Thursday, March 28, 2013

Blast Furnace Special Edition: Cowboy Poetry

About a year ago, Blast Furnace staff toured a museum and several galleries in the Western region of the United States, one of which featured a photography exhibit of female ranchers, farmers and rodeo performers. As photography lovers, we started to research famous cowgirls: the likes of Calamity Jane, Annie Oakley and Mary "May" Manning, among others, and pleasantly happened upon several websites promoting cowboy poetry, cowboy poets, and cowboy gatherings all over the Country.

In reading about these gatheringswhich have been described collectively, and more accurately, as a "movement"we learned that these cowboy poets (comprised of men and women) highly value preserving the oral tradition of poetry and the Western way of life from history, as well as today's Western way of life. These poets speak of pride in country, pride in the craft of writing, performing and entertaining, and the reward of a hard day's work.

Recently, and just in time for the annual Cowboy Poetry Week during National Poetry Month, Blast Furnace had the pleasure of corresponding and, in at least one case, speaking directly with four of these contemporary cowboy poets: Baxter Black, dubbed by the New York Times as "probably the nation's most successful living poet"; Sam DeLeeuw, named the 2012 “Female Cowboy Poet of the Year” for the Western Music Association; Jessica Hedges, 2010 Columbia River Cowboy Gathering People's Choice Award Winner, and Red Steagall, official Cowboy Poet Laureate of the City of San Juan Capistrano in California and Poet Laureate of the State of Texas in 2006. Each of these poets has a busy performance schedule, at least one CD recording and other publications available, and is actively involved in the promotion of his and her own cowboy poetry and the overall cowboy poetry movement itself.

Following is the interview in its entirety.

"Making Adjustments" © 2012, by Shawn Cameron
At one time, there was a specific perception of the American Western way of life in society: a pistol-wearing, horse-riding cowboy on a ranch raising, roping and branding cattle. Some history and some Hollywood Westerns gave us this visual. How would you define todays cowboy? 

Red Steagall: The image of the cowboy portrayed on the silver screen is not the cowboy that we write about. The early day westerns were exactly the same as today's cop stories. They are sensationalized to satisfy the entertainment value to millions of people. The cowboys that we write about are the men and women who still live on the big ranches, still work cattle on horseback and live an agrarian lifestyle just like their forefathers. These people still raise cattle, ride horses and rope and brand calves but they are the most wholesome, honest, respectful and dedicated people on this planet. 

Sam Deleeuw: Wherever there are cows, there will be cowboys! The Western movies have redirected the viewer’s perspective away from reality. Cowboys were seldom clean on the trail, with creased jeans, nice Stetsons, unfrayed white shirts. Cowboys today vary from region to region in their apparel and the make and crease of their hats. From ranch to ranch (small or large), cowboys may be wearing the traditional jeans, wild rag, western hat with stampede strings of horse hair, and will be roping and dragging calves to the fire from the back of a horse. In other areas, the roundup will be from pick-up trucks, 4-wheelers and the cowboys could be wearing t-shirts, jeans, ball caps and tennis shoes. The ages will vary from the tiny ones swinging miniature, cut-down ropes to the patriarchs of the clan watching closely to make sure everything is done correctly. Cowboys include the wives and daughters who can also rope as well as the guys. They run the chutes, inoculate, brand and then at noon break, bring out the lunch they put together before the sun came up that morning. The “cowboy life” is not glamorous, but is hot, sweaty, dirty work. It is rewarding, however, when working the land and the stock. Many ranchers strive to do the work with their cattle as it was done a hundred years and more ago. The same traditions used by their ancestors are common in the “spring gathers” today.

Baxter Black: A lot of people write about the old days and cowboys as a vanishing breed. I write about today's cowboys, ranchers and farmers, as I am one of them. I don't think of [cowboys] as a vanishing breed.

Jessica Hedges: Although the adventures we saw during the Silver Screen era of Western movies have elements of fact, there are a lot of romanticized aspects portrayed. Horses don't go everywhere at a full run, the good guys don't all wear white hats nor the bad guys black, and most modern cowboys will never experience a gun fight at high noon. That being said, it's not uncommon to move cattle twenty miles on horseback, see a pistol on a man's hip, and the theme of pride still rings true. 

Could you share a bit about what you know of the history of cowboy poetry?

Red Steagall photo: Caroline Cruz
RS: When the cow country was opened to settlers, it was occupied primarily by people of Celtic origin. Those people came from the eastern shores of our country or from the old world. They brought with them a love of the classic poets as well as old world folk tunes. Hollywood put the guitar in the hands of the cowboy. The only instruments at the chuck wagon were perhaps a banjo or a fiddle that belonged to the cook. Nothing else was allowed in the chuck wagon so the instrument that a cowboy might have room for was a mouth harp. Everything he owned was in his bedroll. They recited poetry to each other and told stories around the campfire. When the West was fenced off, the cowboys started writing stories and poems about their way of life and if they sang them, they used the melodies of old world folk tunes. They wrote primarily about wrecks and people but they emphasized the passing of the West. One-hundred-and-fifty years later, we are still lamenting the passing of the West. But it endures through our music, our poetry, and our lifestyle. 

