Western Poet Doris Daley: Notes From the North Country

Petticoats, pistols…and now poetry! I”m honoured to add my voice to the talented women at this wonderful site who write about the west.

I make my living as a western poet; the page and the stage are my two workplaces. The “page” is wherever you find me working with notebooks, coffee cup and rhyming dictionary at hand. The stage can be in Elko, Nevada; Alpine, Texas; Valentine, Nebraska; Calgary, Alberta: I go wherever the gig is. With the re-birth of cowboy poetry in the 1980s, this rhymed and metered form of storytelling is enjoying a popularity that shows no sign of waning. And in my experience, the west is not only a geographical and/or historical concept, but is alive and well and thriving in hearts and imaginations all over North America.

My own performances have taken me to the Smithsonian Institute, the eastern townships of Quebec, private girls” schools in Virginia, and the national library in Ottawa. My attitude? No road too long, no campfire too small, no convention stage too big…my privilege and passion is to celebrate my own western heritage and lifestyle with audiences who want to listen.  And what a delight to recently be at the fabulous Santa Clarita Cowboy Gathering in California which is where I met Margaret Brownley and participated in panel discussions about women writing the west.

Research for my work is simply an extension of the skin I”m in. I come from a gene pool that includes Irish stowaways, pioneer ranchers, petticoated bushwhackers, English homesteaders, sorry team ropers, fancy two-steppers, rough and tumble bronc peelers, and great cooks: the perfect pedigree for a cowboy poet!

I grew up on a cattle ranch on the edge of the Porcupine Hills in Southern Alberta. My great grandfather came west with the North West Mounted Police (the Mounties)in the 1870s. His wife Mary wrote about the great adventure of being a pioneer ranch couple forging a life under a big western sky before Alberta was even a province. But she also wrote about the terrible loneliness. Jim gone to Fort Benton for supplies, Fort Macleod 18 miles away, a Chinook wind howling relentlessly out of the south west: “If it weren”t for the knowledge of winter coming, and the certainty of so many rivers to cross, I would start tomorrow to walk back home to Ontario,” she wrote in her diary. But she stayed and stuck it out…so did all the grandmothers who did the heavy lifting for my generation.

My mother”s mother was born on Dec. 15 in the middle of the Saskatchewan prairie, surrounded by nothing but a frozen world of white blowing snow. They kept her alive by heating grain in the oven and scooping it into a butter box. Into the improvised incubator went the new baby…oblivious to her dramatic entry into the world. Meanwhile, in South Dakota, the Weber family…Mother, Father, 9 kids (one of whom would grow up to marry and give birth to my dad)…were making plans to make the long wagon trek to Alberta where good farm and ranch country was still available for homesteading. So many disparate stories and threads of stories waiting to be woven together beneath Alberta”s Chinook Arch.

And here I am all these generations and decades later…the product of risk-taking, adventure-seeking  men and women of ingenuity, fortitude and good humour.  Stories like this were the norm at the turn of the last century. Every family in my town would have similar family stories to tell.

 

Your Cowboy Poetry Primer:

Cowboy poetry is rhymed, metered verse with themes and stories that celebrate the heartbeat of the historical west and/or today”s working west.

The cowboy poetry world in general honours authenticity and honesty. What it”s not: actors or literary writers dressing up in costume to roll-play a cowboy story on stage. What it is: real people, men and women, young and old–auctioneers, ranchers” wives, feedlot cowboys, veterinarians, farriers, rodeo cowboys, buckaroos, saddle makers–telling their own stories about their own patch of the west.

Cowboy Poetry and Music Festivals are held all over the west, often to crowds numbering in the thousands. In keeping with the oral tradition, poems are memorized and recited (not read).

My own inspiration comes from the working west and from the English language. I am a stickler for perfect rhyme, marching meters, clever metaphors, interesting word play. If my name goes on it, I want it to be the best I can write.

Website: the best website for all things cowboy poetry (essays, classic writers, contemporary profiles, news and announcements, a calendar of poetry gatherings) is www.cowboypoetry.com. My own website (www.dorisdaley.com) has a link.

