiskaddon and Curley Fletcher, were experienced riders and stock handlers, ranching people have also embraced verse by non-cowboys—James Barton Adams, Lawrence Chittenden, Charles Badger Clark, E. A. Brininstool, and Henry Herbert Knibbs—whose acquaintance with livestock and cattle management was mostly secondhand."

Cowboy poetry is a tradition of working ranch people writing, reciting, publishing, and performing poetry that illuminates the occupational life of herding cattle on horseback. It is most prevalently written in traditional forms—rhyme and meter—with structure inherited from the ballad tradition of Great Britain. However, some of the finest of this contemporary poetry breaks all the rules of the tradition. Cowboys are generally critical of the inauthentic and put a high value on poetic craftsmanship, though the values for appraising the poetry are quite different from modern, academically-based poetics.

 


There are essays posted here at CowboyPoetry.com that address rhyme and meter, performance, and more:

  • Poet, humorist, and popular emcee Andy Nelson shares some useful insights about "going overtime" in performances, in Get Off!.  

  • Sam Jackson's article, "Writing Cowboy Poetry," suggests it is easier to say what cowboy poetry is not, and that the term itself is the root of some confusion.  The article has guidelines for writing rhymed poetry.

  • Spurrin' the Words, a Cowboy Poetry Project from the Montana 4-H Center for Youth Development by Kirk Astroth, includes history, addresses rhyme and meter, and more. An excerpt, "Learning About Rhythm," is in a  feature here..

There are some responses to some of these pieces in The Dialogue.

Your considered comments on "What is Cowboy Poetry?" and other essays about writing, reciting, and performing cowboy poetry are welcome.  Email us.

 


In an article about Buck Ramsey, Andy Wilkinson includes these comments from a conversation with Ramsey:

We'd come to Wallace Stevens on a winding trail, one started with my having asked Buck to distinguish cowboy poetry from other kinds. Since poetry is itself not easily given to definition, it wasn't a simple request.  Neither was it an idle request, nor an academic one; as the cowboy poetry movement has grown, so too has the debate over what poetry and which poets belong to the cowboy tribe, and the increasing popularity of cowboy poetry gatherings has further narrowed the debate to the somewhat more practical question of what and which should be cut from a herd already beginning to show signs of overgrazing the available pasture.  And, though it seems out of the cowboy character, deciding who's in and who's out has generated not an inconsiderable amount of acrimony. 

Buck hunched-up on his elbows and leaned forward in the wheelchair, his face now lit by the high-tech glow of the illuminated instruments on the van's dashboard, making his thoughtful expression otherworldly and theatric.  A few miles clicked by before he began to talk. 

"The subject matter of cowboy poetry should, of course, be taken from the cowboy life, and should be treated with an insider's perspective, using lingo that proves that the writer is part of that life. And it should have meter and rhyme."  He went on, "There's no place in traditional cowboy poetry for free verse or blank verse, because it has to be quickly picked up by the ear, and it shouldn't smell of experiment."

I objected.  Can't a cowboy write in blank verse, or free verse?  "Oh, well, yes," he said, "and it might be cowboy poetry, but it wouldn't be traditional cowboy poetry.  You see, it's like cattle; there's pedigreed or pure stock, and there's hybrid stock, and there's a place, and even a use, for both kinds.  We just need to distinguish between the two when we organize cowboy poetry gatherings."

Why is the distinction necessary, I asked?  There was no hesitation before he replied, quietly, "There is a tradition that has to be protected from people like me."  In the rear-view mirror, I caught an evanescent smile.  "The cowboy way has been lost for the last couple of generations, and we're just now rediscovering it through traditional cowboy poetry and songs.  We're finding our voice again, and the traditional forms give us an opportunity for reidentifying with the cowboy calling."  Then why, I persisted, is he willing to use blank verse, or free verse, or experiment with archaic verse structures and rhythms in his own poetry? "Because," the smile was no longer faint, "the strength of the line is in the hybrid stock."

Read the entire article here.