SD: The era of this occupation lasted only about thirty years starting around 1865-1870. From this short period of time in history have come all the Western movies and Western heroes. Many who were on these crews were called “cowboys,” because so many of them were just that…boys! After the civil war jobs and money were almost non-existent. Rounding up cattle and driving them north to the “rail heads” gave the promise of wages at the end of the drive. Around the fires, the hands would swap stories and poetry. Many were well-educated men from England, Scotland and other countries, who had come to America for a new future. They brought with them the works of European poets and recited their works. Others began to write fashioning their poetry after the works of the European poet. Those without an education were known to recite what they had heard and learned, carrying on the works wherever they eventually took root. The history of cowboy poetry gatherings is well known. Decades ago in Elko, [Nevada], Hal Cannon and WaddieMitchell, Baxter Black and a few others got together to have a “Folk Arts Festival,” that has now become the Elko Cowboy Poetry Gathering. There are now thousands of gatherings, festivals, shows and rendezvous throughout the United States where poets and musicians get together to perform and share this unique Western genre.

BB: I realize now, years later after I'd read the likes of Rudyard Kipling, Robert Service and Banjo Patterson—my favoritethat many of the cowboy storytellers and poets from the 19th Century were probably inspired by those three guys. I still return to their poems when I want to know what good writing is. I started as a songwriter, and songwriting was a hobby for me. I'd been exposed to the classic poets and it didn't at first sink in as poetry; even when I was forced into it, I didn't think it was a way to make a living. But I always told stories to my veterinary clients as I made my calls. I would carry a story with me, and after telling it four or five times down the road, they became pretty good stories. Somewhere along the way I began making them into poems.

JH: Long before we had phone, internet, tv, you had guys sitting in bunkhouses at night. As Waddie Mitchell says, 'People did the strangest thing at night, they talked to each other!' So they started telling stories and over time these stories took on a rhyme and they took on a meter. This did two things, it made it more entertaining and it made it easier to remember. Cowboying, especially during that time, was very migratory. So as these men would travel from ranch to ranch following the work, they would intermingle and so would their stories.

In some academic poetry circles, the genre of cowboy poetry isnt widely recognized. Why do you think that is? 

RS: I don't understand why academia does not consider what we write as an important part of American literature. In our poems and songs, we document the lifestyle of a great number of our fellow Americans. Our country was built on the backs of farmers and ranchers, not technocrats. Even today, the most important people in our entire society are those who continue to fill our stomachs with the most effective, efficient, economical, and safest food supply on this planet. It's extremely important that all of us support and celebrate the men and women who risk everything they have every day to put food on our dinner tables. Cowboy poetry celebrates the heritage, traditions, values and lifestyle of a particular segment of American society. It documents that lifestyle both of yesterday and today. 

Sam Deleeuw
SD: It has been stated by some that the term “cowboy poetry” just may be an oxymoron. I disagree. In the twenty years of writing and performing, the common comment I hear from those experiencing cowboy poetry and music for the first time is, “ I didn’t know this is what cowboy poetry was!” showing a lack of exposure to good (not mediocre) poetry. Yes, cowboys can and do write poetry.  Cowboys and cowboy poets include the ladies as well. Each poet has their own style and way of expression. This may certainly be because of where they were raised and their experiences and backgrounds. Part of folklore is the telling of stories. The stories may include a family’s history, happenings, traditions that are handed down from generation to generation. Each generation will create their own unique stories and pass them down. These stories put to rhyme may be serious, humorous and factual accounts of their time. It is important to retain a history, whether in prose, diaries or descriptions of genealogical accounts. Putting this history down in rhyme can be entertaining and may be easier for young members to remember. It is a history preserved.

BB: The only people who make it an issue are the people who say 'Rhyming verse is not poetry.' The question I ask, then, is 'Are we not cowboy poets?' [This has been met with the response] 'No. You are cowboy versifiers.' But our [poetry] is much more commercial, much more available, and reaches many more people. Who's to say what's right or wrong when it comes to writing? I have three qualifications for myself [with poetry]. The first is perfect meter and perfect rhyme. That means anyone can pick up [a cowboy poem with perfect meter/rhyme] and read it and it always sounds like you intended. The second is original thought, which outweighs all the other [qualifications]. If you concentrate too heavily on perfect meter or rhyme, you compromise the original thought. There are some cowboy poets who made jokes they'd heard that someone else created into poems. That's not original thought. My third qualification is a strong ending. When you come to the end of a poem that you're performing, the audience should know it's done.

