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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 content of the guides is similar, with teaching aids in the Leader's Guide and workbook areas in the Youth Guide, which also has some additional poems, as noted in the index below. 

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 (with information on American Indian, black, and female cowboys), the basics of rhyme of meter, classic poets, and more.  Included are a glossary, a list of resources and references, a directory of poetry gatherings, and rhyming games and activities. See the table of contents for the Leader's Guide and a list of poems in the guides and on the accompanying CDs below. Vintage and contemporary photographs throughout add additional interest and inspiration for readers. 

Among the many poems and Cowboy songs used as examples are 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." 

We're pleased to have an excerpt from the Leader's Guide, Learning About Rhythm, in a separate feature here.

Each 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. You can preview the youth guide on the Montana 4-H Center for Youth Development web site.

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.  

kirkastroth.jpg (21846 bytes)   In October, 2005, the Montana 4-H Cowboy Poetry Project and Spurrin' the Words, by Kirk Astroth, received the prestigious American Folklore Society's Dorothy Howard Folklore and Education Prize, bestowed on works that encourage the study and use of folklore in education.  Read more below.

 


from Saddlin' uo for Cowboy Poetry:

Cowboy (or Western) poetry is not about a type of person, but more about a lifestyle...

Cowboy poetry is about realism, humor, animals, history or your own original view of life. It's about you and me and the world around us.  There are no limits or restrictions. Just tell your story from your own heart and perspective.

...In the early years of cowboy poetry, people like Bruce Kiskaddon, Badger Clark, and Curley Fletcher were certainly experienced riders and stock handlers. Today's cowboy poets are as diverse as our society. In other words, cowboy poetry is not just about cowboys, ranching and cattle drives. And it's not all by or about men, or even all written by real working cowboys and cowgirls, but includes more general Western themes and lifestyles specific to our part of the nation.

from History of Cowboy Poetry's Language:

Many of the early immigrants to the American West were of English descent, often working on large ranches purchased by British nobles. Ever since those early days, cowboys have been written and spoken about and their images have been sketched and painted.  From their lives in the West came an astonishing mosaic of rural life: a mixture of Irish storytelling, Scottish seafaring and cattle tending, Moorish and Spanish horsemanship, European cavalry traditions, African improvisations, the Native American experience and also their oppression.

from Stereotypes About Cowboys:

As you may know, 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.  Even in the early days of our western culture, the word "cowboy" included a wide variety of individuals from different backgrounds, just as "cowboy poet" does today. 

from Cookin' Up Your Own Cowboy Verse:

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?

from Learning about Rhythm:

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.

 

Below:

Leader's Guide Contents
Index of Poems and Songs in Leader and Youth Guides
Poems and Songs on Accompanying CDs

 

Leader's Guide Contents:

   Activities

Section 1:  Saddlin' up for Cowboy Poetry
     Background
     Recipe: Baking Powder Biscuits

     Handout 1: "The Old Chisholm Trail" traditional 
     "The Big Cattle Drives"

Section 2: History of Cowboy Poetry's Language
     Background
     "The Foundations of Cowboy Poetry--An American Linguistic Salad Bowl"

     Handout 2: "Git Along Little Dogies" traditional

     Handout 3: "If Spanish is the Lovin' Tongue" by Mike Logan
     Recipe: Sheep Dogs

Section 3: Stereotypes About Cowboys
     Background
     Handout 4:  American Indian Cowboys
         Indian Cowboys
            Jackson Sundown
            Tom Three Persons

    Handout 5:  A Few Cowboys to Research
    "Indian Poets, Henry Real Bird"
    Poem:  "Sun Dagger" by Mike Logan
    Poem:  "Driftwood Feelin'" by Henry Real Bird

    Handout 6:  Overcoming Stereotypes
         Cowgirl Poetry
         "Generic Titles" by Sally Bates
         Challenging Stereotypes 

    Handout 7:  Cowgirl Poetry
          "The Legacy" by Gwen Petersen

Section 4: Lassoin' the Basics of Rhyme
     Background
 
    Rhyming Patterns
     Handout 8:  Rhyme Patterns in Cowboy Poetry

     Handout 9:  "The Streets of Laredo" traditional

     "Understanding Rhyme"

Section 5: Studying Famous Poems
 
     Background

     Handout 10:  "The Cremation of Sam McGee" by Robert Service

     Handout 11:  "Home on the Range" traditional

Section 6:  Learnin' from the Old Hands-- The Great Cowboy Poets
    Handout 12:  Bruce Kiskaddon (1878-1950)
         excerpts "When They've Finished Shipping Cattle in the Fall" and "Pullin' Leather" by Bruce Kiskaddon

    Handout 13:  Badger Clark (1883-1957)
          "The Glory Trail (High Chin Bob)" by Badger Clark

    Handout 14:  Wallace McRae
          "Things of Intrinsic Worth" by Wallace McRae