Slim McNaught shared his view, which accompanied his poem, This Cowboy Thing:

He wrote: Jim Thompson  of CBSI radio in Spearfish, South Dakota, was the inspiration for this poem. He asked what made poetry a cowboy poem (not his exact wording). My opinion is: if you've had frozen spots on your face from winter chores horseback, rope burns and broken bones, rode up on a ridge and watched a bitch coyote teach her pups to hunt, sat your horse on a ridge at sunrise and watch God's great creation come to life, ate dust trailing cows from summer to winter pasture, fought prairie fires and drought while trying to keep a herd producing, sweat the birthin' of your favorite mare and then lost the colt, calved out sometimes in cold
and soakin' rain and always wonder at the miracle, (to name a few experiences) then you can write cowboy poetry. 

If not, then you can write poetry about cowboys. There are excellent poets in both categories, and one should not be rated above the other, but that is my idea of what makes the difference. Therefore the poem.  


Jeff Streeby shared the definitions of  "Cowboy" and "Western" used by the Charley Russell Western Heritage Association: 

Categories explained

Works identified as "Cowboy" material:

These must, in some form or manner, celebrate the features of the Western lifestyle and the horse or cattle ranch culture including, but not limited to, the following:

  • the work and the people who perform it,

  • its hazards,

  • its values,

  • its traditional practices,

  • features of the landscape wherein that lifestyle exists

  • the development and history of that lifestyle in the trans-Mississippi West
    from the date of the Texas Revolution.

These criteria do not exclude exploration of the rich cultural exchange of traditions between the Mexican ranching culture and its history, the Canadian ranching culture and its history, nor comparisons between American, Mexican, Canadian, and other ranching cultures which employ similar practices and skills, historic or contemporary rodeo culture, nor the horse and cattle ranching culture as it is practiced in Eastern States.

Works identified as "Western" material:

The above listed criteria are intended to specifically exclude subject matter which primarily concerns loggers, miners, fur trappers and traders, early explorers, row-crop farmers, railroad workers, hide-hunters, and Civil War-era military operations earned out by either the Union or Confederate regular armies as they directly relate to the conflict between the States. These criteria exclude subject matter which concerns Civil War-era activities carried out by irregulars in the trans-Mississippi West. These criteria exclude subject matter which primarily concerns Native American traditions, values, practices, and military-style operations in the trans-Mississippi West from date of first European contact onward. These criteria exclude subject matter which concerns the Texas Revolution and trans-Mississippi migration. All these subject matters will be identified as "Western."


Poet Bob Schild commented in the preface to his book, Pure Bull -- Well Organized:

Being myself creatively, socially, and emotionally involved, as a contributing Cowboy Poet, has afforded me the opportunity to overhear and partake of the usually friendly debates on the basic whys and wherefores of Cowboy Poetry -- What constitutes a cowboy and who has a license to authoritatively represent the breed?

There are, in my opinion, no justifying requirements, no limits, no rules. Cowboy poetry of today seldom bears the scent of chuck wagon grub or the dust of a trail herd plodding from Brownsville, Texas to Browning, Montana, nor does it describe the weary thud, thud of horses' hooves on prairie sod at the close of a day's or week's long journey -- guided only by stars, mountain ranges, or river drainages.  We, for the most part, are observers whose deepest roots may scarce touch upon a now faded past.

Read the entire preface here.


Poet Carl Condray writes:

What is Cowboy Poetry?

I appreciate you calling this question as it has followed poetry sessions for as long as there has been Cowboy verse.  What is cowboy poetry?  I look forward to hearing from the masters and sages of this art.  I don't believe that it is as rigid as some think.  It is history painted through verse and sound.  It should be delivered or recited and not just read. It is visual and active.  It has evolved as an art form through the contributions of many as did the art of cow wrangling that it emulates.

Some poets follow the school of regular meter and rhyme and I feel this has a place however I tend to prefer a break from the routine, as the theme of the poem may require, to add interest or emphasis to the message. Some people rope with nylon, some sisal and some rawhide.  This too was an evolution brought out by the different styles of the wranglers just as Cowboy Poetry is an evolution of the many poets' styles.