JH: I think cowboy poetry started to fade a because of our nation's removal from agriculture in general. The importance of personal interaction and that process of the older generation passing down their stories has broken down as well. Luckily, cowboy poetry seems to be making a comeback in a big way, and the longevity and continuing rising numbers [of performers and attendees] at cowboy poetry gatherings proves that.

How does cowboy poetry celebrate the Western way of life today?

RS: Cowboy poetry celebrates the heritage, traditions, values and lifestyle of a particular segment of American society.  It documents that lifestyle both of yesterday and today. 

SD: As movies have glamorized the West, cowboy poetry may tell the true accounting of this way of life. I describe experiences I have had while I was a rancher’s wife. The stories of running from a bull, the stories of families affected by drought and loss of land, tales of the trail drive told through the character of Hilda the trail drive camp cook, or of the contemporary rancher wife’s day-to-day trials with kids, stock and husband. The West is not dead! It is most certainly not the way it was in the late 1800’s, but then nothing is. But this is my (our) history, it is where I came from, these men and women blazed a trail that allows me to be who I am today. [My poem,] "These Women of the West," talks about those early women who came west to unknown futures. Their strength and courage helped open the West. I celebrate them as much as the cowboys!
Baxter Black photo: Kevin Martini-Fuller

BB: It's the world I live in. I raise cattle and I write about it. I have some serious poems but you can't make a living doing serious all the time. You have to be uplifting and entertaining.

JH: Cowboy poetry is a great way to celebrate the old and the new. By the same writer/performer you could hear a story that happened in 1880 and a personal experience involving their cell phone in 2013.

Who were/are your musical and literary influences? Who in your life inspired you outside of the fine arts? 

RS: I grew up in the cow country of the panhandle of Texas. I spent my childhood on the Canadian River hunting arrowheads, catching feral horses, and running coyotes and coons. Cowboys have always been my heroes. My musical heroes were Bob Willsand his Texas Playboys. Then in later years, I became good friends with JimReeves and Tex Ritter who influenced me musically and personally. The most important influence in my life was my mother. She gave me a sense of values and taught me how to speak and spell properly. She taught me how to see the world through the written word. The radio and books took me to places I never dreamed I'd get to see. I'm a lucky boy because she was my mother! 

SD: The man we in Utah refer to as our patriarch of cowboy poetry is Mr. DonKennington. He is the epitome of a cowboy poet. His poetry relates how his mother loaded pack horses once a month to walk to the valley for supplies while her husband was off working on someone else’s spread. She walked because her small children were piled on the extra horse to ride on the long trip. His poetry keeps the history of the tens of thousands of horses he has shod in his eight-plus years as a farrier. He has explained to all of us more than once the theory that you must remain humble in your work, keep it honest and forthright. Never get over-confident, but keep that “nagging edge” you feel in your stomach before each performance. His philosophy of embracing anyone coming into the poetry world, to make them welcome, is what we strive for…not the financial rewards alone.

BB: The three poets I mentioned earlier. Also, Carlos Ashley from Llano, Texas. He wrote the book, 'That Old Spotted Sow.' I first heard it when I was having a hard time between jobs and in life. I'd spent some time with Red Steagall, and I was writing [and performing] my little poems. Red is a man of great insight. He said 'Come out on the porch with me,' and he started to read me Carlos' book. It was the first time I had a clue of what poetry really was and what I was doing. We took turns reading the poems to each other, and I felt for the first time here was where I belonged—here's someone who really knows.

JH: My favorite classic cowboy poet would have to be Bruce Kisskadon. Contemporary-speaking, I have learned so much from cowboy poet Waddie Mitchell, as well as singer/songwriters Ian Tyson, Dave Stamey, and Tom Russell. Outside of the fine arts? Men and women who buckaroo with everything they have, who continue to carry the traditions of the vaqueros, who are/have taught their children to respect, if not continue, this way of life.
 
Cowboy poetry also seems to recognize the importance of remaining an oral tradition. Do you memorize all of your poems and recite them from memory when you perform? Why is it important to do this, rather than just reading your poem from a book or piece of paper? 

SD: A wise man once told me there is a difference between the performer and the entertainer. The performer has memorized the words and can recite them flawlessly, but may not have the emotion the poem requires. An entertainer will recite the same piece of work, but has the ability to draw the listening audience into the story with them. The entertainer takes the audience “along for the ride” and makes it possible for them to be part of the story. To memorize a work allows the “entertainer” to use all the resources available to act out, dramatize, use facial and body expression without distraction of the podium and rattling paper. I have been described as being animated as I give my poetry. To that I say, “Thank you!”

BB: To understand and appreciate cowboy poetry fully, you need to see today's poets take the stage [at one of the gatherings] and perform their poems.

