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The following reviews of Cowboy Poetry, storytelling, and some Western Music weree written by CowboyPoetry.com editor Margo Metegrano.

We occasionally select books and recordings to review from new publications and releases of those poets not competing for the Lariat Laureate. We regret that we can't accept requests for reviews. For those poets competing for the Lariat Laureate and for all poets and musicians, we welcome reviews of their work by others.

There are reviews written by a number of other contributors on another page, here.

Rick Huff reviews Western music and cowboy poetry CDs here.

Smoke Wade reviews cowboy poetry CDs here.

See many short reviews and notices in our News, which are collected at the year's end, in features such as New in 2008.

 

Below, the reviews are:

listed alphabetically by title

posted chronologically 

 

 


Alphabetically by title:

 

This is Page 1

On this page:

All About Cowboys for Kids  Bethany Zill and Tom McComas

Beneath a Western Sky  Linda Kirkpatrick

Buck Ramsey ~ Hittin' the Trail  Smithsonian Folkways Recordings

Cowboy Christmas Mem'ries Rod Nichols and Gene O'Quinn

Cowboy Poetry Classics Smithsonian Folkways Recordings

Cowboy Poetry: The Reunion  Virginia Bennett, editor

Elko! A Cowboy's Gathering Western Jubilee Recording Co.

From My Window and other poems  Yvonne Hollenbeck

Harvey's Moon Andy Nelson

In the Company of Horses by Virginia Bennett  

A Pair of Aces  Chris Isaacs

Of Horses and Men  Jay Snider

Pat Richardson Unhobbled Pat Richardson

Rhymes and Damn Lies Mike Puhallo

Son-of-a-Gun-Stew: A Texas Cowboy's Gather Dennis Gaines

Spurrin' the Words  Kirk Astroth, Montana 4-H

Sunday Creek  Jeff Streeby

Turning to Face the Wind  Jane Ambrose Morton

What Ever it Takes DW Groethe

What Would Martha Do? and other poems Yvonne Hollenbeck

Where Sagebrush Grows Darin Brookman

Wild and Wooly Western Verse Sam Jackson

Wyoming's Cowboy Poets and Their Poetry Jean Henry-Mead, editor

All Reviews

All About Cowboys for Kids  Bethany Zill and Tom McComas

Arizona Herstory: Tales From Her Storied Past Dee Stickland Johnson (Buckshot Dot) Page 3

Barely Live at Elko Cardiac Cowboys  Page 2

Beneath a Western Sky  Linda Kirkpatrick

Buck Ramsey ~ Hittin' the Trail  Smithsonian Folkways Recordings

B. Y. O. S. (Bring Your Own Sheep) Pat Richardson Page 2

Chuckwagon Cooking & Stories and Poems  Kent Rollins Page 3

Common Sense, Men and Horses  Debra Coppinger Hill Page 2

Cowboy Christmas Mem'ries Rod Nichols and Gene O'Quinn

Cowboy Poetry Classics Smithsonian Folkways Recordings

Cowboy Poetry: The Reunion  Virginia Bennett, editor

Cowboy Poets:  Minstrels of the West Shadowland Productions Page 2

Cowboys 'Round the Campfire Cattleman's Trading Company (Larry Maurice, Les Buffham, 
Dave Stamey, and Sourdough Slim) 
Page 3

Cowpoke Jack "Trey" Allen Page 2

Elko! A Cowboy's Gathering  Western Jubilee Recording Co.

'Fore the Coming of the Wire Charlie Camden Page 3

From My Window and other poems  Yvonne Hollenbeck

Going to See the Elephant Lanny Joe Burnett Page 2

Harvey's Moon Andy Nelson

Hot Biscuits Max Evans and Candy Moulton, editors Page 3

I Was Born in the Night But Not Last Night Ellie Corrigan   Page 3

In Camp with the Cardiac Cowboys Cardiac Cowboys  Page 2

In the Company of Horses by Virginia Bennett  

Missouri Cowboy Poets Leroy Watts, editor   Page 2

My Home on the Range  Yvonne Hollenbeck Page 3

No Borders British Columbia Cowboy Heritage Society (BCCHS)   Page 3

Of Horses and Men  Jay Snider

A Pair of Aces  Chris Isaacs

Rhymes and Damn Lies Mike Puhallo

Pat Richardson Unhobbled Pat Richardson

Rainman Lloyd Shelby Page 2

Smarten Up, and Put Your Hat Back On! Mike Puhallo & Matt Johnston Page 3

Somewhere Between Earth and Heaven Mike Dunn Page 2

Somewhere in the West Linda Kirkpatrick Page 2

Son-of-a-Gun-Stew: A Texas Cowboy's Gather Dennis Gaines

Spur Jingles and Saddle Songs Judge Lysius Gough/Jim Gough Page 2

Spurrin' the Words  Kirk Astroth, Montana 4-H

Stock Tank Reflections Chuck Larsen  Page 2

Stories and Poems  & Chuckwagon Cooking  Kent Rollins Page 3

Sunday Creek  Jeff Streeby

Texas Legacies Scott Bumgardner Page 2

Time Not Measured by a Clock Carole Jarvis Page 3

Turning to Face the Wind  Jane Ambrose Morton

Visit a Spell, Pard Cowboy History and Performance Society (CHAPS) Page 2

The Verse & the Voice, Reflections of the West Jim Thompson  Page 3

Way out West Verlin Pitt  Page 2

What Ever it Takes DW Groethe

What Would Martha Do? and other poems Yvonne Hollenbeck

Where Prairie Flowers Bloom Yvonne Hollenbeck  Page 3

Where Sagebrush Grows Darin Brookman

Where the Buffalo Rhyme, Dakota Cowboy Poetry  Elizabeth Ebert, Yvonne Hollenbeck, 
Rodney Nelson, and Jess Howard with Jim Thompson
Page 3

Why the Cowboy Sings Hal Cannon and Taki Teldonis, producers  Page 3

Wild and Wooly Western Verse Sam Jackson

Yep, a Little Bit More of Texas Rod Nichols Page 3

Wyoming's Cowboy Poets and Their Poetry Jean Henry-Mead, editor

 


Reviews




COWBOY POETRY CD

  What Would Martha Do? and other poems by Yvonne Hollenbeck

What Would Martha Do? and other poems has 14 original poems by Yvonne Hollenbeck, including the title track, which was named "the most popular cowboy poem of 2005" by Western Music Association (WMA) disk jockeys. Beginning with the first track, "A Plain Ol' Ranchwife," and throughout, she presents engaging poems that come from life she shares with her husband Glen--who she credits as "the cowboy behind the poetry"--on their South Dakota ranch. 

Yvonne is one of today's top performers, featured at the top gatherings across the country, including the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering, and named the Academy of Western Artists' Top Female Poet in 2005. She's the only two-time winner of the Will Rogers Medallion Award (for her books, From My Window and Where Prairie Flowers Bloom).

Most of the poems include her signature humor, with a working ranch woman's realistic view of ranching life, including such poems as "Sorting Time" and "Dining Out."  There are serious and touching poems as well, poems that honor the past and the women who came before her, such as "That Old Comfort Range," and poems about more serious life events, such as "Putting Down Old Red."  

Throughout, the background music by Rich O'Brien, who also produced the CD, enhances each piece, and the quality reflects the entire package. Paulette S. Tcherkassky provided the graphics, and the CD design--from the wide view of the Hollenbeck's ranch on the prairie with the poems' notes to the cover that spoofs Martha Stewart's style--all adds to the enjoyment and professional presentation of the whole project.

The final cut, "Nature's Church," is an extraordinary, moving piece, accompanied by Texas singer and songwriter Jean Prescott's rendition of the perfectly-matched hymn, "In the Garden."  The track gives the deepest insight into what it means to be "a plain ol' ranchwife." Its uplifting message goes to the core of what is valued by those who  live the uncommon, challenging, and rewarding life of ranching.

What Would Martha Do? and other poems is available for $18 postpaid from: Yvonne Hollenbeck - 30549 291st Street, Clearfield, South Dakota 57580 - 605/557-3559 email, www.YvonneHollenbeck.com

Read some of Yvonne Hollenbeck's poetry here.

Review by Margo Metegrano
Managing Editor, CowboyPoetry.com
October, 2006


COWBOY POETRY BOOK

 

   Rhymes and Damn Lies by Mike Puhallo

Popular British Columbia poet and rancher Mike Puhallo's sixth book, Rhymes and Damn Lies, is now available. Mike is a sort of poetic troubadour, roaming the contemporary Western landscape and turning his observations into verse: seasons, ranching challenges, cattle, fires, wildlife, city folks, holidays, friends, and the like. Many of those pieces find their way into his weekly "Meadow Muffins," which are carried by a number of newspapers and electronic outlets, and this book includes some of the best of those pieces.  The poems in this book celebrate his gift: getting a story across in a few lines, usually with a fine balance of wit and wisdom.

Mike is firmly rooted in place, and the poems in this book also include diverse tributes to individuals and to his area's history, including legendary 1930's native hockey players of the Cariboo, rodeo greats (including a moving tribute in prose and poetry to Kenny McLean), famous poets, and regional pioneers. There are also pieces that comment on current events and politics, poking at both sides of the Medicine Line (Mike likes to quote Will Rogers, "I don’t make jokes. I just watch the government and report the facts."). And no doubt, there are a few "damn lies" in those and other poems.

Mike is the President of the British Columbia Cowboy Heritage Society (http://www.bcchs.com), sponsors of the Kamloops Cowboy Festival, held each March. Mike has a few rhymes about that event, as well as one about Elko. The last verses of that poem are typical of his writing: 

...
Then twenty years ago some poets
gathered here to swap some lies,
And Elko started drawing crowds
like "you know what" draws flies.

Now the place is booming,
'though the mines are still shut down.
It's where cowboy poets walk like kings
because their BS saved the town!

This is Mike's fourth collaboration with top cartoonist Wendy Liddle. Rhymes and Damn Lies, (softcover) is available for $9.95 postpaid (US or Canada) from Mike's web site, www.twilightranch.com; by mail from Mike Puhallo, 8584 Westsyde Rd, Kamloops, BC, V2B 8S3, (250) 579-5667, mikepuhallo@direct.ca; and from the publisher, Hancock House, http://www.hancockhouse.com, 1-800-938-1114.

Read some of Mike Puhallo's poetry here.

Review by Margo Metegrano
Managing Editor, CowboyPoetry.com
July, 2006


COWBOY POETRY CD

 

  Of Horses and Men by Jay Snider

Oklahoma rancher and cowboy poet Jay Snider has been making his way in appearances across the West the same way he makes his way across a stage, and the same way his new CD, "Of Horses and Men" proceeds: with strength and confidence.  Jay Snider is commanding. Few poets can grip listeners as he does, with his forceful delivery of his own well-written poems and his
authoritative interpretations of the classics.

His many fans have waited a long time for this CD (his outstanding Cowboyin', Horses and Friends was released in 2001), and they'll find the wait has been more than worthwhile.  The new CD has already received praise from some of the most selective quarters, including past AWA Poet of the Year Pat Richardson, who says, "Jay Snider is the real deal. He seems to have it all, the ability to write good poems, knows what cowboying is all about, and can recite it with the best of them. If you find a cowboy better at any of those three, I'd like to meet him."