Section 7:  Cookin' Up Your Own Cowboy Verse
      Background
      "About Cattle Brands"
       Recipe:  Cowpoke Bread

   
    Handout 15:  "Mr. Magpie" by Mike Logan

Section 8:  Advanced Cowboy Poetry:  Going the Extra Mile
       Background

       Handout 16:  "Ridin'" by Badger Clark
             
       Handout 17:  Learning About Rhythm
            Counting Beats, or "Feet" in Poetry
            Types of Meter

Section 9:  Spurrin' the Words...Wild!  -- Writing and Performing Free Verse
   
    Background

      Handout 18:  Paul Zarzyski
             "The Heavyweight Champion Pie-Eatin' Cowboy of the West"  by Paul Zarzyski
      
      Handout 19:  "Dear Mom" by Paul Zarzyski

      Handout 20:  "Monte Carlo Express -- Box 258, 15.3 Miles Home"  by Paul Zarzyski

      "The Origins of Free Verse"
      Poem:  "I Hear America Singing" by Walt Whitman

   Resources

GLOSSARY
Resources & References
Western Cowboy Gatherings
Rhyming Games

.... and additional information for leaders  

 

Index of poems and songs in the Leader and Youth Guides:

traditional
   "Git Along Little Dogies" 
   "Home on the Range"
   "The Streets of Laredo"

S. Omar Barker
    
"Horses vs. Hosses" (on CDs only)

Sally Bates
    "Generic Titles"

Charles Badger Clark
     "The Buffalo Trail" (included in the Youth Guide, only)
     "The Coyote" (included in the Youth Guide, only)
     "The Glory Trail (High Chin Bob)"
     "Ridin'"

Bruce Kiskaddon
     "Pullin' Leather" (excerpt)
     "When They've Finished Shipping Cattle in the Fall" (excerpt)

Mike Logan
    "If Spanish is the Lovin' Tongue"
    "Mr. Magpie"
    "Sun Dagger" by Mike Logan

Wallace McRae
    "Things of Intrinsic Worth" 
    "Reincarnation" (included in the Youth Guide, only)

Gwen Petersen
     "The Legacy"

Henry Real Bird
     "Driftwood Feelin'"  

Robert Service
      "The Cremation of Sam McGee"

Walt Whitman
       
"I Hear America Singing"

Paul Zarzyski
      "The Heavyweight Champion Pie-Eatin' Cowboy of the West" 
      "Dear Mom"
      "Monte Carlo Express -- Box 258, 15.3 Miles Home"

There are also short excerpts from a number of poems used as examples, including Shel Silverstein's "True Story," Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's "Paul Revere's Ride," C. Clement Moore's "T'was the Night Before Christmas," Buck Ramsey's "Christmas Waltz," Jack Prelutsky's "You Need to Have an Iron Rear," and others, along with familiar nursery rhymes, jingles, and popular and traditional songs.

Poems and Songs on Accompanying CD:

 1. "Git Along, Little Dogies" traditional
      recited by Mike Logan
 2. "If Spanish is the Lovin' Tongue" by Mike Logan
      recited by Mike Logan
 3. "Generic Titles" by Sally Bates
      recited by Gwen Petersen
 4. "The Legacy" by Gwen Petersen
      recited by Gwen Petersen
 5. "The Buffalo Trail" by Badger Clark
      recited by Gwen Petersen
 6. "The Streets of Laredo" traditional
      recited by Mike Logan
 7. "The Cremation of Sam McGee" by Robert Service
      recited by Mike Logan
 8, "The Glory Trail" by Badger Clark
      recited by Mike Logan
 9. "Mr. Magpie" by Mike Logan
      recited by Mike Logan
10. "Ridin'" by Badger Clark
      recited by Mike Logan
11. "The Heavyweight Champion Pie-Eatin' Cowboy of the West" by Paul Zarzyski 
      recited by Paul Zarzyski
12, "Dear Mom" by Paul Zarzyski, recited by Paul Zarzyski
13. "Monte Carlo Express -- Box 258, 15.3 Miles Home" by Paul Zarzyski 
      recited by Paul Zarzyski
14. "Horses vs. Hosses" by S. Omar Barker
      recited by Paul Zarzyski

 


In October, 2005, the Montana 4-H Cowboy Poetry Project and Spurrin' the Words, by Kirk Astroth, received the prestigious American Folklore Society's Dorothy Howard Folklore and Education Prize, bestowed on works that encourage the study and use of folklore in education.

In a feature story, "Award-winning cowboy poetry curriculum by MSU author spurs culture in kids," from the Montana State University news service, Director Astroth tells that he hoped the project would go beyond helping youths with writing, thinking and public speaking skills. He is quoted, "I had seen research that shows kids in rural areas experience lower self confidence and are made to feel that their lives aren't as meaningful as people who live in urban areas. I wanted to help kids come to the realization that their experiences are as valuable as anyone else's." Read the entire article and view some photos here.


Kirk Astroth
photo courtesy Montana State University

 

 

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