Jessica Hedges photo credit: Becky Kingen,
Flying K Custom Cowboying
JH: To me, a huge part of the cowboy poetry experience is the story telling aspect. That includes facial expressions and body gestures to help tell your story. These are the features that make it interesting, and honestly, how you would tell it in an informal setting. I feel like you lose a lot of your ability to connect with the audience when reading your work. That being said, some of the best writing I have heard came from folks who read their work, and I was glad that they were willing to share their experiences however they were most comfortable.

What writers/poets do you admire in the cowboy circle today?

RS: I admire every one of them for what they do. There is nothing competitive in our genre. I don't sing like Don Edwards and I don't write poems in the same manner as Joel Nelson. Each of us presents what we have to say in our own style. Even though we write about the same subject matter, our experiences and ideas come from a different source. There are so many great poets in our world today like Wallace McRae, Baxter Black, Waddie Mitchell, Joel Nelson, ChrisIsaacs, Jay Snider, Yvonne Hollenbeck, just to name a few. I was heavily influenced by the poetry of Henry Herbert Knibbs, S. Omar Barker, Bruce Kiskaddon, and Curley Fletcher. I also love the poetry of the bush poets from down under. However, the person that I really looked up to and was my mentor was the late great Carlos Ashley. Some of my friends who have gone on that I greatly admired and continue to read their works on the radio and television were folks like my lifelong friend Buck Ramsey, J.B. Allen, Larry McWhorter, and Ray Owens. They all left us way too soon. My favorite cowboy singer is Don Edwards. He delivers a storyline as good as anybody ever has. Some other singers that I really admire are R.W. Hampton, Dave Stamey, Jean Prescott, the Sons of the San Joaquin, Michael Martin Murphey, just to name a few.

SD: I most admire the men and women of poetry and music who have been performing and entertaining for decades and have not lost the enthusiasm, energy and love for the Western life and genre. I have seen individuals come and go. Some after having traveling around for a time, find it tedious, too hard to coordinate or not financially satisfying enough to continue. It is not hard to see which of the poets truly love what they do. They are constantly creating new stories in rhyme for their audiences to enjoy. They have continued to hone their skill, worked with younger entertainers who will someday take their place and have given of themselves to enhance any venue to which they have been invited.

BB: Red Steagall is a personal hero of mine. He writes parables, has a great knack for it. He's also a great joke teller. All of his poems have a message. There's lots of good poets and lots of good poems, like Wallace McRae's 'Reincarnation.' He has won the National Heritage Award from the National Endowment for the Arts.

JH: Waddie Mitchell, Randy Reiman, Joel Nelson, Leon Flick, all guys who have socks older than me and have really cowboy'd in big country. Their writing comes from the heart and is based in real experience.

Where can people see you perform, along with other cowboy poets and purchase your books and music recordings?

RS: My music and poetry can be found on [my] website. On that same website, you can get the location of all of our public dates as well as a station list for our radio show on http://www.cowboycorner.com and the air dates of our television show “In the Bunkhouse.” You can also learn about the 23rd Annual Red Steagall Cowboy Gathering and Western Swing Festival in the Stockyards National Historic District in Fort Worth, Texas.

SD: Check my webpage for my products and my performance schedule. On http://www.CowboyPoetry.com is listed most of the gatherings and festivals in the United States. Also found there are many poets, a representation of their work and where it may be obtained.

BB: You can view a listing of events where I'll be performing at http://www.baxterblack.com or www.cowboypoetry.com.

JH: The easiest way for folks to see what I am about and to keep up on my adventures is by visiting my website, http://www.jessicalhedgescowboypoetry.com. They can also follow me on Facebook at @Jessica Hedges Cowboy Poetry.

What are some of your future poetry projects or what poetry projects do you currently have in the works?
RR: [Red Steagall Cowboy Gathering, October 25-27, 2013 in Fort Worth, Texas, www.redsteagallcowboygathering.com. For more information, call 1.817.444.5502 or 1.817.625.1025] 

SD: Future? Just more of the same. More gatherings, festivals, shows for as long as they keep inviting me! With each one will come new friends, experiences and fodder for new poems. I’m sure they’ll be a new CD in the next year and maybe a book of my original favorites. Just keep watching the web page! 

BB: [Scheduled for several events out West and in Canada during National Poetry Month through the end of April and in Minden, Nevada in early May] 

JH: I am currently in the planning stages of my first book, which would include cowboy poetry as well as lots of other features! Other than that, being a cowboy's wife, mom, accessories designer, and entertainer is pretty much a full time job and a half!