The CD gets off to a powerful start with Snider's timeless tale, "Three Hundred Miles to Go," accompanied by Matt Keith's perceptive music. The entire piece comes across with the power of a fine big-screen Western, with its grandness in performance, the captivating drama of its vivid words, and the riveting music. Keith accompanies other tracks, as do impressive musicians Craig Stuke and Kevin Davis.

Snider's humble nature, which comes through even in a recording, lends weight to the considerable wisdom he shares through his words. And those words can range from serious to humorous, sometimes within a single poem. His "Pearly Gates," a choice "cowboy heaven" poem, succeeds at being reverent, amusing, philosophical, wise, and pure cowboy, all within a few stanzas. "Shorthorn Pete" creates the perfect picture of a comical character hanging around the corral, and the story with a moral is told in colorful and imaginative language.  "Heroes" manages to be both personal and universal, a tribute to the American cowboy. A windy tale, "Bankers," closes out the CD and showcases Snider's storytelling talents.

Jay Snider was invited to the 2006 National Cowboy Poetry Gathering, where he gave a masterful performance on the Convention Center stage, and also participated in other sessions.  Recently, he's also appeared at the Western Heritage Classic, the National Cowboy Symposium, Cal Farley's Youth Cowboy Poetry Gathering, the Kamloops Cowboy Festival,  Chisholm Trail Stampede, Branson's Ozark's Fall Roundup, and many other venues. He's taken home championship buckles from the Cowboy Poetry Rodeo in Kanab, Utah, for two years running.

Snider's work is real, solid, and deep, expressed with a steady assurance that carries a poem right into a listener's soul. You can't help but feel a part of the struggles and triumphs and the sadness and humor at the heart of his tales of the real working West. He's been there and is still there. When you finish listening to Of Horses and Men, you may feel the need to dust yourself off.

Of Horses and Men is available for $19 postpaid from Jay Snider, Route 1, Box 167, Cyril, Oklahoma 73029, www.jaysnider.net.

Read some of Jay Snider's poetry here.


Review by Margo Metegrano
Managing Editor, CowboyPoetry.com
February, 2006


COWBOY  POETRY BOOK

    From My Window by Yvonne Hollenbeck


AWA Female Poet of the Year Yvonne Hollenbeck's new book, From My Window and other poems, is a collection of her recent work.  Fans of "What Would Martha Do?" -- which has reached legendary status now, as it circulates around the internet, often without attribution -- won't be disappointed. That crowd-pleasing poem is included, along with many of her most-demanded poems, the tales her fans clamor for at venues such as Sierra Vista, Arvada, Prescott, and Elko.

But there's another side to Yvonne Hollenbeck's work, perhaps not as widely known, but equally engaging.  In addition to being a chronicler of contemporary ranch life, with those wildly popular humorous and serious poems, Hollenbeck  is an important and  thoughtful keeper of the past.  She weaves the tales of those who came before--particularly those of pioneer women-- in meaningful poems where pieced quilts and aprons made from feed sacks take their rightful place in prairie heartland history.

Those fortunate to attend her  "Patchwork of the Prairie" traveling trunk show -- with the carefully preserved work of five generations of her family's quiltmakers (including her own award-winning quilts), her knowledgeable descriptions and family stories, and her poetry-- see the literal fabric of those women's lives. She is a grateful beneficiary of the past, and uses her gifts to extend the legacy to the generations who follow, teaching us all something significant about how the strength and ingenuity of these pioneers was indispensable to the settling of the West.

"From My Window" is a window on the present as well as the past. It includes stories and intriguing vintage photos from the collections of Yvonne Hollenbeck's friends and family.  Those scenes from the past, views of homesteaders, log cabins, sod houses, line shacks, cowboys, threshing crews, and more, lend a deep context to the poems.  The snippets of diary entries and narratives uncover the deep and solid roots of the current ranching generations.

Poems are organized into chapters. "Life on the Prairie" includes poems of today and yesterday; "Cowboys Horses and Rodeos" includes a wide selection of humorous poems as well as the reverent, widely-published "Nature's Church"; "Holidays on the Range" has poems that will warm the crustiest heart; and "Patchwork on the Prairie," with poems about quilts and quilters, likewise adds to the warmth of this collection.

Who better than Texas Poet Laureate and celebrated cowboy poet Red Steagall to recommend this book?  He writes about Yvonne Hollenbeck, "The ability to project life scenes through poetry is a very special and rewarding gift...the window she paints poetic scenes through is very clear and easy for all of us to see ...She is truly a special gift to mankind.  Take the time to read her poetry and enjoy ranch life as she sees it 'from her window.'"

"From My Window" is available for $15 postpaid from Yvonne Hollenbeck, 30549 291st Street, Clearfield, South Dakota 57580, www.YvonneHollenbeck.com.

Read some of Yvonne Hollenbeck's poetry here.


Review by Margo Metegrano
Managing Editor, CowboyPoetry.com
February, 2006


COWBOY POETRY CD

  Beneath a Western Sky by Linda Kirkpatrick

Linda Kirkpatrick's new cowboy poetry CD, "Beneath a Western Sky," showcases her award-winning performance talents. Skillfully accompanied on many tracks by Frank Roberts and joined by Joe Wells -- both her long-time partners in "Sunset Serenade" -- their experience in working together comes through with excellent results.

The opening track's original and lyrical poem, "When Round Up Time Comes Around," a bittersweet tale of being left behind at round up time as a young girl, comes right from the heart of this poet, whose deep Texas ranching roots inspire so much of her work,   That poem is backed up by Frank Roberts playing "I'd Like to be in Texas," an ideal collaboration.

The CD's poems include additional original compositions, venerable classics ("Bronco Twister's Prayer" by Bruce Kiskaddon and "Bruin Wooin'" by S. Omar Barker, recited by Joe Wells), and poems considered by many to be "modern classics," such as "Rosie's Eagle" by JW Beeson and "Old Yellow Slicker" by Debra Coppinger Hill.  Also included is a poem Kirkpatrick co-wrote, "All My Trails Lead Home," with AWA Cowboy Poet of the Year Woody Woodruff, for the AWA's  2005 Team Penning Competition, where it tied for first place.

Linda Kirkpatrick has a passionate interest in Texas history, with a particular focus on the important but unsung stories of early women
settlers who "left a legacy." The CD follows on Kirkpatrick's successful book, "Somewhere in the West,"  and some of her tales of Texas pioneer women from that book, and new poems, are included on the CD. There's a "rest of the story" from the Alamo, "The Legend of Mary Millsap,"; her widely reprinted tale of the woman who served, disguised as a male, as a buffalo soldier, "Cathay Williams"; the heart-rending story of a Lipan Apache woman, "Teresita";  the story of Mary Ann Goodnight's part in saving  the Southern Plains Bison, "Mary Ann's Legacy"; and other compelling tales.

Some of her poems come from her own experience, such as "Cup Full of Mem'ries," a story of respect for the old ways and the old cowboys, and "The Vaquero's Goodbye," a poignant story from her own family.  A poem written by her fourth great-grandfather, circuit-riding preacher Ambrose Smith, gives an amusing and interesting glimpse of a talent carried through the centuries, its own Texas history.

The well-chosen music, from traditional songs to the themes from "Lonesome Dove," enhances the whole of this carefully produced CD.

The eye-catching CD covers were designed by Sandra Herl of Double H Agency and WorkingCowboy.com. "Beneath a Western Sky" is available for $15.50 postpaid from Linda Kirkpatrick,  P.O. Box 128, Leakey, Texas 78873

 

Read some of Linda Kirkpatrick's poetry here.

A version of this review appeared in the November/December 2005 edition of Rope Burns  


Review by Margo Metegrano
Managing Editor, CowboyPoetry.com
October, 2005


COWBOY POETRY AND WESTERN MUSIC CD

  Elko! A Cowboy's Gathering by Western Jubilee Recording Co.

"Elko! A Cowboy's Gathering," a double-CD recording from the Western Jubilee Recording Company, delivers up a banquet of enjoyment, a many-course celebration of poetry, music, and stories, from Allen to Zarzyski.  Recorded live at the Western Folklife Center's 20th Annual National Cowboy Poetry Gathering in 2004, the collection gives a real sense of the breadth and quality of talent that is characteristic of the place "where it all began."

If Elko is "the granddaddy of them all,"  Baxter Black is the favorite uncle. The first track's free-ranging, witty observations in "Baxter Black on Elko" set the stage as only he could.  He expounds on the gathering's history, gets to the meat of its popularity and importance, and pays homage to "The Cowboy Poet" as he recounts the modern evolution of the breed.  His warm welcome to the compilation's listeners sweeps open the doors to the satisfying entertainment that follows.

The nearly 40 tracks alternate music and poetry. Today's headliners and top talents are represented, including Wallace McRae, Joel Nelson, Red Steagall, Andy Wilkinson, Waddie Mitchell, Don Edwards, Wylie and the Wild West, Brenn Hill, Sons of the San Joaquin, Hot Club of Cowtown, and others.

Some of the best tracks make perfect pairs: The timeless ballads by RW Hampton ("Born to be a Cowboy") and Michael Fleming ("Wild Places"); Wallace McRae's powerful poem, forcefully delivered, "Things of Intrinsic Worth," an indictment of "progress," and poet Peggy Godfrey's positive, equally powerful, "Real Wealth," a thanksgiving for her way of life; and master reciter Randy Rieman's performance of Will Oglivie's "Hooves of the Horses" and Wylie and the Wild West's inspired musical rendition of the same piece.

Other outstanding tracks include poet Lyn Messersmith's tough, soul-baring, "The Time it Never Rained"; Michael Martin Murphey's sweet version of the Badger Clark classic, "Spanish is the Loving Tongue," backed up by the American Buckaroo Orchestra; and Jon Chandler's inventive, complex "Geronimo's Men (45 Horses)" performed with Butch Hause and Ernie Martinez.

It is fitting that Virginia Bennett's sincere, "We Are the Poets" is placed at the heart of the compilation, introducing the second CD. Her words define the magic pulse that links the artists and their audiences at Elko: "...As long as you continue to listen, we'll try to get it right. /With words that bind us close together, transcending times and borders / We are the poets, and you the reason that we write."

The poetry and music of Elko comes from far beyond any confining definition of the American Western ranching experience, and this recording showcases the gathering's great reach.  It includes, for example, Native American Henry Real Bird's "Dream of Spotted Buffalo/Night Song of the Crow"; Glenn Ohrlin's amusing tale, "International Glenn (Whatever That Is?)," a mix of llamas, the Dalai Lama, and the Mongolian horsemen poets and musicians who were a part the 2003 Gathering during the Asian Lunar Year of the Horse;
Australia's Janine Haig's heart-rending, memorable "Not Gone," which illuminates ranching life's essential partnerships and drives home the painful universality of loss; and Paul Zarzyski's "Bizarski-Mad Bard & Carpenter Savant of Manchester, Montana--Feeds the Finicky Birds," which involves both tofu and haggis, lending another sort of exotic spice to the banquet (some contend Zarzyski inhabits his own strange and wonderful universe).  An 11-year old Oscar Auker and octogenarian rancher, poet, and Cowgirl Hall of Fame honoree Georgie Sicking form the generational bookends of those included.