What I”m excited about: my latest book, West Word Ho! is a compilation of my most recent work, with poems chunked into categories like Fun and Nonsense, Grit and Grace, Christmas on the Range, and tributes to western icons Dale Evans, Charlie Russell and Will James.  My brand new project (released June 1, 2012) is a collaboration CD called 100 Years of Thunder: a salute to the 100th anniversary of the Calgary Stampede. The CD contains 10 original poems and 10 original songs by internationally acclaimed singer-songwriter Bruce Innes, himself a native Calgarian who followed his own musical star to a lifelong career in the music biz based out of Los Angeles and Sun Valley, Idaho. We pay tribute to the rip snorting, hell-bent-for-leather, gritty and grand traditions of The Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth.

I love what I do. I love my two offices: the page and the stage. I”m living proof that if you love to write, and write about what you love, then there”s a trail waiting for you to follow. It”s not without risk…but I think back to pioneer women who nestled their babies into butter boxes full of warm grain and realize that risk taking just comes with the territory. Happy trails and happy rhyming!

Doris has a copy of West Word Ho! for one person who leaves a comment today.

Guest Blogger

17 Comments

  1. Welcome Doris,,,what a interesting post,,dont believe I had ever heard of a Western Poet before,but I love anything western ,again welcome

  2. Welcome Doris. What a fascinating and wonderful post today. It was great to learn about your ancestors and your exciting life. Your talent and creativity is to be admired and enjoyed by all. Wishing you the best of continued success, happy trails and most of all enjoyment with your life. Alberta is my favorite province. I have travelled thoughout Canada and love it greatly. It offers so many varied spectrums for the senses.

  3. I was captivated with this post filled with your experiences and background of your family. What a great treasure trove of cherished stories to hold onto. It is wonderful that you have filled your poetry with such inspiration. It is so unique to read about this beautiful land and the family you remember. The West has so much to offer. Land and never ending skies that stretch forever.

  4. Very interesting article. You truly do seem like a girl of the West.

  5. You have a most fascinating familly history. A lot more exciting than most people. Where I live, we have western poets. In fact we have an annual Poetry reading here in the Valley each Fall. A number of people give their readings and go on to Elko, Nevada for the biggie.
    Your writing sounds exciting and gives a different sound to the Western Story. I would love to read your work.

  6. Avatar

    Great post Doris.. I love that one of our “Great Canadian Western” tradtions will be put to a CD in celebration of The Calagary Stampede. I love your websites… Very interesting..

  7. Doris, welcome to the Junction!!! I’ll admit I’m not a poetry reader as a rule, but you’ve convinced me. What’s next for you?

  8. What great family stories you have. Our little town has “Historic Days” on Memorial Day weekend and it includes a western art show, western music, and cowboy poetry. One year Waddie Mitchell was the featured poet but most years local cowboy poets take center stage and yes, they too, are cowboys and ranchers first who have become story tellers and poets. What a great treat it is to hear the stories told in rhyme and rhythm.

  9. Great post Doris! I love anything to do with westerns. So I think I would really enjoy your book. Thanks for sharing with us today.

  10. Doris,

    I love poetry also. You are an amazing person. Somebody I would love to talk to about poetry. I love the cover of your book.
    Hope to talk someday.

    Melinda

  11. Doris, welcome to P&P. We’re thrilled to have you. I loved the story about your mother and how they kept her alive by heating grain and scooping it into a butter box. The thing that always strikes me about the frontier people is their ingenuity and how they worked with whatever they had. We could certainly do with some of their spirit in today’s world where we can function without a Walmart, washers and dryers, microwaves and all that stuff.

    I’d love to read some of your poetry one day. Wishing you much success with it.

  12. Hi Doris,

    This was such a great post, I’m glad I stopped by today. You have such a rich family history and it’s wonderful you use your talent to honor that history. I’ve always loved cowboy poetry, of course Baxter Black is one of my favorites.

    All the best with the new book!

    –Kirsten

  13. nice post thanks for sharing

    ABreading4fun [at] gmail [dot] com

  14. To be so diverse and be able to compose poetry which is unique and write Westward Ho is to be admired. The West has an allure that is always there for me. It is special and evoke an era of bygone times which is nostalgic for me. All the best for your continued success.

  15. What an interesting life. I can only dream of growing up on a ranch or in the west. I love cowboy poetry and stumbled upon your website just a week ago. I have spent some time looking through it. I’m glad to see you here and hope to see you more often.

  16. Great Post! You have peaked my interest and I will be checking out the sites you suggested as well as your books. Thanks.

  17. Hi Doris, I just wanted to pop in and say hello and welcome you. I did so enjoy working with you at the cowboy festival and hope we get a chance to it again.

    Margaret

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