Editor's Note: According to Margo Metegrano, Editor for The Center for Western and Cowboy Poetry, "The Center...works to preserve and celebrate the arts, life, and culture of rural communities and the working West. It serves as a comprehensive virtual repository for information, both current and archival, and as an electronic point of engagement for the wide public. Its outreach educational efforts extend to rural libraries and their communities of rural readers, writers, artists and others with limited access. Center programs include http://www.cowboyPoetry.com, Cowboy Poetry Week, and the Rural Library Project. Inaugurated by CowboyPoetry.com in 2002, Cowboy Poetry Week, was officially recognized by unanimous resolution of the United States Senate. The celebration, with a special focus on rural libraries with its outreach Rural Library Project, is held during the third week of April each year, in conjunction with National Poetry Month in the United States and Canada. Cowboy Poetry Week has spawned many events that take place in libraries and at other community venues. Each year, a contemporary Western art painting is selected as the year's Cowboy Poetry Week poster art. Artists have included Tim Cox, Bill Owen, William Matthews, and other notable Western painters. Posters are provided to libraries as a part of the Center's Rural Library Project.The BAR-D Roundup, the Center's annual compilation recording of the best in classic and current cowboy poetry is distributed to libraries in the Rural Library Program. Each edition of the growing archive includes vintage recordings of poets reciting their own works and modern recitations of classic and contemporary cowboy poems by top poets and reciters. Updated continually and celebrating its 14th year, CowboyPoetry.com serves as the web's most comprehensive archive and repository of western and cowboy poetry and as a prime source for lifestyle and cultural news. It is a vibrant electronic community center for rural writers, artists, and artisans, offering the world a multi-layered view of an important but endangered culture. The work of over 1100 poets and songwriters is represented in more than 6,200 poems and lyrics at the site." 

Special thanks to Margo for providing helpful information and numerous resources related to this edition of Blast Furnace. 'Like' cowboy poetry on facebook at http://www.facebook.com/cowboypoetryandmore and follow cowboy poetry on twitter at http://www.twitter.com/cowboypoetry. For continual updates on cowboy poetry, go to http://www.CowboyPoetry.com/sincenews.htm and for cowboy poetry E-news, http://www.CowboyPoetry.com/subscribe.htm. 

Special thanks, also, to Vikki J. Drewel and Debbie Bowman who assisted in providing valuable resources and accommodations in interviewing Baxter Black and Red Steagall, respectively.




The Fence that Me and Shorty Built

We’d picked up all the fencing tools
And staples off the road.
An extra roll of ‘bob’ wire
Was the last thing left to load.

I drew a sleeve across my face
To wipe away the dirt.
The young man who was helping me
Was tuckin’ in his shirt.

I turned around to him and said,
“This fence is finally done,
With five new strands of ‘bob’ wire
Shinin’ proudly in the sun.

The wire is runnin’ straight and tight
With every post in line.
The kinda job you’re proud of,
One that stands the test of time.”

The kid was not impressed at all,
He stared off into space.
Reminded me of years ago,
Another time and place.

I called myself a cowboy,
I was full of buck and bawl
I didn’t think my hands would fit
Post augers and a maul.

They sent me out with Shorty
And the ranch fence building crew.
Well, I was quite insulted
And before the day was through,

I let him know that I’m a cowboy,
This ain’t what I do.
I ain’t no dadgummed nester,
I hired out to buckaroo.

He said, “We’ll talk about that son,
When we get in tonight.
Right now you pick them augers up.
It’s either that or fight.”

Boy, I was diggin’ post holes
Faster than a Georgia mole.
But if a rock got in my way
I simply moved the hole.

So when the cowboys set the posts,
The line went in and out.
Old Shorty’s face got fiery red
And I can hear him shout.

“Nobody but a fool would build
A fence that isn’t straight.
I got no use for someone who ain’t
Pullin’ his own weight.”

I thought for sure he’d hit me
Glad he didn’t have a gun.
I looked around to find a place
Where I could duck and run.

But Shorty walked up to me
Just as calm as he could be.
Said, “Son, I need to talk to you,
Let’s find ourselves a tree.”

He rolled a Bull Durham cigarette
As we sat on the ground.
He took himself a puff or two
Then slowly looked around.

“Son, I ain’t much on schoolin’,
Didn’t get too far with that.
But there’s a lot of learnin’
Hidden underneath this hat.

I got it all the hard way,
Every bump and bruise and fall.
Now some of it was easy,
But then most weren’t fun a’tall

But one thing that I always got
From every job I’ve done,
Is do the best I can each day
And try to make it fun.

I know that bustin’ through them rocks
Ain’t what you like to do.
By getting’ mad you’ve made it tough
On me and all the crew.

Now you hired on to cowboy
And you think you’ve got the stuff.
You told him you’re a good hand
And the boss has called your bluff.

So how’s that gonna make you look
When he comes ridin’ through,
And he asks me who dug the holes
And I say it was you.

Now we could let it go like this
And take the easy route.
But doin’ things the easy way
Ain’t what it’s all about.

The boss expects a job well done,
From every man he’s hired.
He’ll let you slide by once or twice,
Then one day you’ll get fired.

If you’re not proud of what you do,
You won’t amount to much.
You’ll bounce around from job to job
Just slightly out of touch.

Come mornin’ let’s re-dig those holes
And get that fence in line.
And you and I will save two jobs,
Those bein’ yours and mine.