In the liner notes, poet Waddie Mitchell, one of the event's founders and the CDs' producer, explains that the compilation  is "...not a 'best of' nor a 'definitive works.'  It is merely a sampling of the diversity of poetry, music, voices, subjects and generations that are The Gathering." The word "merely" seems a humble choice.  These carefully selected tracks are a generous sampling that convey the incomparable spirit of the gathering.  For the audiences, at the event itself, there is always more than they can possibly take in, and that abundance is a part of the Elko experience.  You quickly give up any notion of a good night's sleep, breakfast, or lunch. You sit in
on legendary jam sessions that last well into the night, and then race early the next morning to take in all the shows and sessions you possibly can-- learning, feeling, laughing, and generally having more fun than seems legal.  The producers have done a great job of capturing the essence of what has you planning your next year's return before you've even left.

This recording should whet the appetite for a trip to Elko for old timers and first-timers alike. You can order the 2-CD set from Western Jubilee (www.WesternJubilee.com), the Western Folklife Center (www.westernfolklife.org) SilvercreekMusic.com, Amazon, and other outlets. The CD states that the "Western Folklife Center receives a contribution" from purchases of the recording.

A version of this review appears in the Wyoming Companion in June, 2005 

Read some of Baxter Black's poetry here: http://www.CowboyPoetry.com/bb.htm
Read some of Wallace McRae's poetry here:  http://CowboyPoetry.com/mcrae.htm
Read some of Joel Nelson's poetry here:  http://www.CowboyPoetry.com/joelnelson.htm
Read some of Red Steagall's poetry here:  http://www.CowboyPoetry.com/redsteagall.htm
Read some of Waddie Mitchell's poetry here:  http://www.CowboyPoetry.com/waddie.htm
Read some of Don Edwards' lyrics here:  http://www.CowboyPoetry.com/donedwards.htm
Read some of Michael Fleming's lyrics here: http://www.CowboyPoetry.com/newwestband.htm
Read some of Wylie Gustafson's' lyrics here:  http://www.CowboyPoetry.com/wylie.htm
Read some of Brenn Hill's lyrics here:  http://www.CowboyPoetry.com/brennhill.htm
Read some of Georgie Sicking's poetry here:  http://www.CowboyPoetry.com/sicking.htm
Read some of Virginia Bennett's poetry here:  http://www.CowboyPoetry.com/vibennett.htm

Review by Margo Metegrano
Managing Editor, CowboyPoetry.com
May, 2005


COWBOY POETRY/BOOK/CD

  Spurrin' the Words by Kirk Astroth/Montana 4-H

"Spurrin' the Words," a Cowboy Poetry Project from the Montana 4-H Center for Youth Development, belongs in every Cowboy Poetry library.  Whether you work with kids, write poetry, or are a fan of Cowboy Poetry, you'll come away with valuable information from this excellent resource.

Kirk Astroth, Director of the Montana 4-H Center for Youth Development, has created a youth guide and an accompanying leader's guide, each with a CD with 13 tracks of classic and contemporary poetry recited by and commented upon by Mike Logan, Gwen Petersen, and Paul Zarzyski.

The depth and breadth of the material is impressive, drawing on the best examples of poetry in chapters that address the history of Cowboy Poetry's language, stereotypes about cowboys, the basics of rhyme of meter, classic poets, and more.

The writing is informative, "...the American West included cowboys of all kinds and colors--from African American buffalo soldiers to Mexican vaqueros to famous Indian cowboys and rodeo stars, both male and female"; engaging, "Like storytellers throughout the ages, cowboy poets use rhyme because it is easy to remember. Just ask yourself--what is easier to remember?  Four lines of the Declaration of Independence or four lines of a nursery rhyme?"; and practical, "Don't add useless words just to fill in a meter. Rearrange the
whole line instead. Poetry has to be chiseled a little bit. It takes time and a lot of effort to make it sound effortless."

The content of each guide is similar, with teaching aids in the Leader's Guide and workbook areas in the Youth Guide, which also has some additional poems. Each book includes top examples of classic and contemporary poetry, vintage and modern rodeo and ranching photographs, a glossary, a list of resources and references, a directory of poetry gatherings, and rhyming games and activities.

Among the many poems and Cowboy songs are S. Omar Barker's "Horses vs. Hosses,"  Sally Bates' "Generic Titles," Badger Clark's "Ridin'," the traditional "The Old Chisholm Trail," Robert Service's "The Cremation of Sam McGee," Mike Logan's "Mr. Magpie," Gwen Petersen's "The Legacy,"  Wallace McRae's "Reincarnation," and Paul Zarzyski's "The Heavyweight Champion Pie-Eatin' Cowboy of the West."

The project was supported in part by the Montana Arts Council and the National Endowment for the Arts, and made possible with the assistance of many others.

Each "Spurrin' the Words," book is available for just $10 postpaid from the Montana 4-H Center for Youth Development, MSU, 210 Taylor Hall, Bozeman, MT 59717. Specify whether you are ordering the leader's guide or the youth guide.  Every poet would benefit from reading the leader's guide. Excerpts, a contents list, and indexes are featured at www.CowboyPoetry.com/spurrin.htm and you can preview the youth guide on the Montana 4-H Center for Youth Development http://www.montana4h.org/.

A version of this review appeared in the Wyoming Companion in May, 2005 
A version of this review appeared in the May/June, 2005 edition Rope Burns, a publication of the Academy of Western Artists

Read more about Spurrin' the Words in our feature here:   http://www.CowboyPoetry.com/spurrin.htm

Review by Margo Metegrano
Managing Editor, CowboyPoetry.com
April, 2005


 

COWBOY POETRY/WESTERN MUSIC CD

  What Ever it Takes by DW Groethe


There's a clear sense of person and place in all that DW Groethe writes.  His latest CD, What Ever it Takes, is a kind of crazy quilt (in the best sense) of his talents: bright, authentic and intriguing pieces--songs and poems--stitched together perfectly into a dazzling whole.  From the very first upbeat opening strains of "Give Him a Horse and Saddle," he takes you to some place that seems before electricity.  The simple and honest place inhabited by this cowboy, songwriter, poet, and musician is his real world, lit by his commitment to his way of life and by his respect of those who have gone before.  The first, bold song sets the tone, "It don't take much to make a cowboy a king, all he needs is a place to ride."

Groethe's words bring scenes to life with their clear and precise imagery. He can transport you and all of your senses to a time and a place, as in the poem, "Generations," which begins, "I remember the warm smell of leather, burnished smooth from many a ride, my small fingers grippin' the old saddle horn, my grandaddy settin' behind ... "

Regard for the past continues in "Leavin' it All Behind," and as the story of abandoned homesteads unfolds, the listener is drawn into the song's depths, its layers of meaning, and a man's proud struggle, "Some say he is a cowboy, others disagree, some there are that think that 'nothin's' all he'll ever be ... "

When DW Groethe switches to humor, hold on tightly, because his zany songs and poems are full of surprises. "Talkin' Windy Blues" tells of the eastern Montana wind, including a time it "caught the whole dang herd with their mouths wide open, and blew 'em all inside out... had to reach waaaaay in to grab their tails and give them all one heck of a yank, well it really didn't appear to hurt 'em none, but it still kinda turns my crank..." and other colorful incidents. 

"The Bunny Poem" is a rollicking, imaginative roadkill tale with tongue-twisting highlights ("...now I know why Disney called old Bambi's bunny-buddy Thumper...").  In the poem, "Yearlin' Heifers," a frustrated cowboy fixing fence puzzles over "the girls'" behavior.  And who is the guy they buried in "The Funeral?"

Some pieces defy categorization, and at least one achieves the goal of the liner notes, which explain why "Summer" is included: "Every recording needs at least one off-the-waller just to keep the pigeon holers from pigeon holing."  "Some Sunny Day" could inspire even the members of the First Church of Everybody's Business to stop gossiping and break into the glory of the song's joyful chorus. "There's a Silence" is a quiet celebration, a reverent poem full of gratitude for the land, trust, and solitude that "sets your spirits aright."

Hearts are won and broken in songs that come at the subject of love from a variety of novel perspectives. It's never simple. "The One That Got Away" is a jewel of a song, a paean to young love, full of passion and painful truth. "Lately" will call to anyone longing to leave or trying to avoid city life with its "too many stops and starts, too many locks on the windows and doors, just too many moving parts."  A siren call to the rural life, even the silence at its sudden end speaks.  Love's outlook becomes even more positive in "When We Get Hitched," and it achieves "peaches and candy" sweetness in "Ridin' that Trail."

"Mendin' Harness" manages to be both thoughtful and wistful, sad and hopeful.  "Heartbroke," full of expressive pain, is a sad waltz that will touch even the coldest heart. It is aptly followed by the soulful "Long Train Gone," a haunting and menacing a tale and tune, reminiscent of the classic "Hellbound Train."

The title song, the last track, serves as the other perfect bookend for all that's contained in "What Ever it Takes." Just a few of its lines may have been enough to describe what drives DW Groethe, "He was born to this life with reins in his hands ... he'll make his stand 'gainst any wind that blows and tries to keep him away from the life that he chose...It's hard to explain in words or in rhyme just why his soul is driven to this place and time ..." At least one line would serve to describe DW Groethe himself,  "He is willing to do what ever it takes, the life of a cowboy he will not forsake..."

Featured twice recently at Elko and appearing elsewhere throughout the West, DW Groethe's reputation continues to grow. Those fortunate enough to catch a live show are treated to the additional dimension of this complicated artist's unique delivery; his face has as many expressions as his guitar.

His talent is difficult to herd on the page. There's always so much going on in the songs, on many levels: inventive tunes, accomplished picking, and innovative phrasing. The careful mix of the songs and poems makes the CD flow, moving among themes and moods in a seamless, natural manner, like the best-told stories. 

What Ever it Takes is even fancy on the outside, packaged with outstanding photography and design by Jeri Dobrowski. The CD is available for $15 postpaid from D. W. Groethe, PO Box 144, Bainville, MT 59212.

Read some of DW Groethe's poetry and lyrics here: http://www.CowboyPoetry.com/dwgroethe.htm

 

A version of this review appeared in the Wyoming Companion in April, 2005 
A version of this review appeared in the March/April, 2005 edition Rope Burns, a publication of the Academy of Western Artists

Review by Margo Metegrano
Managing Editor, CowboyPoetry.com
February, 2005


COWBOY POETRY CD

  A Pair of Aces by Chris Isaacs

Award-winning poet Chris Isaacs' new CD, A Pair of Aces, honors the memory and celebrates the talents of the late Cowboy Poetry greats Sunny Hancock and Larry McWhorter, men he calls "two of the best friends I've ever been blessed to have."  Accompanied by Rich O'Brien's exceptional background tunes, the CD features Hancock and McWhorter favorites along with carefully chosen selections of their lesser known poems. In addition to the considerable entertainment value, these tracks are full of the abundant wisdom of these sorely-missed masters.

Larry McWhorter once wrote, "Chris's view of the cowboy life can be seen from so many different angles because he has lived so many aspects of it. Chris can ride the bull, drive the bull, pack the bull, and he can shoot the bull with the best of them."  The jovial "teasing and tormenting" of their friendships comes through often in Isaacs' comfortably warm introductions to the poems.  His equally strong respect of their talents is ever-present as he captures and shares so much of their humor and insight.

Sunny Hancock's fun and nimble "self-defense" of traditional rhyme, "Doggerel, Plain and Simple," is full of elaborate observations that
humorously encapsulate the old controversies and score big points for the rhyming faction.

Hancock was a great observer of human nature, and Isaacs does justice to his well-known "Horse Trade" and to his equally amusing commentary on "the cowboy dress code," called "Change on the Range."  Among the other Hancock highlights are "The Difference," a rarely heard poem, and his "Ode to My Lady, My Wife."

