National Cowboy Poetry Gathering Unites, Educates, And Entertains

Jan 29, 2014

This week, hundreds of rural and urban folk alike are coming together at the 30th National Poetry Gathering in Elko, NV. Participants are being entertained with live music and poetry recitings as well as participating in in discussions regarding issues facing those living a rural lifestyle in a modern west.

The energy in the mountain air of the small community of Elko, Nev. is palpable this time of year. Rural westerners and urban-ites are again making the yearly pilgrimage to celebrate western culture. Through art and discussion, many have said that this special event borders on spiritual.

This year’s theme “Expressing the Rural West – Into the Future,” highlights the increased focus on technology in the rural west, and the opportunities and challenges that come with that.

“We want the event to be fun, first of all, and I think people come to the event to have a good time. A lot of the theme is reflected in entertaining things and things that show off the creativity of rural westerners,” said Meg Glaser, artistic director at the Western Folklife Center in Elko.

The week-long event is open to all, even those who don’t have a rural background. 

Jerry Brooks, also known by her friends as “Brooksie,” is a cowboy poetry reciter from Sevier, Utah

“The Last Ride Together” by Robert Browning is a verse from one of Brooks’  best-loved poems:

“What does it all mean, poet? Well,
Your brain beat into rhythm, you tell
What we felt only; you express'd
You hold things beautiful the best,
      And pace them in rhyme so, side by side.”

“I’ve pretty much had a life-long love affair with poetry. When I was working in the mines here in Utah I started in ’78 I’d read poetry and think poetry to myself as I was driving,” Brooks said.

Cowboy poetry is a unique form of poetry which grew from the traditions of impromptu composition from workers on ranches and cattle drives. After a long day of work, cowboys would sit around the fire and entertain each other with tall tales and folk songs. Illiteracy was common, so rhyme was incorporated to aid memory.

“That is our folklore. Those are our shared stories and our myths and the legends are represented in our art,” Brooks said.
Today, cowboy poetry serves to preserve tradition, provide commentary on day-to-day life, and sometimes, just plain make you laugh.

“I’ve been asked when I recite, where do I go? Joe Nielsen says I crawl into the story,” Brooks said. “I definitely grew up in the mountains of Utah and SW Wyoming and Southern Idaho, North Central Idaho in the Selway I went into a lot as a kid,” Brooks said.

Self-labeled “Sage Rock” or “Ag music” artist Brenn Hill of Hooper, Utah blends the characteristics of Country, Folk, Cowboy and a special something of his own into what he calls the “organic music of contemporary ranch life.”

“You know, it gets in your blood all of that has certainly shaped me over the years and made me want to write and sing about it. I’ve always wanted to write and sing about the West,” Hill said.

A sense of community has always been a priority among rural Westerners. The synergy and welcoming atmosphere at the event is inviting to all, he says, regardless of their background.

“There’s a spirit and Elko is kind of a revival and it definitely gets in the blood of people from all walks of life,” Hill said.