And someday you’ll come ridin’ through
And look across this land,
And see a fence that’s laid out straight
And know you had a hand,

In something that’s withstood the years.
Then proud and free from guilt,
You’ll smile and say, ‘Boys that’s the fence
That me and Shorty built.’”


Born to This Land

I’ve kicked up the hidden mesquite roots and rocks
From the place where I spread out my bed.
I’m layin’ here lookin’ at a sky full of stars
With my hands folded up ‘neath my head.

Tonight there’s a terrible pain in my heart
Like a knife, it cuts jagged and deep.
This evening the windmiller brought me the word
That my granddaddy died in his sleep.

I saddled my gray horse and rode out to a hill
Where when I was a youngster of nine,
My granddaddy said to me, “Son this is ours,
All of it, yours, your daddy’s and mine.

Son, my daddy settled here after the war
That new tank’s where his house used to be.
He wanted to cowboy and live in the west
Came to Texas from east Tennessee.

The longhorns were wild as the deer in them breaks.
With a long rope he caught him a few.
With the money he made from trailin’ em north,
Son, he proved up this homestead for you.

The railroad got closer, they built the first fence
Where the river runs through the east side.
When I was a button we built these corrals
Then that winter my granddaddy died.

My father took over and bought up more range
With good purebreds he improved our stock.
It seemed that the windmills grew out of the ground
Then the land got as hard as a rock.

Then during the dust bowl we barely hung on,
The north wind tried to blow us away.
It seemed that the Lord took a likin’ to us
He kept turnin’ up ways we could stay.

My daddy grew older and gave me more rein,
We’d paid for most all of the land.
By the time he went on I was running more cows
And your daddy was my right hand man.”

His eyes got real cloudy, took off in a trot,
And I watched as he rode out of sight.
Tho I was a child, I knew I was special
And I’m feelin’ that same way tonight

Not many years later my daddy was killed
On a ship in the South China Sea.
For twenty odd years now we’ve made this ranch work
Just two cowboys, my Granddad and me.

And now that he’s gone, things are certain to change
And I reckon that’s how it should be.
But five generations have called this ranch home
And I promise it won’t end with me.

‘Cause I’ve got a little one home in a crib
When he’s old enough he’ll understand,
From the top of that hill I’ll show him his ranch
‘Cause like me, he was Born To This Land.

Red Steagall, cowboy poet from Fort Worth, Texas. http://www.redsteagall.com



< >



Boolie Shoppin

Cowboys, I take it upon myself
To retaliate against your gender
For the sarcasm that’s been tossed out
T’ward our torsos, so soft and tender.

Because my gender has been trussed up,
Criss-crossed, uplifted, hooked and secured,
Male poets have taken pot shots,
The male sense of humor, we’ve endured.

Remember jokes of the “rawhide” bra?
When voices, in unison, would shout,
“We love the rawhide bra because
It heads ‘em up and moves ‘em out.”

So, now it’s my turn to take a shot
At undies covering your derriere
Disclosing all your manly secrets!
You Buckaroos think that I won’t dare?

Well, tighten your cinch and gather up
And sink your spurs deep on either side,
‘Cause I’m about to come out snortin’
Fer one heck of an eight second ride!

Today as I went boolie shoppin’
The  BOOLIE BARN was my only stop.
A borgashmord of male undies
Where wranglers can shop until they drop!

I saw bags of boolies everywhere!
I found every color, shape and size!
Roy Rogers, Trigger and Bullet briefs
Openly displayed before my eyes.

Packaged neat were the “whitey tighties,”
Jockey shorts fer fellers slim or fat.
They were modeled by a naked cowboy
Wearin’ just boots, briefs and cowboy hat!

Other boolies showed action heroes!
By wearin’ ‘em you instantly become
A He-Man, Superman or the Hulk
With strong arms, tight abs and a right firm bum!

Whoa!! Just which of you wears a G-String?
Thongs wedgin’ in the darndest places!
Fer all the material they include
Ya’ could use a patch and old shoe laces!

I hear the waddie who chose to wear ‘em
Feels sophisticated and debonair.
After hours in the saddle, all he’ll feel
Are those blisters on his derriere!

Boys, you’ve joked how we jump and gyrate
Fightin’ a girdle ‘til faces turn red!
But, your shorts of fluorescent spandex
Cause us to gasp...STARE... well, that’s ‘nough said!

I know way across the sea in France
Have come those undies they call “speedos.”
There’s nothin’ to hide, they clearly show
Bellies that hang over your feet-os!!

Loud music came from the boxer shorts
Playin’ HI HO SILVER, AWAY!!
Others were covered with talkin’ red lips,
“Like what ya see??,” I heard them say.

Shoot! Faces of Hoppy, Gene and Roy
Can now be worn upon your backside.
Six guns blazin’ and glowin’ in the dark
As to the outhouse you quickly stride.