Rich O'Brien's faultless music -- Western and otherwise -- could steal the scene, but doesn't. It shines without ever overwhelming, a model for how music can enhance a spoken-word recording. For example, there's a comic sour-noted few bars of "Pomp and Circumstance" at the end of "Doggerel, Plain and Simple"; a pairing of "The Best Things in Life are Free" with "Differences"; and the sweet strains of "Memri'es" carry along "Ode to My Lady, My Wife."

Larry McWhorter's poetry often had a moral and Chris Isaacs presents several of his most philosophical and well-known poems, including "Ridin' for the Brand," "The Gate Session," and "The Red Cow."  McWhorter liked to visit with old cowboys and pass along what he learned from them. You can't help thinking of the tragedy of his early death when you listen to the words of these poems. Larry McWhorter surely would have been one of those "old cowboys" teaching valuable lessons to the next generations.  Fortunately, he was wise before his time, and Chris Isaacs does his part for the future by helping to keep his words alive.

There are over 16 generous tracks of modern classics in this hour-long CD, each one a jewel. McWhorter's "The Real Thing" is particularly emblematic. It so well represents the realities of working cowboys' lives and what both these men stood for.

Humor is a great part of these poets' legacy and humor is always in good hands with Chris Isaacs.  He celebrates that side of these poets well, and carries it through to the end of the recording with his  vision of how his old friends will greet him in the "great gathering above."  He definitely leaves you smiling. That will be some event.

A Pair of Aces is available for $17.95 postpaid from Chris Isaacs, 502 N Harless, Eagar AZ 85925 and from his web site, www.ChrisIsaacs.com.


Read some of Chris Isaac's poetry here: http://www.CowboyPoetry.com/chrisisaacs.htm
Read some of Larry McWhorter's poetry here: http://www.CowboyPoetry.com/larrymcwhorter.htm
Read some of Sunny Hancock's poetry here: http://www.CowboyPoetry.com/sunnyhancock.htm

A version of this review appeared at the Wyoming Companion in March, 2005 
A version of this review appeared in the May/June, 2005 edition Rope Burns, a publication of the Academy of Western Artists

Review by Margo Metegrano
Managing Editor, CowboyPoetry.com
February, 2005


COWBOY POETRY CD

    Harvey's Moon by Andy Nelson


Before you pop in Andy Nelson's uproarious CD, Harvey's Moon, clear the area around you of sharp objects. You may fall out of your chair laughing. And in some states, it may be illegal to listen while driving.

The CD's title cut, a poem about Harvey the "equine podiatrist," goes a long way toward explaining Andy Nelson's trademark illustration of the backside of a cowboy with a "permanent vertical smile." It wouldn't be kind to comment on any resemblance to the author, but Andy has some things in common with Harvey.  He did grow up at his farrier father's knee and has done plenty of the same work himself.

His "Rules for Visiting Our State," "Rules for Visiting Our Outfit," and "Horse Race" are recordings of live performances, and the audience reactions add to the hilarity. The rules for visiting Wyoming go beyond the usual Chamber of Commerce guides: "The 'Opener' refers to the first day of elk season, it is a religious holiday, and the bank, schools, and post office will be closed"; "We have unpaved roads here, no matter how slow you drive, you are going to get mud on your BMW. We have 4-wheel drive because we need it..."; "...sushi or caviar is available at the bait shop"; "Every person in every pickup waves.  It's called 'being friendly'... it's a new concept, but
try and catch on."

Nothing is sacred in Andy Nelson's world.  His "Endangered Cowboy's Act" starts by replacing all mentions of "plant," "animal" or "species" in the U. S. Endangered Species Act with the word "cowboy" and unravels into an unforgettable, tongue-twisting poetic enumeration defining "the cowboy." His "Language Barrier" takes on thongs.

Now and then, Andy takes a serious turn, inspired by his respect for his cowboying grandfather and farrier father and by his love of ranching life, in poems such as "The Cowboy I Never Knew." "Only a Cowboy Knows," co-written with respected poet Don Kennington, is full of heart and wisdom about the Cowboy Way.  "Cowboy Poet," chosen for the recent Wyoming Cowboy Poets and Their Poetry anthology, paints a respectful portrait and sometimes approaches lyrical with lines such as, "As tradition dwindles, his poetry kindles, the flame in a new generation's day."

Though the ultimate way to experience Andy Nelson is live, with his animated delivery and expressions ratcheting up the fun quotient, this CD gives a great approximation of the real thing.  The test of a good recording is whether you can listen many times and still be amused and entertained. "Harvey's Moon" passes that test with flying colors.

When he's not performing or working at his day job, Andy is a popular emcee, co-writer of such notorious scripts as the all-cowboy "Ranchwife Fashion Show," and co-host with his brother Jim (who calls himself "the better looking half of the full Nelson") of Clear Out West (C. O. W.), a popular weekly radio show available on the internet and on over 20 stations throughout Wyoming and beyond.

If laughter is the best medicine, Harvey's Moon may cure whatever ails you. There are 19 tracks on "Harvey's Moon," and it is available for $18 postpaid from Andy Nelson, PO Box 1547 Pinedale, WY 82941 www.cowpokepoet.com and from www.SilverCreekmusic.com.

Read some of Andy Nelson's poetry here: http://www.CowboyPoetry.com/andynelson.htm
Visit Clear Out West here: http://www.ClearOutWest.com
Read some of Don Kennington's poetry here: http://www.CowboyPoetry.com/donkennington.htm

A version of this review appeared at the Wyoming Companion in February, 2005 and in the Wyoming Arts Guide in March, 2005 
A version of this review appeared in the May/June, 2005 edition Rope Burns, a publication of the Academy of Western Artists

Review by Margo Metegrano
Managing Editor, CowboyPoetry.com
January, 2005


COWBOY POETRY BOOK

  Wyoming's Cowboy Poets and Their Poetry edited by Jean Henry-Mead 

Wyoming's Cowboy Poets and Their Poetry goes far beyond most anthologies, focusing as much on the poets' lives as it does on their poetry, through thoughtful and insightful interviews.

This absorbing collection includes 28 contemporary Wyoming poets--ranchers, professors, cowboys, doctors, and others-- all of whom call some of their work "cowboy poetry."  In the capable hands of editor Jean Henry-Mead, well known for her engaging interviews with Western writers, readers get to know the poets, and their stories give meaningful context to the included poetry.  Popular poet and writer Gwen Peterson characterizes the book well in her lively introduction, writing, "What emerges, what radiates off the pages, what
comes shining through--as the late Tom Eaton, a Montana cowboy poet said--'is the spirit of the poet.'"

The poets tell of the people and events that inspire their writing,  Sue Wallis' recollection of her father learning a poem is poetry itself.  She grew up among "readers, writers and thinkers" and recounts her father memorizing Kipling's "Ballad of East and West."  She tells he would practice "while driving our team of Belgians and the hay sled from one hay corral to the next ...Until the day I die, I will remember him with his wide-legged stance, the lines to Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee loose and swaying --they [the heifers] knew the routine as well as the rest of us.  Us kids were sitting along the back of the sled with the snow swishing past under our feet, jingle of harness, warm, sweet aroma of hose sweat and hay in the crisp air, and him bellowing out: 'Oh East is East and West is West
..."

The roots of the poems' authenticity of experience are uncovered through the poets' stories. Cowgirl Hall of Fame inductee Georgie Sicking fulfilled her young dream to become a top hand and ranch owner. At age 5, she told her sister of her dreams, and her sister warned, "Those are boys ideas and you can't have 'em." Georgie recalls her reply: "I said, 'Boys' ideas or not, I've got 'em.'"  Her poem, "In a Mountain Shack Alone," follows her story, and its message of how of solitude can lead to inner knowledge is all the stronger after getting to know the author through her story.

Ron Bailey, fifth generation rancher-cowboy, tells about his life and says of his poem, "Abandoned Ranch," that it "contains the very essence of the struggles and joys of the ranch business and the fact that everything contained in it has happened to me or some past member of my family."

A great sense of place develops through the poems and biographies and many poets tell of their Wyoming roots. Charlie Firnekas is the grandson of early Wyoming freighters, including one who "helped clean up the mess" following the Battle of the Little Big Horn.  Wyoming native Pete Davis was reared by his grandparents, and his grandfather was "an old Texas Trail cowboy who started a ranch at Cambia, Wyoming, now a ghost town ..."

Echo Roy-Klaproth grew up on a cattle and sheep ranch "sixty miles from anywhere."  She says of herself and her brothers, "We consider it a privilege to be members of the fourth generation on Wyoming soil and so all three of us work to maintain the legacy we were handed at birth."

Poet Stephen Langer's assessment of Wyoming represents the feelings of many. He says,  "It just feels like where you're supposed to be."

At least two of the poets tell of being nearly "born in the saddle." Rhonda Sedgwick Stearns, another Cowgirl Hall of Fame inductee,  "...was carried on a pillow on her mother's saddle from the time she was two weeks old, and rode her own horse up to twenty miles a day when she was two."  Likewise, poet Ada McDonnell tells, "After I was born, by mother had to take care of the livestock on horseback and she would put me in a flour sack that hung from a saddle horn."

Poets comment on their favorite poets (Baxter Black,  Elizabeth Ebert, Buck Ramsey, Wallace McRae, Badger Clark, S. Omar Barker, and Robert Service are often mentioned).  Many express their opinions about the importance and attraction of cowboy poetry.

Past Wyoming Poet Laureate (1995-2002) Robert Roripaugh wrote poems inspired by growing up on his family's ranch long before cowboy poetry's surge of popularity in the 1980's.  He suggests that today's audiences and readers connect with the genre's "portrayal of western life and values in a time when Americans are becoming increasingly rootless and uncertain about the direction in their lives, occupations, and relationships to the land and the places where they live."


Doctor and rancher Kent Stockton says people enjoy it "because of several factors.  It rhymes, it meters along almost like a song, and it tells of simple truths, hardships, and pleasures.  It harks back to a less-complicated lifestyle, and one we're still privileged to enjoy in the rural West."

Eight generations of Jean Mathisen Haugen's family have ranched in Wyoming, and at least 8 members of her current family write poetry.  She thinks people like cowboy poetry because of its "humor and the look at a wonderful way of life."  John Nesbitt, professor and writer, comments, "Readers love the cowboy poetry genre because it is simple and direct...."  R. G. Sowers claims, "Everyone has a little cowboy in them and cowboy poetry  brings that out." Leslie Keltner says, "Some enjoy it because they, too, are living our
lifestyle, and the others because they wish they could live like us."

Wyoming native Garland C. Kennington says people like cowboy poetry "because it brings back memories or lets them experience a few minutes of a cowboy's life.  They don't personally  have to ride a bronc, or be chased by a mad ol' cow, or feed in the cold of winter, or ride drag.  But a good poet makes them feel like they are there and often makes it comical besides.

Former cowboy and rancher John Shreve is among the three generations of his family who have written cowboy poetry.  He suggests, "I  believe that people love cowboy poetry as it brings to mind of days past  that they never knew, but would give all they have to be there."

Josephine "Jo" Fulton, daughter of Wyoming homesteaders, suggests that "more youngsters should get involved in the genre, so there will still be people writing good stuff after all the old timers are gone.  There are still ranches and rodeos enough to give them plenty of material to write about, and we should never discourage their imaginations."

