If you asked an average person if they knew what “cowboy poetry” was, or of its significance, chances are they wouldn’t have a good idea. Honestly, I was pretty shocked myself to find not only that Cowboy Poetry was a thing, but that there is an entire community built around it, and they have been gathering the past 35 years to celebrate and share it as an art form. This year, they will meet again in Elko, Nevada, for the 36th National Cowboy Poetry Gathering, from January 27 to February 1. So what exactly is “cowboy poetry”? Well, according to the organization’s website, you might be surprised that it isn’t just poems written by cowboys. Cowboy poetry is instead poetry and anecdotes written and performed in a classic cowboy-storytelling manner, like the sort of stories you would tell around a campfire.
The “cowboy” part comes from the topic of these poems, usually told from the mindset of a cowboy; recurring themes of western lifestyles, farm/livestock life, memories and reflections of the past, funny stories, or sarcasm bemoaning the modern life. They aren’t held to a strict rhyme scheme or length, but most of them tend to fall into a rhyming couplet or limerick style, short and playful in its delivery.
Some purists on the subject even go as far to say that cowboy poetry requires a certain knowledge of the vernacular and slang of an area, as well as direct or at least secondhand connection to the cowboy lifestyle, but most fans and artists of cowboy poetry seem to be pretty accepting and open-minded when it comes to the specifics of their art.
The National Cowboy Poetry gathering originated in 1985, and at the time was only called the “Elko Gathering”. According to their website, “It was clear [from the beginning] that these men and women had found their tribe.” The event’s popularity increased, and now it gathers musicians, artists, poets and storytellers every year from all across the nation. It has become a pilgrimage of sorts, featuring 6 full days of workshops, exhibits, panels, poetry, music, dancing, and much more.
To find out more or see their whole schedule, be sure to visit their website at http://nationalcowboypoetrygathering.org