Sunday, April 16, 2017

Cowboy poetry

This is the first of two posts I have planned for April, to celebrate National Poetry Month.

When I decided to explore the western genre I committed to reading the genre in all of its forms, modes, sub-genres, and types. Which lead me to cowboy poetry (which I assure you is a thing), once I saw this anthology

Cowboy poetry comes from the oral tradition of Cowboys who, at the end of the day, would tell tales and stories, spin yarns and tall tales, and sing songs as a means of entertainment and communication.

Cowboy poets assure us that they are taking part in a rich heritage extending back many generations. And I believe they are, partially. I have no doubt that cowboys, in a pre-technology era, had their own oral tradition. But cowboy poetry as a genre seems, to me, to be a part of the romanticizing of the image that came in the 20th century.

I want to go back where the greasewood grows,And the sagebrush smell is rank and sweet;Where the desert wind o'er the mesa blows,And the buttes and sand-dunes my vision greet.
I want to forget the sight and soundOf city traffic and city roar,And hurry away to my stamping-groundIn God's great open--the West--once more.

The poems themselves usually follow a traditional structure. And the verses romanticize the life of the cowboy and yearn for a time gone past. They are also overly sentimental. There is also an artifice at play as modern poets try really hard to emulate another, earlier time.

It is big and wide and roomy, and it's solid, every bit,And there's forty pounds o'substance in the makin' up of it;It isn't nothin' fancy, cuz it ain't built fer display--It is just the cowman's workshop where he spends a busy day.

Cowboy poetry, however, is not without its charms. It listens much better than it reads, which makes sense given its oral tradition roots. In this form it is much more like a performance art piece. Maybe that's the point? Maybe listening to cowboy poetry is the intended way to enjoy it.

Recommended as a curiosity.

Here is a documentary about cowboy poetry that is worth a look.

If you are willing to stretch the definitions of cowboy poetry (and I am) than my favorite is "Everything's OK at the OK Corral by famed underground New York poet Bingo Gazingo (which arguably, is more authentic).

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