The interviews give glimpses of the creative process. Chuck Larsen, whose paternal grandfather was "a master at telling a story" and whose father was a playwright, tells that, naturally, "The winter months are the most productive for me."  Lynn Hendrickson says, "Occasionally I'll wake up in the night with an idea and immediately rise and write it down before it's lost."  Similarly,  Echo Roy-Klaproth says, "I've had poems wake me up in the night.  They won't leave me alone."

The range of the poems' styles and subjects is as vast as the Wyoming landscape.  Some standouts include "Cattle, Horses, Sky and Grass" by Sue Wallis, "In a Mountain Shack Alone" by Georgie Sicking,  "The Houlihan" by Kent Stockton, "The Jing-Jangs" by Rhonda Sedgwick Stearns, "Silent Thunder" by Verlin Pitt,  "Cowboy Auction" by Jean Mathisen Haugen, "Branding Day" by Echo Roy-Klaproth;  and "Lack of Communication" by Andy Nelson.

"Wyoming's Cowboy Poets and Their Poetry" is a valuable, complex volume. Editor Jean Henry-Mead elicits compelling stories, opinions, and insights from the poets in her interviews. The stories and poems remain with the reader, embodiments of the past and present spirits of those who call Wyoming their home.

Wyoming's Cowboy Poets and Their Poetry is available at the editor's web site (http://members.aol.com/jeanhenry/maverickwriters.html) and by check or money order from Medallion Books, 8344 Shady Lane, Evansville, WY 82636 for $19.95 postpaid (paperback) or $27.45 postpaid (hardcover). Please add 5% sales tax if ordered within Wyoming.

See a complete list of contents and links to some poets' poetry in our Anthologies Index here:
http://www.cowboypoetry.com/anthologies2.htm#WCP


A version of this review appeared at the Wyoming Companion and in the Wyoming Arts Guide in January, 2005 

Review by Margo Metegrano
Managing Editor, CowboyPoetry.com
December, 2004


COWBOY POETRY CD

 

  Cowboy Christmas Mem'ries by Rod Nichols and Gene O'Quinn

Poets Rod Nichols and Gene O'Quinn have created a lasting holiday treasure with their unique CD, Cowboy Christmas Mem'ries.  Gene O'Quinn's confident and professional voice recites Rod Nichols' expertly crafted verse and they bring the season alive with 14 imaginative, original poems. 

Most of the poems are set in a simpler past. The mood is quickly established with poems such as "Christmas 'Round the Campfire":

When it's Christmas round the campfire
and the twilight's growin' dim
blue shadows fallin' 'cross the trail
and it's time for headin' in...

The lives of cowboys unfold in poems such as "Christmas Mornin' Coffee," "Cowboy Christmas Carol," and "Christmas at Line Camp."   By the last track, you've tasted that coffee, been warmed by that campfire, visited with the blacksmith and storekeep and the cowboys in Cutter Bill's Bar, and have been touched time and again by the real meaning of the holiday.

Traditional tunes gently bridge the poems, played with a simple beauty by John Pickul's harmonica and Billy Curtis's guitar.  Those perfect touches tie together the production like a soft red Christmas ribbon.

O'Quinn and Nichols, proud Texans, are both writers and reciters. Gene O'Quinn is a student of classic Cowboy Poetry, and hosts a web site that features classics and Texas poets, along with his own work (www.geneoquinn.com).  Rod Nichols is the author of A Little Bit of Texas, winner of the Will Rogers Medallion Award; a Will Rogers Award nominee for his CD, Yep, A Little Bit More of Texas and as top Male Poet; and was a double finalist in the AWA's Poetry and Songwriting Team Roping Challenge in July, 2004.  He was the first Lariat Laureate at CowboyPoetry.com.

The timeless collection is the perfect gift for the season. Cowboy Christmas Mem'ries is available for $12.95 plus postage exclusively from Silver Creek Books and Music (www.silvercreekmusic.com)

Read some of Rod Nichols' poetry here: http://www.CowboyPoetry.com/rn.htm
Read some of Gene O'Quinn's poetry here:  http://www.CowboyPoetry.com/geneoquinn.htm

A version of this review appeared at the Wyoming Companion in December, 2004 
A version of this review appeared in the November/December, 2004 edition Rope Burns, a publication of the Academy of Western Artists

Review by Margo Metegrano
Managing Editor, CowboyPoetry.com
October, 2004


WESTERN POETRY BOOK

  Wild and Wooly Western Verse by Sam Jackson

Poet Sam A. Jackson's long-awaited book, Wild and Woolly Western Verse and other Sagebrush Yarns, cements his reputation as a
careful craftsman with a fine-tuned sense of humor and plenty of wisdom to dispense.

He accomplishes what he says in his introduction, that these poems "...are meant to entertain and enlighten readers to a view of life from the perspective of those spending their lives in the West..."  Because of the vast range of subjects his work covers, Jackson pointedly calls his work "Western Verse" rather than "Cowboy Poetry."

His poetry often draws on his personal experiences, and the ease with which he shares his stories in verse seems as natural for him as breathing.  That seeming ease is part of his gift, and also the result of the hard work of the meticulous polishing and extraordinary attention he gives to his writing.

In an introductory note, he tells about the summer he turned eleven, and the three following that found him alone, high in the mountains "...living in a tent and riding herd on twelve hundred head of range ewes and lambs-- About once a week Dad would show up with a string of pack horses bringing supplies and a bit of 'moral support.' Over the years circumstances prevented me from
visiting the old campsite, in the spring of 2003-nearly sixty years later--I again made the ride."  Those experiences are the making of "The Reminisce," a first-rate example of his compelling storytelling abilities and his impeccable poetry.

Yes, he grew up on the family sheep ranch, and points out that he was ""the only sheepherder ever to serve as vice president of the Cowboy Poets of Idaho."  One of his short, funny poems, "Comfort First," observes:

...
Cowpunchin's our trade, but we ain't afraid
when coziness comes into play--
To cut out the bull, admittin' that wool
outshines cowhide socks any day.

A number of his poems are widely known, including "Becky 'O,'" about a mustang mare with the traits of her ancestral Spanish "blooded" forebears, caught wild on Utah's west desert in the 1940's by his father. The powerful poem was put to music by acclaimed AWA/WMA musician Curly Musgrave and rose to the top of the Western Music charts.  His "Real vs Real" takes on the
Hollywood Cowboy myths; "Wealth" is a wise and heartfelt tribute to Western life; and "My Pal Gus" takes a poke at poets, and one in particular who is severely "cut down" by his "egoectomy."

Jackson has more than a few poems about growing older, many with self-deprecating humor, and all with underlying sagacity. One poem about an old cowboy, "Surefire Signs," is as graceful as the earlier mentioned "The Reminisce."  It begins: 

The coat of my pony is growin' out long.
     A change in the pitch of the prairie hen's song...

and ends:

He hires me back, knowin' well, come first snow
     I'll head into town 'fore the bitter winds blow.
My annual migration, jist like them ol' deer.
     A surefire sign, boys, that winter is near.

Nearly 70 poems in 166 pages are collected in a chapters such as "Frozen Tales," "Poetry for Reflection," "On the Lighter Side," "Scientific Musings" (with pieces such as "Time," "Wind," "Creation" and "Sheepherder Geology") and a first chapter, which shares the book's title.  Pages of "poem narratives" include notes and asides on many of the poems, and this unique addition gives the reader more insight into the character of this readable, captivating poet.

A special feature, an essay, "Writing Cowboy Poetry," shares Jackson's wealth of experience on the subject.  Those familiar with the annual CowboyPoetry Rodeo -- an event conceived and produced by Sam Jackson -- know his commitment to excellence, and he practices what he preaches.  The essay isn't a sermon or an academic treatise. It is a  practical and clear guide to writing better poetry.

Jackson makes a lasting contribution with this book.  In his looks back, he avoids tedious nostalgia and finds a way to mine the essence of the past for wise, fresh, and valuable insights.  His modern observations put today's West in clear focus. Throughout, his humor and flawless verse make for an enjoyable book that will appeal to a wide audience. It is a fine personal legacy and a gift to Western Heritage.

The book's illustrations, photos, and the cover art are by his talented wife, Renee Budge Jackson. Wild and Woolly Western Verse and other Sagebrush Yarns is available postpaid for $14 plus $2.35 first class postage from Sam Jackson, 4675 E. Vermillion Avenue, Kanab, Utah 84741.

Read some of Sam Jackson's poetry here: http://www.cowboypoetry.com/samjackson.htm

A version of this review appeared at the Wyoming Companion in November, 2004 
A version of this review appeared in the November/December, 2004 edition Rope Burns, a publication of the Academy of Western Artists

Review by Margo Metegrano
Managing Editor, CowboyPoetry.com
August, 2004


VIDEOS/DVDs  AND MUSIC CD

 

      All About Cowboys for Kids, by Bethany Zill and Tom McComas

A set of fun videos (and DVDs), All About Cowboys for Kids, brings today's West and its history to kids--and grownups will find themselves drawn in as well. Shot on location in Wyoming, the engaging, educational videos are narrated by young Jeff McComas with help from local cowboys, ranchers, rodeo participants, trick riders, and others.

The beautifully filmed videos include visits to the Cheyenne Frontier Days Rodeo, Big Creek Ranch, and Wyoming Territorial Park. Bethany Zill's performances of classic and original Western songs tie it all together for a completely enjoyable experience that celebrates Western heritage in a way that is sure to interest all viewers.

In Part 1, viewers visit a rodeo, learn how to tame a wild horse, see a trick roper and trick riders, get to know a 7-year-old cowboy and his pony, and take a ride on the Union Pacific railroad. Bethany Zill starts things off right with her song, "All About Cowboys" (and she adds it will be "about cowgirls, too").  Wyoming vistas and ranch and rodeo scenes full of action hold the viewers' attention throughout.

Cowboys and others tell about Cowboy history and gear; rodeo participants tell about its history and traditions, and there is a segment about wild horses and bronco busters.  A visit to Wyoming Territorial park is the setting for a piece about stagecoaches, Percheron draft horses, old wagons, history, and trivia. Bethany Zill's rendition of the 1850's song, "Wait for the Wagon" is the perfect accompaniment. A segment on railroads covers their importance to the West.

Seven year old Bridger Rardon steals the show as he helps on the family ranch, rounding up sheep with his pony Mable, doing chores, and taking care of his pony.  Branding time at the Rardon's ranch shows kids involved in work and fun.

Girls get their due, with words about how they once had to ride side saddle, but today barrel  race, ride in rodeos, and ride in roundups.  It's pointed out that Wyoming was the first state to give women the right to vote, that Montana was the first state to send a woman to congress, and that the first Supreme Court Justice came from Arizona.  Bethany Zill's fun song about
cowgirls with some fancy yodels puts it all in context.

Co-producer Tom McComas says "We shot so much great footage and came up with so many good stories that we couldn't fit them all into one video." So Part 2 continues the tone and format of the first, telling the story of real cowboys, with a look at life on Wyoming's Big Creek Ranch, a cattle drive, more rodeo action, and more well-presented classic and original songs by Bethany Zill.

An in-depth visit to Big Creek Ranch shows "what real cowboys do," as opposed to what is seen in the movies. Viewers get a feel for a typical day in the lives of some real cowboys during fall roundup, and learn about fencing, shoeing, haying, and other chores. Cattle drives from the "golden age" of cowboys (1866-86) are discussed with interesting historical detail, contrasted with the way cattle are moved today.  More great footage and some photos of the early days add to the story.