There’s fur-lined boolies for winter months
Fer that man said to have everything!
The sensation of the fluffy fur
Is why he yodels from winter through spring!

Now, Slip-N-Slide boolies are the ones
You boys grab and jerk and rearrange.
After bein’ bucked off and limpin’ home,
Grabbin’ at them boolies, looks purty strange.

My fav’rite boolies are the Plumbers Pride
With suspenders to hold ‘em up in place.
No more bum cracks as you bend over,
No more embarrassment or disgrace.

But then, it’s not you that gets embarrassed!
We’re gettin’ mooned while standing behind
That horseshoer as he picks up each hoof!
But, on some tushes, I really don’t mind!

I know!! We could have a fashion show!
I can only imagine the scenes
As each of you discloses to us
All the boolies worn beneath your jeans!

So, smile wide if you are wearin’
Teddy bears, hearts, or a kewpie doll,
Passionate pink lace, silk, polka-dots,
Or.......if ya ain’t wearin’ none at all!!!!

Need a catalogue???.......call 1-900-BOOLIES


Long Haul

“They are in it for the long haul.”
What does that cliché really mean?
Just for the years when things go well
Until years become dry and lean?

Just during times when crops grow high
Or just when cattle prices soar?
Not during times when prices drop
And the banker is at the door?

The long haul means the endless months
When there’s no income and no gain.
The long haul’s when your body aches,
When springs go dry from lack of rain.

The long haul’s when you’re losin’ calves
To a harsh winter’s frozen ground.
When huntin’ strays and aging cows
And only skeletons are found.

Yes, they’re in it for the long haul
When they look on toward next year.
They wipe away the blowing dirt
And wipe away a child’s tear.

When forced to move and leave behind
The only life he’s ever known.
Look in eyes of youthful sorrow
Mixed with the sorrow of your own.

The long haul means a second chance
Where they’ll not leave, but stay instead.
Rebuild their lives and make ends meet
Workin’ on someone else’s spread.

The long haul starts again each day
That hot sun breaks across the crest.
When once again they’ll gather up
And again give this life their best.

Sam Deleeuw, cowboy poet from Roy, Utah. http://www.samdeleeuw.com



< >



The Oyster

The sign upon the café wall said OYSTERS: fifty cents.
“How quaint,” the blue-eyed sweetheart said with some bewildermence,
“I didn’t know they served such fare out here upon the plain.”
“Oh, sure,” her cowboy date replied, “We’re really quite urbane,”

“I would guess they’re Chesapeake or Blue Point, don’t you think?”
“No ma’am, they’re mostly Hereford cross...and usually they’re pink
But I’ve been cold, so cold myself, what you say could be true
And if a man looked close enough, their points could sure be blue!”

She said, “I gather them myself out on the bay alone.
I pluck them from the murky depths and smash them with a stone!”
The cowboy winced, imagining a calf with her beneath,
“Me, I use a pocket knife and yank’em with my teeth,”

“Oh my,” she said, “You animal! How crude and unrefined!
Your masculine assertiveness sends shivers up my spine!
But I prefer a butcher knife too dull to really cut,
I wedge it in on either side and crack it like a nut!

I pry them out. If they resist, sometimes I use the pliers
Or even Grandpa’s pruning shears if that’s what it requires!”
The hair stood on the cowboy’s neck. His stomach did a whirl.
He’d never heard such grisly talk, especially from a girl!

“I like them fresh,” the sweetheart said and laid her menu down
Then ordered oysters from them both when the waiter came around.
The cowboy smiled gamely, though her words stuck in his craw
But he finally fainted dead away when she said, “I’ll have mine raw!”


Range Fire

Lightning cracked across the sky like veins on the back of your hand.
It reached a fiery finger out as if in reprimand
And torched a crippled cottonwood that leaned against the sky
While grass and sagebrush hunkered down that hellish hot July.

The cottonwood exploded! And shot its flaming seeds
Like comets into kerosene, igniting all the weeds.
The air was thick as dog’s breath when the fire’s feet hit the ground.
It licked its pyrogenic lips and then it looked around.

The prairie lay defenseless in the pathway of the beast.
It seemed to search the further hills and pointed to the east,
Then charged! Like some blind arsonist, some heathen hell on wheels
With its felonious companion, the wind, hot on its heels.

The varmints ran like lemmings in the shadow of the flame
While high above a red tailed hawk flew circles, taking aim.
He spied a frazzled prairie dog and banked into a dive
But the stoker saw him comin’ and fried ‘em both alive!

It slid across the surface like a molten oil slick.
It ran down prey and predator...the quiet and the quick.
The killdeer couldn’t trick it, it was cinders in a flash.
The bones of all who faced it soon lay smoking in the ash.

The antelope and cricket, the rattlesnake and bee,
The butterfly and badger, the coyote and the flea.
It was faster than the rabbit, faster than the fawn,
They danced inside the dragon’s mouth like puppets...then were gone.

