A Gathering of Cowboy Poets

Cowboy poets have been sharing their verbal artistry with the wider public since the first Cowboy Poetry Gathering in 1985.

| January/February 1989

  • cowboy poets - Baxter Black at mic in cowboy gear
    Baxter Black, poet, author, comedian and veterinarian, manages to make a living doing all the above.
    DAVID SWIFT
  • cowboy poets - silhouetts at sunset
    Cowboy poets are the heroic silhouette on the horizon whose inspirations burble forth from a warm spring within.
    PHOTO: SUPERSTOCK
  • cowboy poets - fiddler
    All-night music keeps 'em wide-eyed.
    DAVID SWIFT
  • cowboy poets - photographing a cowboy
    A lot of photographers come, but there are still more cowboys.
    DAVID SWIFT
  • cowboy poets - Waddie Mitchell
    Cowboy poet Waddie Mitchell.
    DAVID SWIFT
  • cowboy poets - archival illustrations
    Classic illustrations of working cowboys.
    BETTMANn ARCHIVE

  • cowboy poets - Baxter Black at mic in cowboy gear
  • cowboy poets - silhouetts at sunset
  • cowboy poets - fiddler
  • cowboy poets - photographing a cowboy
  • cowboy poets - Waddie Mitchell
  • cowboy poets - archival illustrations

"Everyone wants to 
find some deep meaning here.
 
What it is
 
is a hell of a lot of fun."

-Waddie Mitchell on the Cowboy Poetry Gathering

For every cowboy poet there’s a folklorist who will tell you, at length, all about this special breed: "Cowboy poets are the heroic silhouette on the horizon whose inspirations burble forth from a warm spring within.

"Given another 12 hours alone on the prairie, cowboy poets can't help but reshuffle and commit to memory an assortment of rustic observations to celebrate bad food, wet ground, ornery cows and pay even lower than a teacher's. Every other line rhymes. That's why they're called poems. The fact that the rhythm of his new ditty mimics the clip-clop of a weary horse is fraught with significance."



A poet in the sagebrush; a mystery up to his knees in enigma: It's hard to imagine a more romantic American ideal. That's why it is with anguish felt deep in my gizzard that I must warn you that 90% of all cowboy poems are no different than other forms of Western art. They're sentimental. Maudlin. Gooey.

Not that it matters. The other 10% make it all worthwhile. Besides, cowboy poetry per se doesn't play that big a role in the annual Cowboy Poetry Gathering. What we have here is the keenest long weekend this side of the Mississippi —72 hours straight (and climbing) of world-class joke-mongering, storytelling, lie-swapping and guitar-banging. As musician Ranger Doug says, "There's only one thing this gathering doesn't have: sleep."






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