There's more rodeo history and a return to Cheyenne Frontier Days, where rodeo competitors talk about their events with an enthusiasm that puts the viewer in the middle of the action.

"Rattlesnake Jake" talks about the what cowboys wear, and how designs came to be, for boots, spurs, chaps, vests slickers, hats, and more and a segment at the Territorial Prison has Marshall and fast draw expert Bryan "Bad Billy Blackjack,"  demonstrating the art of the fast draw and some fancy target shooting.

Two "greenhorn" kids go horseback riding for the first time and learn not only how to ride, but also how to act around horses and how to work with and care for them.

In a fitting final segment, people share their ideas about cowboys' code of ethics and what "The Cowboy Way" means to them.  Cowboys, the Ranch Manager, the Head Wrangler (who happens to be a woman) and others comment. One cowboy points out that he can involve his kids in his work, "and you can't do that in a lot of other jobs."  The Ranch Manager observes that "everybody would like to be a bit of a cowboy," and singer Bethany Zill beautifully sums it all up in her closing song, "Where the Cowboy Calls His Home."

The soundtrack from the All About Cowboys for Kids is available on CD and DVD. Bethany Zill sings classic and original Western songs, including "Wait for the Wagon," "All About Cowboys," "Where the Cowboy Calls His Home," "She'll Be Comin' Around the Mountain," "Home on the Range" and more. Bethany Zill grew up on a North Dakota ranch and wheat farm, and her love of
that life is reflected in her singing and songwriting. She co-produced "All About Cowboys for Kids," inspired by her young sons. She says "When I couldn't find an appropriate video on the shelves, I decided to go for it and make one myself...I wanted the video to capture the spirit of the West and show what life is like out here."

All About Cowboys for Kids has received the coveted Parents' Choice Award and a 3.5 star rating (of 4) from Video Librarian Magazine.

All About Cowboys for Kids is distributed by TM Books & Video and Wyoming West Designs.  The 45-minute videos and the CD are $12.95 each, and the DVDs are $14.95 plus postage. You can preview them all at the All About Cowboys for Kids web site: www.AllAboutCowboys.com where you can order, or call 800-892-2822.

Read more in our feature here: http://www.CowboyPoetry.com/allabout.htm

A version of this review appeared at the Wyoming Companion in September, 2004 
A version of this review appeared in the September/October, 2004 edition Rope Burns, a publication of the Academy of Western Artists

Review by Margo Metegrano
Managing Editor, CowboyPoetry.com
August, 2004


COWBOY POETRY BOOK

 

  Sunday Creek by Jeff Streeby

Jeff Streeby's extraordinary work in progress, Sunday Creek, is now available in a bound limited proof edition with 58 characters and notes (178 pages).  "Sunday Creek" is a collection of "posthumous monologues" -- words from the grave -- of the residents of Sunday Creek, spanning about 150 years. Streeby tells "Sunday Creek is a little river in Montana that runs through Miles City. It was the staging grounds for the big district roundups in the area. The town of Sunday Creek is fictitious, but all of these incidents and characters are based on figures from the historical record."

Jeff Streeby masterfully creates the world of Sunday Creek, a place vividly populated by Native Americans, mountain men, miners, highwaymen, homesteaders, cowboys, slatterns and orators -- saints and sinners from all walks of life. As in Edgar Lee Master's classic Spoon River Anthology, the story of the place unfolds through epitaphs spoken in verse by the town's residents. (Streeby has written, "From my point of view, Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, Boccacio's The Decameron, Mallory's Morte d'Artur, Benet's John Brown's Body, and Lawrence Durrell's Alexandria Quartet have a much stronger influence on this work than does Master's Spoon River ...") Whatever the influences, this provocative work is an original, a daring work in form and substance.  

From the gritty days of settlement and for another hundred and fifty years, these tales -- many inspired by actual events and real
people -- reveal the interwoven relationships among the townspeople and a community emerges, reflective of the complex histories of those who populated the American West. With Streeby's careful scholarship and skillful storytelling, the chorus of voices sings with authenticity and the reader becomes a traveler to a place not soon forgotten.

This edition of Sunday Creek is sure to become a collector's item. You can order Sunday Creek for $15.95 postpaid from Jeff Streeby, 35497 Ivy Street, Yucaipa, California, 92399  (909)797-6296.

Read selections from Sunday Creek in our feature here: http://www.cowboypoetry.com/sundaycreek.htm
Read more of Jeff Streeby's poetry here: http://www.cowboypoetry.com/jst.htm

A version of this review appeared at the Wyoming Companion in October, 2004 
A version of this review appeared in the September/October, 2004 edition Rope Burns, a publication of the Academy of Western Artists

Review by Margo Metegrano
Managing Editor, CowboyPoetry.com
August, 2004


COWBOY POETRY BOOK

  Where Sagebrush Grows 
                                                                           
by Darin Brookman with art by Brian Asher

Where Sagebrush Grows is a collection of Darin Brookman's exceptional poetry accompanied by the inspired art of working cowboy Brian Asher. Open this book and you enter the world of cowboys, cattle and horses. It could be 1884 or 2004.  These masters of their arts transport you down dusty trails that wind along cedar breaks, past weathered corrals and up sagebrush hills, and even back in time.

Brookman and his family operate a fifth-generation farm and ranch operation that straddles the Oklahoma/Texas state line. His words reflect that heritage, and read as easily as if they were spoken around the campfire, at the corral fence, or in the feed store parking lot. Throughout, Asher's detailed art complements the poet's careful observations. Every shirt wrinkle, puff of dust, and hoof's shadow is precisely rendered.  It's been said that local cowboys can look at one of his pieces and identify the horses, men, and even the pasture where they are pictured working.

The theme of rural life's tenuous future is often close to the surface in the poems, served up with a reverence that goes much more deeply than the usual hackneyed laments.  It is often expressed in respect and appreciation, as in "Archives," which starts:

        I hope there's still some cowboys
        When 3000 rolls around...

and has verses such as:

       When they peruse some ancient verse
       From Buck's or J. B.'s pen
       I hope they savvy all about
       "The stock, and earth, and men."  

In "Lookin' Back," the rider remarks:

       I know there must be others
     Who have seen the settin' sun
     But as I turn my pony home
     I thanks the Lord I'm one.

Other poems honor the firm bond among men and horses.  In "Tempered Souls," both are equally humbled and strengthened by Nature's force.  "Boogers in the Bushes" is a vivid symphony of images and emotions that takes a spooked horse and spooked rider through a dark night's ride, full of phantoms that are vanquished for each of them in their own way, with their own sense of
"home."

The writing is often colorful.  "Just Say No" is a lively litany of the dangers and downsides of day work, and in the end is about its irresistible lure. "Sally" is a ghost tale that would give you shivers even on a July day in the Panhandle.  You can smell the burning hair in "Parkay," a comical poem about a branding-gone-wrong with a "pyrotechnic cow" and the starring horse who:

     ...ever'where he hit the ground
     That heifer'd beat him there.

"The Ballad of Skeeter Boyd," is a compelling epic based on Red River legends, a cinematic saga of one cowboy's life in the 1880's.  As you turn the last page of the long, finely interwoven tale, you nearly have to shake yourself back into the present.

This perfect package of a book could serve as an eloquent answer to the question: What is a cowboy? The men and horses depicted in the illustrations are timeless, and the poetry of their spirit and character remains steady over the century's span.

The introduction is by Phil Martin and Red Steagall contributed words about Brian Asher and his art. "Where Sagebrush Grows" is available for $23 postpaid from Pair'a Spurs Press; Rt. 2 Box 20; Hollis, OK 73550 and from www.SilverCreekBooks.com

You can read some of Darin Brookman's poetry at CowboyPoetry.com:
http://www.CowboyPoetry.com/darinbrookman.htm

Visit Brian Asher's web site to view some of his art.

A version of this review appeared at the Wyoming Companion in August, 2004 
A version of this review appeared in the July/August, 2004 edition Rope Burns, a publication of the Academy of Western Artists

Review by Margo Metegrano
Managing Editor, CowboyPoetry.com
June, 2004

 


COWBOY POETRY BOOK

  In the Company of Horses by Virginia Bennett

Virginia Bennett is one of the rare writers whose words evoke an immediate, authentic sense of place. She leads readers through worlds forged by her experience, spirit, wisdom and humor -- and the journeys are memorable.

Her third poetry collection, In the Company of Horses, offers explorations that form a sort of family history, one not limited to the traditional boundaries of ancestors, descendants, and relatives. She includes her true lifeblood and the extended family that is integral to her writing:  horses she has known.

Bennett has worked on ranches across the West for over 30 years, breaking colts for more than two decades, and later continuing to find work that lets her practice "what it is has taken a lifetime to learn about horses..." Most of the over one hundred poems in this book follow her life's trails, drawing on the wisdom and lessons learned from her grandfather and father; her bonds with her husband and son; observations of nature and people; and experience working with cattle and the all-important horses.

Well-selected photos often accompany her words. There are pictures from when she first "headed out west...to where a gal might be able to make a livin' with horses," including one of "Sally, the finest horse I've ever ridden." The picture of "...a great little barrel horse I competed all over southern Arizona" is placed with a sensitive poem written from the viewpoint of an old woman looking back, vowing "I swear that I'll ride horses till I die" in "Thoughts From Behind the Windowpane."

Another, with the poem "For Grandpa," shows her grandfather mowing hay with a pair of Ayshire oxen in the 1930's. There's one of her with her young son, taken as they worked to save the life of a calf found frozen on the Colorado prairie, which appears along with "The Dead Yearling." A shot of her husband Pete "headin' out after a cow" in North Central Washington accompanies "Valued Hours," an uplifting, beautifully reverent poem that celebrates their marriage and years of working together.

One photo of a favorite horse has a caption that says "I have a lot of pictures of Shadow in the mountains and few of me, as we were usually alone and he never figured out how to work a camera." That same sense of humor is sprinkled liberally through this collection. "It Sorta Makes Sense" has an amusing twist on the idea of people who look like their dogs.   "Addressing Paul" is a hilarious, perfect parody of  the zany style of her good friend, popular Elko poet Paul Zarzyski.  A section of children's poems is an added treat, with fresh and fun tales full of whimsical wordplay.

Poems for, about, and inspired by her father are some of the most deep and touching pieces.  Reading them gives a sense of his strength, his spirit, and his important influence; those valuable legacies are celebrated in poems such as "In Retrospect," and "I Wish I Could Go."

Virginia Bennett writes naturally, with honesty and ease in a variety of styles and moods. These pages embody a working life, and the poems are filled with imagination, spiritual contemplation, passion, and philosophy -- along with a lot of the aforementioned fun. An appendix of textual notes gives the interested reader insight into the history and inspiration for many poems.

It's nearly impossible to describe the wide scope of this book in a few paragraphs, as hard as it would be to account for decades of this life well lived in an equal amount of space.  This ever-humble and grateful poet's work -- inspired by the examples of her father and grandfather, the security of her own family, her faith, every horse she has known -- reflects a talented woman at peace with her satisfying life. She characterizes that life best in her introduction: "I know my grandfather would not have regretted his life spent with horses, and neither do I ... A lot more fame and glory can be found doing something else other than being on the back of a horse out of sight of any house or person.  A lot more money can be made, too.  But for me, the horses are enough."

