Cowboy poets teach Easterner the ways of the West


January 17, 2002|By Joni Guhne | Joni Guhne,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

I LEFT Maryland's shining bay, crossed the dormant Plains and arrived in the land of white-capped majesty, looking for snow. While in Colorado, I saw bald eagles on the hunt in mountain gorges. I inhaled the exhilarating, crystal clear air at more than 10,000 feet.

And I made an discovery.

What do some cowboys do when they're not driving cattle or mending fences? They write poetry.

I know this because I attended the 13th annual Colorado Cowboy Poetry Gathering.

My Colorado friends, Jim and Barb Hermanson of the Denver suburb of Aurora, were determined to "Westernize" me.

The first step was to meet a cowboy. But a poetry-spouting cowboy? It's a little like expecting a crabber to stomp off his boat in his tall rubber boots and walk up to a microphone for a bit of stand-up comedy.

Still, the standing-room-only audience at last weekend's gathering didn't see anything odd about men and women in big hats and pointy boots reciting poetry and prose about life back at the ranch. Poetry gatherings are regular events all over the West, and the performers hail from California to Utah, Nebraska to New Mexico, and even Australia.

The four-day event featured men and women who are in the saddle sunup to sundown, apparently getting in touch with their poetic sides. Broken-down ranch equipment and broken-hearted gals left behind are typical material for the nearly 40 poets, storytellers and singer-songwriters. With professional comedic style and timing, they share what they like to call "cowboy culture."

The gathering was divided into one-hour sessions. One of my favorites was "Cowboy Humor," where this tale was told: A cowboy was attending a church meeting one day when the devil appeared. Terrified, all of the people ran out of the church, except for the cowboy.

The devil turned to the cowboy and said, "Don't you know who I am?

"Yep," came the reply.

"Don't you know what I can do to you?"

"Yep," said the cowboy.

"Well, don't you know how miserable I can make your life?" "Yep."

"Well, aren't you afraid of what I can do to you?"

"Nope, I'm not afraid of you," came the reply. "You see, I've been living with your sister for 30 years."

The gathering also featured country music with a Western bent, most of it original. An audience favorite was New West, a trio from California. Playing guitars and mandolin, they brought a nostalgic tear to the eye with contemporary songs reminiscent of old Gene Autry and Roy Rogers ballads from 1930s and 1940s cowboy movies.

The audience was made up of cowboy and cowgirl wannabes and a few city slickers - and a temporarily adopted Easterner with a new appreciation for cowboy culture.

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