I equate the rhyme and meter of my poems with the hoof beats of my horse as we ride along.  Sometime the traveling is smooth and familiar and the hoof beat is steady.  Often times we find ourselves in new ground and the going is a little more deliberate and irregular.  Sometimes we find ourselves a bit more daring and lay our ears back and haul it in.  I feel that this compares to the use of meter and rhyme.  Each style has its place and can be used to add interest to the verse or make the reader "hang on for his life."

Whether you prefer the "Old School" or tend to branch out on your own just remember to keep wordin'.  Tell the tales, pass it along.  If things can't bend, they break and this is why things evolve.  What is Cowboy Poetry?  It is the history of life, evolving!



Ray Lashley shared his article, "Preserving Cowboy Poetry": 

One of the major goals, as I understood it back in '85 when Hal [Cannon], Jim [Griffith]  and their able crew kicked off the first Gathering in Elko, it was to PRESERVE cowboy poetry.  Seems to me and to most of those I've talked to about it, that we're losing sight of that goal.  More and more I'm hearing poems on themes only remotely or not at all related to anything a cowboy might recognize.  Also, more and more of it is being presented in free/open verse form.  We could expect to find free/open verse in cow country about as often as we might find a cowpoke in an immaculate white hat, wearing two pearl-handled six-guns, with a guitar slung over his back, ear-markin', brandin' and cuttin' calves.

Perhaps one of the reasons we are seeing more and more stuff being offered by people marginally familiar with the "cowboy culture" is that there were a lot of aspiring writer/poets who saw the popularity of cowboy poetry as an opportunity to publish.  But they may have been impatient with the laborious discipline required to fit a meter scheme to a thought and maintain a smooth-flowing rhyme scheme.  So they researched "cowboy" and wrote "cowboy stuff" and read it at the gatherings.  By now some have become "experts" on the subject.  As such they are often called upon to head up cowboy poetry work-shops.  Since most have a preference for free/open verse, they have the effect of slanting cowboy poetry away from the traditional rhyme and meter that made it what it is and more toward contemporary forms, especially free/open verse.

As for free/open verse forms of poetry, it seems there are many who have a wrong impression of my attitude toward it.  I don't hate open verse, Lisa. I don't like bad (clumsy, contrived, stuffy, pretentious) free/open verse or any other writing.  I like what I see as good verse, free/open or rhymed and metered.  I like to read the language used effectively, efficiently, with power, humor, drama, pathos, or profundity in any form.  I just have trouble recognizing free verse as cowboy poetry.  Much of the free/open verse I see, especially that offered as cowboy poetry, is hard for me to recognize as poetry at all.  It seems fair to me that I should be able to recognize poetry by its own merit.  It should not be necessary to lave it "POETRY" by the shape that the words make on the page, absence or presence of punctuation and capitals, one word lines, its being in a book with the word POETRY on it, its being read at a POETRY gathering, or any other gimmick to alert the reader to its nature.

At many gatherings, while free verse is being read, I strain my ears 'til they cramp trying to hear something poetic in what's being offered.  A glance at the rest of the audience tells me I'm not alone.  But apparently no one wants to be seen as so un-learned, so insensitive, so county-crude as to not understand it.  So, like the people in the fable of "The Emperor's New Clothes," and being the nice folk they are, they applaud.

In his Rhyming Dictionary, Clement Wood avoids trying to give a concise definition of free verse by just saying it is NOT, i.e., "metric or accent verse or prose" and goes on to say, "Don't write prose, no matter how chopped into brief lines, and think it free verse."  He doesn't say how to tell the difference.

So it appears that free verse is whatever the writer says it is and we aren't expected to question it.

Trying to find a good, universal definition of "poetry" is about as confusing as trying to find one of free verse.  I think my favorite was the one I found in The American Heritage Dictionary, 3rd edition, of 1992.  It went, "Poetry -- the art and work of a poet."  Aha! Now we're getting at it.  We'll look up "Poet."  "Poet -- a writer of poems."

Clears it right up, don't it?