In the Company of Horses is available for $18.95 postpaid from Virginia Bennett, PO Box 216, Paso Robles, California 93447 and is available at Red Steagall's General Store www.RedSteagall.com and at Silvercreek Music & Books www.SilverCreekMusic.com.

You can read some of Virginia Bennett's poetry at CowboyPoetry.com:
http://www.CowboyPoetry.com/vibennett.htm

A version of this review appeared at the Wyoming Companion in July, 2004 
A version of this review appeared in the July/August, 2004 edition Rope Burns, a publication of the Academy of Western Artists

Review by Margo Metegrano
Managing Editor, CowboyPoetry.com
June, 2004


COWBOY POETRY BOOK

   Cowboy Poetry:  The Reunion edited by Virginia Bennett

Fans of Cowboy Poetry might imagine the perfect event:  "the greats" all gathered:  the best from long-ago, Henry Herbert Knibbs, Bruce Kiskaddon, Badger Clark; talents from the recent past,  Buck Ramsey, Sunny Hancock, and Larry McWhorter; and the modern masters, Wallace McRae, Jeff Streeby, Dennis Gaines, Andy Wilkinson, Dee Strickland Johnson, Yvonne Hollenbeck, Pat Richardson, Joel Nelson, Red Steagall, Paul Zarzyski, Debra Coppinger Hill...  Cowboy Poetry: The Reunion, edited by poet Virginia Bennett is a fans' dream come true, with selections from those and dozens more of today's top Cowboy Poets under one cover.

Attendance at the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering was not the basis for inclusion in this book. Quality and authenticity were the obvious overriding criteria.

This volume is a model of well chosen poetry, a satisfying survey of Cowboy Poetry as practiced by many masterful writers.  Few of the poems have been anthologized previously, and the many new pieces from familiar poets offer the serious enthusiast new words and worlds to ponder.  Humorous and serious pieces are gathered in chapters such as "Hosses," "Jest Fer the Fun of It," and "Family & the Community of Cowboys."  There's  a good representation of classic poetry and among the modern gems are Buck Ramsey's "Skysailing," Rod McQueary's "Remembering a Middle-Aged Bronc Ride,"  Larry McWhorter's "The Retirement of Ashtola," Darin Brookman's "Tempered Souls," Georgie Sicking's "Doctoring Worms," Linda Hasselstrom's "Priests of the Prairie," Andy Wilkinson's "We Were the Horseman," Doris Daley's "Love is Blind," Mike Logan's "Behold a Pale Horse," and Ross Knox's "Memories."

Editor Virginia Bennett's passion for poetry and the "family of poets" is as ardent as her commitment to ranching life.  Her dedication comes through in the book's carefully considered selections, and her inspired introduction uncovers the beating heart of the art of Cowboy Poetry: "For cowboy poems have a life of their own. They are built with words that are spawned not only from labor, but also from an occupation with which the poet's very existence is linked.  A cowboy or rancher lives where he or she works, and what they do in their work determines their survival.  Therein can be found the essence of cowboy poetry and the explanation for why its popularity grows."

"Cowboy Poetry: The Reunion takes its place alongside publisher Gibbs Smith's other Cowboy Poetry standards, including: Cowboy Poetry: A Gathering, Cowgirl Poetry (also edited by Virginia Bennett),  Humorous Cowboy Poetry, and Maverick Western Verse.  This latest volume goes beyond those classic offerings in the depth and breadth of its selections and surely will long stand as a definitive representation of  the state of the art.

Cowboy Poetry: The Reunion (ISBN: 1-58685-349-X) is published by Gibbs Smith, $12.95
www.gibbs-smith.com


You can read a feature about this book, which includes the contents and introduction here at CowboyPoetry.com:  http://www.CowboyPoetry.com/cpreunion.htm

Many of the mentioned poets, including editor Virginia Bennett, have poetry at CowboyPoetry.com. See the links in our feature about this book and in our Anthology Index.

A version of this review appears at Amazon.com
A version of this review appeared at the Wyoming Companion in May, 2004 
A version of this review appeared in the May/June, 2004 edition Rope Burns, a publication of the Academy of Western Artists

Review by Margo Metegrano
Managing Editor, CowboyPoetry.com
April, 2004


COWBOY POETRY BOOK

  Turning to Face the Wind by Jane Ambrose Morton 

Jane Morton brings history alive in her excellent new collection, "Turning to Face the Wind."  The poems, stories, and vintage photos are about her family's Colorado ranch, but they tell the larger story of so many ranches and so many families.

The family's ranching history began with Morton's great great grandfather, a circuit-riding Baptist minister who left Illinois and headed to Colorado in 1872. His son Harry Ambrose joined him, eager for a new start after grasshoppers devastated his Kansas crops.  Harry registered some of the county's earliest brands, and faced floods, diseases and other ranching challenges, including the arrival of the dreaded grasshoppers in Colorado. Harry's son took over and farmed the land, and his son, Jane Morton's father, eventually bought additional land and started raising cattle.

Morton creates vivid portraits of her parents.  Her mother didn't realize that her husband, a teacher and coach, was determined to return to the family farm. She faced a hard life with dignity, so well expressed in "Summer of '34," a poem that tells about her being often alone in the house, pregnant amidst the unrelenting heat and dust storms, and piecing a quilt that has remained in the family.  In a story about the next year's storms, which she endures with her 9-month old asthmatic baby, "Fine wind-driven silt sifted into the house through hairline cracks, coating...even the butter in the cupboard."

Morton's father, a frugal, taciturn man, looms large throughout the book. The "Tom Sawyer-like" story of "Branding," beautifully and humorously drawn in verse, tells how his gruff manner actually worked to his advantage with the people who came to help, much to his children's surprise. He was still ranching at 89, "a man truly satisfied with the life he chose."

There are joys remembered, and there are many poems about holidays and happy events, full of fun and fond recollections.  The chapter "On the Lighter Side" includes poems such as "Cowboy Culture," "Mutton Bust'n" and "Horse Thieves" and there is a whole chapter of Christmas poems, which give a great sense of the customs and the times.

But there is no "happily ever after." The poems that deal with the loss of her parents, encroaching development, and recent fires stare harsh reality in the face.  They represent some of the finest writing in this book, tales told with a special grace, well learned from these strong people.

This clear and candid chronicle of a family's ranching roots embodies the history of America's westward expansion, exploring the hardships, hard-taught lessons, and hard-earned rewards of settlement. With Jane Morton's sure guidance, hearts and souls are acutely revealed in these sensitive but unsentimental poems and stories. The tales also afford a thoughtful examination of family bonds and unflinchingly confront the realities of ranching's endangered future.

Morton's writing is important.  It belongs in schools and libraries, and in the hands of all who value Western heritage and the ranching tradition.

"Turning to Face the Wind" is published by the respected Cowboy Miner Productions. This hardcover book is available for 19.95 plus $4.50 shipping and handling from Jane Morton, 12710 Abert Way, Colorado Springs, CO 80908


You can read some of Jane Morton's poetry at CowboyPoetry.com:
http://www.cowboypoetry.com/janemorton.htm

A version of this review appears at Amazon.com
A version of this review appeared at the Wyoming Companion in February, 2004 
A version of this review appeared in the March/April, 2004 edition Rope Burns, a publication of the Academy of Western Artists

Review by Margo Metegrano
Managing Editor, CowboyPoetry.com
February, 2004


COWBOY POETRY BOOK REVIEW

Pat Richardson Unhobbled, Cowboy Poetry, Stories, and Outright Lies by Pat Richardson

 

The title itself may be enough to make you take cover: Pat Richardson Unhobbled.  It's the long-awaited book by the 2003 recipient of the AWA's Will Rogers Award for Best Male Poet.

What's left to be said about Pat Richardson, the man with the dangerously hilarious imagination who creates mostly twisted, comic poetry?  His friends offered comments for this book, "There's less here than meets the eye";  "I would like to say this is one of the finest books I've ever read, but I'm not that big a liar..."; "There is no beginning to Mr. Richardson's talent..."; "Pat's sole purpose in life is to serve as a warning to others." Only Richardson, the master of understated outrageousness, would collect insulting blurbs for his book.

He's truly a legend in his own time, right up there with "Anonymous" in having so many of his poems recited by others, often without credit. This book should set the record straight with the polished originals of his best-known poems, including "The Donner Party," "Pony Eggs," "My Brother," and "Missing Person."

More people probably know the first lines of "The Donner Party" than know their grandmother's maiden name: "They sent invitations to the remnants of the Donner Party crew, gonna have a big reunion and old time Bar-B-Que."

Other wacky poems include "Bigfoot," who shows up at the cabin door with a splinter, which the narrator pulls out with his shoeing nippers.  He notices Bigfoot speaks with a lisp "Mississippi gave him problems with all the esses it contained, and he'd dribble little spitballs on his fur; I tried tongue depressors, enemas, and books by Baxter Black, but I never seemed to come up with a cure."  He teaches the beast Five Card Draw and there's a lot more to the rest of the story.

Nothing is sacred, and some of his favorite targets are his poet friends Ed Brown and Rodney Nelson; other North Dakotans; his old partner Benny Meyers; former ranch hands; and environmentalists.  In "North Dakota Sweatshop & Saddle Co.," he takes care of more than a few endangered birds with one stone: "Handcrafted panda bear bullwhips with spotted owl claws on the grip, poppers of walrus eyelids attached with a whale's lower lip./ Authentic, exceptional hatbands from hides of unborn baby seals, tanned with whooping crane egg whites to achieve that unmatchable feel..."

Just what's behind this "evil genius" and his outlandish dark humor? Richardson was surely the kid that your mother warned you about, and this book gives some insight into how he got that way.  Some poems, stories, and vintage photos tell of his hardscrabble childhood with his cow-dealing father "Sometimes he traded his cows, and sometimes other peoples' cows" and a mother who "shouldn't have been allowed within five hundred feet of children." He went to thirteen different grade schools and he and his brother, poet Jess Howard, have different last names because "...when things would start going bad, Dad would sell the cows, move, and change our name."  His preface to the book tells more with considerable humor, and it becomes clear that his lightning-quick wit saved his life while his exceptional talents propelled him into the world as a survivor.

No, he's not all politically incorrect, crude, and rude.  The book includes at least one lyrical poem, "Boys, It's Roundup Time," which was recently set to music by AWA Entertainer of the Year Curly Musgrave.  There are some touching memories of and much respect for friends, many made on the rodeo circuit, where he rode broncs and bulls and worked as a cartoonist for the Pro Rodeo Sports News. "Forty Years of Marriage" is a humorous but telling poem written for his long-suffering wife, Jane, and accompanied by a sweet drawing of her that he writes is from a photo "I took of her up in a Eucalyptus tree just before she was captured." A section at the back of the book includes some of his rodeo drawings and an impressive range of other excellent drawings.

In addition to the original art and vintage personal and rodeo photos, the book has over 50 poems and stories.  Despite the tough and cynical exterior he likes to promote, his legion of friends know him as a loyal and generous man. The brave telling of his personal stories gives rare insight into his comic genius. The hilarious poems and tales are without equal.

Pat Richardson Unhobbled is more than a book. Like an encounter with him, or being in his audience, it's an experience. Don't miss it.  He's one of a kind.

