Gwen Petersen: In a Sow’s Ear 9-24-12 |

Gwen Petersen: In a Sow’s Ear 9-24-12

Cowboy Poetry Gatherings abound. Every western state hosts one or more annual Gatherings. Cowboy culture means trying to live up to the grail of dealing with the rest of humanity with handshake honesty and integrity. Cowboy rhymed and metered poetry tells the stories of working the land, taking care of livestock, growing crops, critters and kids.

And other stuff that happens when you deal with the above mentioned crops, critters and kids. Like the time a small army of magpies formed a brigade and raided my hen house to steal eggs. Those tuxedoed carrion eaters acted like a hungry horde at a smorgasbord. That experience led to a “cowboy” poem.

Recently, the old dialogue about who or what is a “cowboy” poem or song has surfaced — again.

At every Gathering, there are some folks who only see a horse, cow, hog, sheep or Blue Heeler in old John Wayne movies and children’s coloring books. But! They are wanna-be cowboy poets and singers. The West, the Cowboy, the Romance of ridin’ the range, singin’ a song — oh how they wish — as that country songs says: “Shoulda Been A Cowboy.” So they stick a Stetson on their noggins, don blue jeans and stuff the legs into a pair of wildly decorated boots, hitch up their courage and recite or sing, or both.

“Cowboy in the blood doesn’t mean you have to have been born into it, but you should have at least had some kind of a pretty solid transfusion in your lifetime.”

Often their material has very little to do with actual cowboy life. Which provokes the question: Is it really cowboy poetry and song? Probably not if they aren’t versifying about cows, horses, dogs, calving, lambing, riding, branding, fencing, irrigating, haying, doctoring, rounding up, shipping and fixing stuff that broke. However, making a judgment is ouchy. Who wants to police the content of a poet’s material! Or a song-writer’s lyrics? Who’s prepared to set up restrictions, constraints, rules — and on and on? After awhile the bean counters would quash creativity. Originality would be “regulated.” Poets and songsters would have to quit writing and go into politics.

One debater commented that: “Cowboy in the blood doesn’t mean you have to have been born into it, but you should have at least had some kind of a pretty solid transfusion in your lifetime.”

I can buy that. As for those closet cowboys who reside in New Jersey or Florida or an apartment in New York yet long to participate in a Gathering because they have “cowboy in their hearts” … I say good for them. Maybe after participating in a Gathering they’ll learn something, cowboy work. (And maybe not. Might be difficult for them to identify with a poem that discusses poking a prolapse back into a cow’s behind!)

Most Gatherings are scheduled in hourly sessions bearing “cowboy” tags such as: Out of the Chutes, Roughstock, Range Riders — there’s no lack of colorful descriptions. Perhaps Gathering worriers about the purity of the material could establish sessions titled: Greenhorns, Tenderfeet and Raw Beginners.

Here’s a couple of suggestions for sorting greenhorn wanna-be’s from genuine manure kickers:

Ask the Gathering applicant to:

… catch and saddle a horse (brought in for that purpose).

… identify an assortment of brands.

… identify an A-I sleeve.

… describe a “cattle guard.”

… define heifer, yearling, long yearling, cull, brockle-face, wheel foot, stove up …

Bottom line: “Real” cowboy poets and pickers won’t have any trouble standing out from the crowd. It shows in the way they hang their hands in their jean pockets, their scuffed boots, their dinner plate buckles, and always long sleeved shirts. Real cowboys have earned their spurs and it shows in their writing.

You might say they’re Riders on the Rhyming Range! ❖

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