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Cowboy Poetry

What is Cowboy Poetry?

By the strictest definition, that used at many Cowboy Poetry gatherings, it is poetry written by cowboys and cowgirls, those people involved in the ranching and/or rodeo life. Participants must verify their background, their bonafides (pronounced bo-na-fy-dees), in order to participate in the event and/or competition. In addition, by the strictest rules, Cowboy Poetry must rhyme (no free verse allowed). As an interesting side note, the first Cowboy Poetry gatherings were called "The Liar's Hour".

It could be said that Cowboy Poetry has been around as long as cowboys - so at least 500 years in the Americas alone. The poetry (and associated songs) really proliferated after the American Civil War during the heyday of the great cattle drives. Cowboys wrote and sang about their experiences and much of that work has survived (sadly, much has also disappeared). One of the most enduring, and authentic, cowboy songs is 'Little Joe, the Wrangler' set down by Jack Thorpe in 1898.

Much of what is known as classical Cowboy Poetry comes to us from the late 1800's and early 1900's from poets such as Badger Clark, Bruce Kiskaddon, Arthur Chapman, Rhoda Sivell, and others.

This type of poetry is certainly not limited to the United States nor is it even limited to the Americas. Many other countries have poetry of a similar nature, although it would not be called 'Cowboy Poetry'. As an example, much of the poetry of Banjo Paterson (Waltzing Matilda) and Lex McLennan, both of Australia, could very well be considered in this same genre, especially the epic poem 'The Man From Snowy River', by Paterson. In Australia, this poetry is known as 'Bush Poetry'.

Cowboy Poetry has really become quite popular within the last 20 years or so, and many gatherings are held around the United States and in Canada. Popular contemporary poets include Baxter Black, Waddie Mitchell, Wallace McRae, Gwen Petersen, and Rudy Gonzales; just to name a few.

Many people are only familiar with the 'funny' Cowboy Poetry, but the works of the poets cover a wide spectrum of topics and emotions. Regardless of topic, whether the poem deals with the land, cattle, people, rodeo, love, humor, tragedy, or life in general; the poetry always depicts the unique perspective of the Westerner.
Content provided by Jim Arner, The Book Ranch.

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