And so, since I couldn't find any clearer definition of poetry than that, I decided to just cut out "cowboy poetry" and see what I could do with that.  And I'll try using what I think of as a fair, general definition of "language."  Language, here, is a selection of orally generated sounds which have meaning by mutual agreement within a specific group.  So, to me, the term "cowboy poetry," by mutual agreement within the most specific group, cowboys, is that poetry most recognizable to cowboys is cowboy poetry.  And I'd bet a bottle of Bud that what they will recognize as cowboy poetry will be verse in rhyme and meter of, for, about, or by cowboys, and cowboy concerns.  This is something for cowboys to say.  Yuppies, regardless of how many books they've read on the subject, or how many degrees they may hold in literature or poetry appreciation, can't say it for them.

My concern here, and the concern of most with whom I've discussed it, is that this apparent growing trend to bastardize cowboy poetry into contemporary forms, especially free/open verse, will detract from the simple, honest appeal that made it the success we've seen.  If it becomes indistinguishable in form and content from contemporary stuff, I think the folks who flock to hear it now will become as bored with it as with other poetry, regardless of the boots and hats on the performers.

Before someone brings them up, I've already heard the yuppie type buzz-phrases such as "broadening our horizons" -- "freeing up our consciousness" -- "throwing off the fretters of convention," etc., etc., that are supposed to explain why we should accept this mutation.  It's meaningless drivel.  I think the discipline required to stay with it and write in good thyme and meter can only help our work.

I took the opportunity in Elko to discuss this subject with as many as possible and I found that most feel the way I do about it.  Some don't want to say anything, apparently for fear they'll not be asked to recite one place or another.  (Apparently, some feel this has already happened.)  Others just don want to "hurt anybody's feelings."  Of course there are other reasons also.  But it seems to me we should speak up on this subject now.  We'll sure not help anything by just ignoring what's happening or hurt anything by speaking.  I think all those involved here are better folks than that.

This article first appeared in Boots


Mary Margaret Dougherty Campbell of George West, Texas writes:

Why should poetry have to be rhymed, metered verse to be considered "cowboy poetry?"  And, why should it have to be written for recitation only?  And, why must it be written by cowboys or ranchers?  My opinion of each is, no--such limitations are not necessary.

Free verse has a rhythm and flow to it just like rhymed verse; only it's not obviously sing-songy.  A publisher once told me that he didn't even realize he was reading free verse until he finished the poem.  The rhythm and flow are just inherently there.

Cowboy poetry should be written by someone who knows first-hand about the cowboy/ranching way of life.  That person doesn't necessarily have to be a cowboy or a rancher.  Plenty of wives have written fine poetry.  My poetry is written from my memories growing up on a ranch; it's about what the kids do on ranches.  Does that mean my poetry does not count because of my perspective?

Some poetry does not lend itself neatly to recitation.  Sometimes poetry has to be consumed privately and contemplatively to be truly appreciated. Performance, in my opinion, should not be the absolute objective of cowboy poetry.


Jim Gough writes:

"... I feel one must have actually 'forked leather' and strung some wire to be called a REAL cowboy poet!  I'm always amazed at "Drug-Store" cowboys and "Wanta-bees."  There is certainly nothing wrong with them, but I never respected anyone in any profession who didn't or hadn't practiced his trade!  'Course I've been known to be opinionated.  Not everyone had the first hand knowledge of trailing cows like Judge Gough.  I can rhyme for a dime any time, but I sure ain't no 'cowboy poet' in the truest sense.  Authenticity has always been my game!"


Poet Gary Crum writes:

Cowboy poetry is not "a poem written by a real cowboy," as some claim.  What makes a poem into cowboy poetry is tied to the poem's subject matter rather than to its author-though men (and women) who have lived the cowboy life admittedly have a big advantage in writing such poetry.

Also, cowboy poetry is not only poetry written in simple rhyme schemes or in even meters, though such styles are common to most cowboy poems.  Cowboy poetry probably tends to use a simple literary structure because the Cowboy is the opposite of a professor of English literature.  Whether the Cowboy is from the old or the modern West, or from another country where cowboys roam, he is wise not from book-learning, but from keenly observing the real world and from sitting at the feet of his parents and other role models.  Poetry about him therefore seems almost to belie its subject matter if it adopts a modern free verse or other nontraditional format, though there are excellent cowboy poems that do use such formats.

... A good working definition of cowboy poetry might thus be any poetry that celebrates the unique lifestyle and character of the Cowboy.


