Saturday, June 14, 2014

Cowboy Poetry

     "Here," my writing-group compadre, Don, said as he pushed across the table a small book of cowboy poetry. "I thought you might really enjoy this."
     Settled in for the evening that night, I read the front and back blurbs. I read the Introduction, then let the little book fall open to my first cowboy poem. Before the lamp was cut, I'd read a baker's dozen. Two nights later, I had finished Cowboy Poetry: A Gathering.
     I found most poems to be matter-of-fact, some more honest than others, while a few carried a celebratory tone. Some were grateful. None were woe or pity confessionals.
     Hal Cannon, editor of the collected works, commented in his Introduction:
The poems collected here are both old and new, but they all express an honest spirit which is lean and hard; and their form––the printed words, their rhythm and rhyme as transliterated from the oral––is broken, like a fresh horse, into a manageable gait.
     Cannon continued:
At the heart of cowboy poetry is the memorized performance of traditional poems . . . [and] are based in an oral tradition of performance in both the old and new West. Each poem in this book was written to reflect a real voice, and meant to be heard aloud.
While folk poetry and formal poetry are often judged by different standards, they share the same essential literary aim; the poet is always in search of the best language, the most perfect language, for his subject matter and for his personal poetic intent.
     For the last three summers, we have spent vacation in some of the Western states. The last two, we river-rafted the Colorado. The cumulative time spent there brought me up close and personal to that nature-hewn landscape and the people who carved out a living on it––and still do. Reading the collection of these poems refreshed memories and my appreciation of this.
      I grew up with television and Hollywood images of cowboys and their lifestyles. I knew the good guys; I knew the bad guys. Cooks were often drunk, cattle bellowed. And who knew the cowboy? Who knew what took him on his life's journey? Were cowboys hooligans? Toothless civil cast-asides? Were they misfits? Cowboy poetry will dispel all these stereotypes. Cowboy poetry reveals the real thing. No fluff. Generalizations are blown away. These were/are men from ranching families who took pride in their life's job. It continues in some measure to today.
     After a satisfying read spread over a few days, I Googled various cowboy poetry sites. I discovered many. Where have I been all these poem-reading years, I asked myself. What a plethora of wonder and delight awaited me. I provide two links below, plus a brief video. I encourage you to expand your horizons as I did, and enjoy.
 Western and Cowboy Poetry                     Western Folklife