Out where the handclasp’s a little stronger, Out where the smile dwells a little longer, That’s where the West begins…
Arthur Chapman 1912
Last week was National Cowboy Poetry week and I usually spend it at the Santa Clarita Cowboy Festival signing books. The festival, was canceled this year, along with everything else. But I sure did miss it.
I especially missed rubbing shoulders with people like Cheryl Rogers Barnet (daughter of Roy Rogers and Dale Evans), Jon Chandler (chosen Best Living Western Musician by True West Magazine) and cowboy poet, Waddie Mitchell.
It was at this festival that I first learned to appreciate cowboy poetry. I was never particularly fond of poetry, but this was different. This was storytelling like I’d never heard, and it really brought the west alive for me.
Cowboy poetry flourished after the Civil War. War songs were mixed with traditional ballads to create a unique style that painted vivid pictures of loneliness, loss of a horse, camaraderie and annoying coyotes.
Cowboys recited these poems for each other around the campfire. No free form verse for these hard-driven men. Old time cowboy poetry always rhymed and was often put to song.
Much of it was done orally, which helped with memorization. Because the poetry was not written down, much was lost but not all. Fortunately, some of these gems were printed in newspapers and have since been published in books.
Legend has it that the reason poems were recited from memory was because cowboys were illiterate.
Not true, says writer David Stanley. In his book Cowboy Poetry Then and Now,” he argues that cowboys were anything but illiterate. “Many cowboys of both the nineteenth and twentieth centuries have been well read, sometimes astonishingly so.” He goes on to say that “Cowboy poetry has been primarily the province of literate people since the first publication of poems in western newspapers in the 1870s.”
To prove his point, Stanley tells us that “It wasn’t just original poetry that was enjoyed around the campfires. Cowboys also enjoyed “a mass of popular poetry from Shakespeare to Rudyard Kipling.”
There’s a famous saying that any poem a cowboy likes is a cowboy poem. That may be true of Shakespeare, but for me, personally, nothing beats a poet in a cowboy hat.
What’s your favorite western storytelling medium: movie, TV, books, music or poetry?
I’m so glad to stop by here, prop up my red cowboy boots and visit with the fillies about Billion Dollar Cowboy, the debut book in my new series, Cowboys & Brides.
Someone asked me recently how I came to write about four very rich cowboys and that started me thinking about why I came to write about four sassy ladies who lassoed those cowboys.
It all started with the cowboys, Colton (Billion Dollar Cowboy), Lucas (The Cowboy’s Christmas Baby), Greg (The Cowboy’s Mail Order Bride) and Mason (How to Marry a Cowboy). They popped into my mind and at first I told them that I couldn’t write about rich cowboys because I didn’t know or understand the ways of the rich folks in this world.
But they insisted and we negotiated the terms. I’d turn the air conditioning down low (look at that sexy cowboy on the front of the book, fillies!) and write their stories but I got to pick the leading ladies and they had to stick around and tell me exactly how the story went.
We shook on it and Colton pulled up a chair around since I was writing about him first.
Four very sassy ladies had been talking to me for a while about writing their stories and I brought them front and center and we had a long conversation. Not a one of them were interested in a rich cowboy, no matter how sexy, smooth talkin’ or good at two-steppin’ they were. But I could see some real possibilities so I introduced Colton to Laura Baker, and oh, my but the sparks flew from day one. Both of them were wary as two old tom cats on the back yard fence. Neither trusted the other as far as they could throw a ton of bricks. And we were off on a real ride tellin’ the story that come out of putting them together.
Laura had grown up on a ranch without much in the way of affection from her great-aunt who had taken Laura and her sister, Janet, in to keep them out of the system. She liked ranching but had no intentions of making it her life’s work and it damn sure wasn’t her dream. However, Janet had an addiction to gambling. She’d gotten in way over her head with the last betting spree and she was back to begging Laura to get her out of trouble. The only way Laura can manage to help her sister is to work for their distant cousin, Andy, at some rich cowboy’s ranch in Ambrose, Texas, wherever to hell that is.
She wasn’t any too happy with me there at the first. She didn’t trust Colton and he couldn’t believe any woman on the face of the great green earth wouldn’t give two hoots if he was rich or not. Things didn’t get much better when poor old Colton found himself drugged after a night in a local honky tonk. It was only by the quick thinking of the ranch foreman that he awoke in his bed the next morning and not with a wedding ring on his finger after those two women had put something in his drink.
Laura is determined not to stay one minute more than it takes to earn the money to keep Janet from being maimed or killed by loan shark. She sure isn’t interested in playing along with the ruse that she was Colton’s girlfriend, especially when it turned into an engagement complete with a diamond half the size of a hockey rink. But since it involved enough money to get Janet out of gambling debt she went along with the crazy idea. And since his grandmother, the ranch foreman and even the sixteen year old foster child, Roxie, has set the wheels in motion with their tricks, there doesn’t seem to be much choice in the matter. Before long, they trusted each other to the point of waking me up in the middle of the night to tell me how to write the next scene.
And that’s when I knew I’d made the right decision in putting Laura on that particular ranch and not Natalie, or Rachel or even Emily who were waiting in the wings to see what would happen when Billion Dollar Cowboy was all finished. After Laura’s experiences I wasn’t sure that they wouldn’t all light a shuck and hide the mesquite trees but when I started The Cowboy’s Christmas Baby, Natalie was right there ready to take on the job.
What do you think it would take to make a cowboy with more than a billion dollars trust a woman? What would it take for a woman to believe a rich cowboy who could have anyone or anything that he wanted?
BILLION DOLLAR COWBOY BY CAROLYN BROWN – IN STORES JUNE 2013
Colton Nelson was 28 when he won the Texas Lottery and went from ranch hand to ranch owner overnight. When people started lining up wanting some of his millions, he hired a friend, Andy Joe, to handle his affairs and find him a bride and buy her, no matter what the cost.
Laura Baker and her sister, Emily, had been raised in foster homes. Though she was the younger of the two, Laura was always bailing Emily out of trouble. So when Andy Joe slid into her booth at a diner one night and made a proposition to Laura, it seemed the perfect solution…until Laura met Colton and realized she didn’t give a damn about his money and that her love was not for sale.
* * * *
Carolyn Brown is a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author with more than 60 books published. Born in Texas and raised in southern Oklahoma, Carolyn and her husband now make their home in the town of Davis, Oklahoma. Carolyn’s first women’s fiction novel, The Blue Ribbon Jalapeño Society Jubilee is now available, and you can look for her next cowboy romance, Cowboy Seeks Bride in August 2013! For more information, please visit: www.carolynlbrown.com.
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, WestWord 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.