It offered up no quarter and burned for seven days.
A hundred thousand acres were consumed within the blaze.
Brave men came out to kill it, cutting trail after trail
But it jumped their puny firebreaks and scattered ‘em like quail.

It was ugly from a distance and uglier up close
So said the men who saw the greasy belly of the ghost.
It made‘m cry for mama. Melted tracks on D-8 Cats.
It sucked the sweat right off of their backs and broke their thermostats.

It was hotter than a burning brake, heavy as a train,
It was louder than the nightmare screams of Abel’s brother, Cain.
It was war with nature’s fury unleashed upon the land
Uncontrollable, enormous, it held the upper hand.

The men retrenched repeatedly, continuously bested
Then finally on the seventh day, like Genesis, it rested.
The black-faced fire fighters stared, unable to believe.
They watched the little wisps of smoke, mistrusting their reprieve.

They knew they hadn’t beaten it. They knew beyond a doubt.
Though News Break told it different, they knew it just went out.
Must’ve tired of devastation, grew jaded to the fame.
Simply bored to death of holocaust and walked out of the game.

You can tell yourself...that’s crazy. Fire’s not a living thing.
It’s only chance combustion, there’s no malice in the sting.
You can go to sleep unworried, knowing man is in control,
That these little freaks of nature have no evil in their soul.

But rest assured it’s out there and the powder’s always primed
And it will be back, you know it...it’s only biding time
‘Til the range turns into kindling and the grass turns into thatch
And a fallen angel tosses out a solitary match.

Baxter Black, DVM, cowboy poet from Benson, Arizona. http://www.baxterblack.com
  


< >



Ranch Wives Laundry Meeting

I call this nation meeting of ranch wives to order
For the issue of discussion has caused some disorder

All of us have had this happen at least a time or two
So we are giving this problem the attention it’s due

Laundry is one of the daily chores for every good wife
And like it or not, it is just one of those facts of life

But what is getting mighty hard to deal with is the stuff
That comes out of their pockets and treats my washer quite rough

I have found needles, Copenhagen, wrenches, knives, herd books
Vaccines, keys, staples, drill bits, pain killers, rocks and eye hooks

What I have yet to figure out is how such a smart man
Can’t manage to empty his pockets out on his night stand

I’ve tried batting my eyelashes and asking pretty please
I’ve tried threatening to divorce him and finding a new squeeze

I’ve tried removing these things myself from his yucky pants
Shot my hand with 7 way meant for the cows of his aunt’s

Then he’s got the nerve to tell me he’s been looking for that
As though I hid it from him just like a dirty rat

Now all of this may be tolerable if you find money
Who am I kidding, we married us some cowboys honey

So maybe in this meeting our time would be better spent
Designing a new washing machine for us to invent


Ode to Jo Monahan

Ah yes, Little Jo, I remember him or her I should say
We both worked out at the Otto Albert Ranch for a while
All us boys whooped it up when she rode the hair off that bay
We’d never seen a bronc ridden with that kind of style

Jo came to Owyhee County without so much as a gun
And from day one she had everyone convinced she was a man
She was a debutant running from a privileged past undone
Little Jo as she became known was just a scared girl with no plan

She started with a mining claim but few men could do that work
So she went to tending sheep in a herder’s camp all alone
Here she found solitude from her previous life a huge perk
As Jo settled her mind to embark on this new life unknown

As years passed she was a wrangler and rode on cattle drives
And was one of the original homesteaders in Rockville
Little Jo voted in each election to help the town thrive
All while concealing her true identity with strict self will

In ‘97 she rode broncs in Whaylen’s Wild West Show
And she starred in the first Western move that was ever made
After one season she returned to the ranch with gear in tow
As the excitement of road life would inevitably fade

It was just after New Year’s in 1904 when she died
From a bad case of pneumonia Mrs. Malloy couldn’t treat
We got a big shock when we prepared the body for graveside
Forced to come to turns with Little Jo’s deliberate deceit

At first we all felt betrayed by this secret she had kept
And then questioned how she had kept the cards she was dealt so tight
Life was hard and fast in them days and she never proved inept
I guess God just made some people to stand when push comes to plight

Little Jo was about as wild and wooly as they can come
When it came to the heart and guts it took to see a job through
Despite this she still had a quiet class not carried by some
With a steel composure that never faulted amongst the crew

I guess you never know the darkness someone is running from
Hers must have been pretty rough to conceal it the way she had
I know I’ll always remember how she never would surcome
And never became victim to a life that could have gone bad

Jessica Hedges, cowboy poet from Burns, Oregon. http://www.jessicahedgescowboypoetry.com



Editor's Note: The preceding poems were posted by permission of the poets.

1 comment:

  1. What a brilliant movement, had no idea it existed 'til reading this blog.

    ReplyDelete