Poet Thomas Vaughan "Melancholy" Jones writes from England:

What is cowboy poetry. This is very much open to argument. That doggone Free Verse gets everywhere. I prefer to think of it as a metered and rhythmic symphony which keeps alive the character of the cowboy as we know it. A blend of humour and pathos, courage and determination to do honour to a way of living. This love for the form isn't just restricted to the American West. There are huge numbers of international writers and readers who revel in riding with the wind in their faces. Let us not be insular. Insularity begets narrow mindedness, and this will inevitably affect the flow of that precious meter.


Poet Jim John writes:

I think that, like several other writers have done, at least at first glance, it might seem easier to address what cowboy isn't.

First, I think it isn't an intellectual exercise. That is to say, I think cowboy poetry is as a result of its very heritage - earthy. Of the earth. It is intimately bound up in the experiences of living and doing. It is reflective to the extent that it needs to be to assign meaning or to perceive beauty to life or to reject evil. It doesn't wander far from the basics of life - laughter, joy, work, sweat, love, fear, anger. It's very essence is emotive.

It grows out of the same heritage that spawns jokes and limericks and legends and myths. I also write some bardic poetry set in the late Renaissance and I note a commonality of themes and concerns and earthiness that comes from being close to the common (or real) man for whom food and shelter, clothes and family, struggle and opportunity are also the foundation of the poetry.

It may wonder at the meanings underlying our trip from birth to death. But, overall it is more bound up in the doing than the analyzing. It recognizes that we are never really very far from the basics, earth, water, fire and air, and all the creatures we share and compete with for survival in this place.

It's heritage is the oral tradition. The passing of the stories from mouth to mouth. It is rhymed, metered verse that was so written for ease of memorization because the normal way of communication was initially recitation.  

But now much, no, most of the cowboy poetry I experience is in the written form. None, or few, of these are experienced verbally. Most are written. I own a number of volumes of Cowboy Poetry. I learned "Reincarnation" by Wallace McRae by memorizing it from a written form. In fact I have only heard it done by someone else twice and, yet, I'm told it is one of the most frequently recited cowboy poems. I have read it dozens of time. So, it is no longer a strictly verbal form even though the advent of more reasonably priced CD's and DVD's are helping and strengthening the verbal form.

I would add that I find it to also be evolving in its form of presentation. No longer can we presume that cowboy poetry is recited much like a Bible verse from memory. Many read their work or the poem and that is often as satisfying as a recitation. I have heard marvelous poems from men and women who do not have the "gift" of a great memory. I would hate to see their work lost to my hearing because of that little fact.

Further, more and more often, I find it being presented interpretively as a dramatic reading or a dramatic performance trying to capture the feeling behind those words in those verses. This too lends life to the words in the same way that a dozen actors can give a dozen different and unique interpretations to the poet's words.

It's no longer just a recital. It is a feast for the eyes (printed page and dramatization) as well as the ears. That's a good thing.

It's not just simple rhyme and straightforward meter even though its roots are there.

The cowboy poets who  have written for a while often realize that their rhyme and meter have become very standardized and they start seeking out other forms.  Couplets. Internal rhymes in a line of verse, etc. It evolves as the poet continues on. Yet, even then, I find we all have rhymes and meters that fit us well and that we tend to migrate back towards.

Free verse is a form that I have always had difficulty comprehending as poetry. I am prone to suspect that it is the refuge of the many that don't wish to struggle with form or meter or rhyme and so they put down a series of seemingly meaningful, but often disjointed thoughts. But, in fairness, there is some free verse that is well written and readable.

But, this form to me seems more an intellectual exercise even in the best of circumstances. That makes it wander quite a ways from the earthy immediacy of what I perceive to be cowboy poetry. Having said that, I can't say with assurance that it isn't ever cowboy poetry. It just is seldom personally satisfying to me to read or hear it. That's not sufficient cause to write it off.

The question of whether it should only be written by ranchers and agriculturalist is one that I have discussed at length in several of my poems and accompanying comments elsewhere on the CowboyPoetry.com site. Suffice it to say, my answer is a resounding "no."