Pat Richardson Unhobbled is available for $15, postpaid from Pat Richardson; 562 Breeze Avenue; Merced, California 95348; 209/722-4612 email 

You can read some of Pat Richardson's poetry at CowboyPoetry.com:
http://www.CowboyPoetry.com/patrichardson.htm

Review by Margo Metegrano
Managing Editor, CowboyPoetry.com
October, 2003

A version of this review appeared at the Wyoming Companion in October, 2003 
A version of this review appeared in the November/December, 2003 edition Rope Burns, a publication of the Academy of Western Artists

 


COWBOY POETRY/STORYTELLING/MUSIC CD REVIEW

Son-of-a-Gun-Stew: A Texas Cowboy's Gather by Dennis Gaines'


In one of his poems addressed to Ty Murray, Dennis Gaines writes "...I'll tip my hat to you. Congratulations, pardner, you are the very best at what you do."  And that's exactly what you'll feel like saying to Gaines himself after listening to his new CD, Son-of-a-Gun-Stew: A Texas Cowboy's Gather. Nobody does it better.

A natural-born storyteller and audience charmer, his complex and entertaining long rhymed poems and convoluted stories get you in his grasp from the start and leave you thinking that you were there, taking part in or at least observing the many hilarious and outrageous situations he creates.

In "The Spandex Cowboy," where the action takes place at Colonel Potter's Big Top Tent and Wrestling Rodeo, you'll have no problem visualizing the giants, midgets, dancing girls, and the "wrasslin' phenomenon" and "fearsome female specimen" Attila ("her mammoth girth stretched 'round the earth") who takes on cowboy Gaines. The completely satisfying listening experience makes
you wonder how much of what seems physical in his stage performances is really owed to his acrobatic wordsmithing.

Gaines creates an electricity with his sizzling rhymes and zany ideas. Texas A&M "aggies" are targeted more than once in this collection, and never better than in "New and Improved," which comes up with innovative ideas for genetic engineering for "customizin' critters."  "We'll do away with brandin' fires, just mark the chromosomes/ that brand will show up on her hide no matter where she roams."  "The steers will weigh six thousand pounds and thrive on cedar trees/ with testicles that grow in pods, just snap 'em out like peas."

There is no safety net, no clown, no protective headgear, and there's never any telling what Gaines has in store around the next corner of his verse. "Showdown in Matador" is an uproarious windy without a roadmap. It follows the exploits of an escaped steer as he weaves a riotous path of destruction through town, chased enthusiastically by hapless cowboys who thrill to the perfect combination of "a loose steer, a license to rope, and an audience."

Those poems, along with other side-splitting selections such as "Buck, the Musical Mule" and "Bungee Buckaroo" have you wondering if Gaines should really be allowed to run loose.

Gaines has heart as well.  His beautiful tribute, "A Life Well Lived," honors his mother who understood his cowboying ways: "It's a blessin' and a curse to always be the restless one/ Never knowin' where to bed down with the setting of the sun...A cowhand is a lonesome critter, born and bred to roam,/ Though a cowboy with a loving mother always has a home."  This poem and its back-up music, which never resort to a single sentimental cliché, will pull the heartstrings of the crustiest cowboy. Likewise, the final "Bueno Suerte" track shows his sensitive and serious side, impressive for its sincerity.

Carefully chosen music complements many tracks, and Gaines shows off his a cappella talents (his liner notes claim "I am generally acknowledged as the finest 'Acapulco' singer in the world."). The non "Acapulco" musical parts of the CD include Danny Hubbard on acoustic guitar; Milo Deering on fiddle, mandolin, and jew's harp; Tim Harris on harmonica; and Ron Dilulio on banjo.

Now here's a real cowboy who can spin stories, write humorous and serious poetry, sing (pretty well), honors his parents, loves his wife....maybe Texas A&M has been looking at the wrong genetic engineering subjects. On the other hand, the world may not be big enough for more than one talent the size of Dennis Gaines'.

Fans have been waiting for a new recording ever since the release of Gaines' celebrated Hapless Trails to You video. Son-of-a-Gun-Stew: A Texas Cowboy's Gather will certainly satisfy them, and also leave them waiting eagerly for the next offering from this master storyteller.  The CD is a generous 70 minutes of poems, stories, songs and more. Eight of the ten tracks are original works. The CD is $19.20 postpaid for Texas residents, and $18.20 for all others. Order from TeePee City Productions, HC 4, Box 560, Kerrville, TX  78028, (830) 896-5598 cowboydg@ktc.com

Review by Margo Metegrano
Managing Editor, CowboyPoetry.com
April, 2003

You can read some of Dennis Gaines' work here: http://www.CowboyPoetry.com/dg.htm

A version of this review appeared at the Wyoming Companion in May, 2003 

A version of this review was printed in the May/June 2003  Rope Burns, a publication of the Academy of Western Artists


COWBOY POETRY/MUSIC CD REVIEW

Buck Ramsey ~ Hittin' the Trail  Smithsonian Folkways Recordings

In a grand tribute to Buck Ramsey--one of the greatest Western talents of our time--and in an enduring affirmation of the historical importance of his work, Smithsonian Folkways has released a 2-CD recording, Buck Ramsey ~ Hittin' the Trail. As the cover notes state, Buck Ramsey was "... the 'spiritual leader of the cowboy poetry movement' .... beloved by his fellow poets and musicians, his 'cowboy tribe,' and all who knew him."

None of those fans will be disappointed by this wonderful collection of mostly live, in-concert recordings. Though there is just one poem recited in a traditional way, it is Buck Ramsey's masterpiece, "Anthem," recorded at his last public appearance in Anson, Texas, in 1997.  Hal Cannon, one of the founders of the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering at Elko, has said "'Anthem' is probably thought of as the finest contemporary piece of writing in this tradition..."  Hearing Buck Ramsey recite "Anthem" is an incomparable experience, leaving no room for "probably."  There is no separation between the poet and the poem in his performance; the words seem to carry the rhythm of his own heartbeat.  And that track is just one gem among the many treasures in this valuable collection.

All of the other tracks are songs, some of which come from poems such as James Barton Adams' "The High-Toned Dance,"  Bruce Kiskaddon's "Hittin' the Trail Tonight," D. J. O'Malley's "The D2 Horse Wrangler," and Alan McCandless' "The Cowboy's Soliloquy."

Many of the tracks were recorded at the Elko, Nevada Cowboy Poetry and Music Gatherings from 1993-1997. There are recordings from elsewhere, including one from the National Heritage Awards concert in Washington, D. C., where Buck Ramsey received the prestigious National Endowment for the Arts' National Heritage Fellowship.

In many of the songs, Ramsey is accompanied by other top Western musicians in seamless collaborations. Some of the most satisfying  tracks are those where the only accompaniment to Buck Ramsey's distinctive voice is his own guitar, as in a 1995 recording of "The Streets of Laredo" and a 1994 recording of "I'd Like to be in Texas for the Roundup in the Spring."

Two of the tracks are extraordinary personal recordings.  In one from 1957, a teenage Ramsey sings "Danny Boy," his fine vocal abilities already in strong evidence, even in a scratchy home recording.  In the other, a studio recording from 1995, he is accompanied by his brother and sisters in a breathtaking a cappella performance of his now classic "Christmas Waltz." This piece celebrates the family's deep gospel singing roots in a truly spiritual listening experience.

Buck Ramsey, who died in 1998, influenced a generation of poets and musicians.  This CD helps preserve that legacy for generations to come. The 24-track, 2-CD set is accompanied by a 17-page booklet with an excellent article written mostly by Buck Ramsey's widow, Bette Ramsey, and Charlie Seemann, the Executive Director of the Western Folklife Center. Personal photographs and extensive track notes are included.

The project was a collaboration between the Western Folklife Center and Smithsonian Folkways Records, and the liner notes state that a portion of profits from the sale of the CDs goes to the Buck Ramsey Memorial Fund at the Western Folklife Center. You can order Buck Ramsey ~ Hittin' the Trail for $18.98 plus postage from Smithsonian Folkways Recordings (800-410-9815, http://www.folkways.si.edu).

Track information is available at the Smithsonian Folkways' site: http://www.folkways.si.edu/catalog/50002.htm

See our feature about Buck Ramsey here.

Review by Margo Metegrano
Managing Editor, CowboyPoetry.com
April, 2003

 

A version of this review appeared at the Wyoming Companion in April, 2003 

A version of this review was printed in the May/June 2003  Rope Burns, a publication of the Academy of Western Artists


COWBOY POETRY CD REVIEW

Cowboy Poetry Classics from Smithsonian Folkways Recordings

Smithsonian Folkways Recordings celebrates the rich heritage of Cowboy Poetry in a new recording, Cowboy Poetry Classics, with performances by some of today's top poets and reciters. Among the highlights are Gail Steiger reciting his grandfather Gail Gardner's "The Sierry Petes;" Peggy Godfrey's rendition of S. Omar Barker's "'Purt Near!';" Waddie Mitchell's interpretation of Bruce Kiskaddon's "When They've Finished Shippin' Cattle in the Fall;" and Baxter Black's short and perfect delivery
of Carlos Ashley's "Epilogue" to "Bill Watkins' Barber Shop."

Baxter Black has said that Ashley's work caused him to turn from songwriting to poetry, after he was introduced to Ashley's poetry by his friend Red Steagall. Red Stegall performs Ashley's "Bob Sears' Chili Joint" on this CD. The history of these works and their importance to Cowboy Poetry and to individual poets comes through in other standout performances, including those by John Dofflemyer ("From Town" by Badger Clark), J. B. Allen ("The Old Nighthawk" by Bruce Kiskaddon), Virginia Bennett ("The Smell of Rain" by Sharlot Hall), Tom Sharpe ("Where the Ponies Come to Drink" by Henry Herbert Knibbs) and Ray Lashley ("The Strawberry Roan" by Curley Fletcher).

Every track makes for interesting listening.  There are old favorites and some lesser known poems by the masters.  Among the other well known selections are "Anthem" by Buck Ramsey; "The Legend of Boastful Bill" by Charles Badger Clark; "When You're Throwed" by Bruce Kiskaddon;" and "Boomer Johnson by Henry Herbert Knibbs. The reciters represent a list of "Who's Who" of today's most sought-after talent, including Glenn Ohrlin, Wallace McRae, Elizabeth Ebert, Georgie Sicking, Ross Knox, Sunny Hancock, Randy Rieman, Joel Nelson, Doris Daley, and others.

The CD includes 24 classic Cowboy poems and a 20-page booklet with bios of the classic and contemporary poets; photos of the contemporary poets; some Cowboy Poetry history; and track notes.  Cowboy Poetry Classics was compiled, produced, and annotated by David Stanley, who teaches folklore and American literature at Westminster College in Salt Lake and who co-edited
an important book of essays, "Cowboy Poets & Cowboy Poetry."  Stanley has been involved as a volunteer for two decades at the Western Folklife Center's National Cowboy Poetry Gathering, and the CD cover states that the recording was produced in conjunction with the Western Folklife Center.

The Cowboy Poetry Classics CD is available for $13.98 plus postage from Smithsonian Folkways Recordings (800-410-9815, http://www.folkways.si.edu).

Review by Margo Metegrano
Managing Editor, CowboyPoetry.com
April, 2003

A full cross-referenced index of this CD is available at CowboyPoetry.com:
http://www.cowboypoetry.com/anthologies2.htm#CPCD

Track information is available at the Smithsonian Folkways' site: http://www.folkways.si.edu/catalog/50003.htm

 

A version of this review appeared at the Wyoming Companion in April, 2003

A version of this review was printed in the May/June 2003  Rope Burns, a publication of the Academy of Western Artists





 

 

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