Cowboy Poetry has not really lost its way.  It is evolving. But, we should remember the concept of evolution assumes that within it are many false starts and dead ends. This will undoubtedly be the case here. But, overall, its sense of earthiness, of being close to what life is all about, of being able to laugh at itself, of its  sense of there being a real "good" as well as a real "bad" in life and its  determination to try to always head up the trail in the direction of right gives it a basic dynamic that will cause it to continue to grow and spread. And dare I say, develop and change.


Poet Hal Swift writes:

Cowboy Poetry Defined

Cowboy poetry tells what cowboys and cowgirls think, feel, believe, and do. It's about horses, and cattle, and people, and how they get along--or don't.

It's about the people who take care of the cowboys and cowgirls--the spouses, the bosses, the barbers, the sheriffs, musicians, and blacksmiths--all the folks who make it possible for such folks as cowboys and cowgirls to exist, and to do their jobs, and to live their lives.

For the benefit of the young folks, in what I consider to be REAL cowboy poetry, there's never any kissin' or cussin'.

There may be an occasional fist fight or even a gunfight, but usually it doesn't amount to anything serious.

In my definition of cowboy poetry, the good guys win out over the bad guys, people and animals both tend to have interesting and sometimes quirky personalities, love conquers all, and death is not the final answer.

In my book, if this is what you write, you're a cowboy poet.

Now, all of this pretty much ignores how ornery people can be--cowboys and girls included--but unless the orneriness is thwarted, and good mainatins her stature in the community, I figure I may as well be readin' the daily news.


Poet and retired rancher Byrl Keith Chadwell writes: 

I once met a man who claimed to be a former US Marine.  He got away with that hoax until he started detailing his Marine Corps boot camp experiences.    He could only go so far before his story seriously lacked in credibility.  He did not have the credentials. How could I tell for absolute sure?

 I think Ray Lashley, in his article “Preserving Cowboy Poetry,” nailed it.   He said:

“I decided to just cut out “cowboy poetry” and see what I could do with that.”….

He goes on by using a fair definition of language and identifies how and by whom cowboy poetry is recognized.  He bets that what cowboys will recognize as cowboy poetry will be “verse in rhyme and meter of, for, about, or by cowboys, and cowboy concerns. He further indicates that this is for cowboys to say, not for others to say it for them. To that I say; thank you Ray Lashley, for being real and honest.

Let me see if I can add some perspective, from my point of view.  Let’s take for instance; A writer of occupational poetry such as a “miner.”  We might call it “miner poetry.” What might differentiate “miner poetry” from “logger poetry”?   I submit that you would need a miner and a logger as opposed to a meat cutter or an accountant in order to be able to authenticate and absolutely define their different poetry.   Others may recognize it, imitate it, comment upon it, criticize it, or applaud it. Serious students of mining or logging and/or poetry may write about it and even write poetry about it or like it. However, in the end, only real miners and loggers, those closely associated, and/or those with significant miner or logger experience along the way will have true miner or logger poetry credentials.  So it is with cowboy poetry and poets. 

That is not to say that meat cutters and/or accountants without significant miner or logger experience could not enjoy the miners or loggers poetry. They certainly could and perhaps would write similar poems, or write of it or study it. Through this type of poetry they might be reminded of family or friends or other people of interest to them with similar occupations in the past or present.  Or, vicariously dream of another occupation or dream of the things future relevant to miners, loggers and others.  However for now, they would not be called “miner poets” or “logger poets” because they would, by language definition, lack the credentials.

In my mind, the controversy is not so much “What is cowboy poetry,” or “Who is a cowboy poet,” that to me is clear enough. The question should be: how do you measure the credibility of cowboy poets and who will acknowledge their credentials?  Now we have come full circle and really, Ray Lashley, you got it right for this question too….This is for cowboys to say”!!


  • Paul Harwitz offered this introduction to theme on his web site: "'Cowboy Poetry' is not just about cowboys, ranching, and cattle-drives. And it's not all by or about men, or even all written by real working cowboys and cowgirls. It also includes more general Western themes."

While we do not actively seek poetry about "What is Cowboy Poetry." these poems and others have been posted:

 

 

 

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