Elko’s Cowboy Poets

Bill and I spent several days in Elko, Nevada, attending the 28th National Cowboy Poetry Festival.  I attended a workshop on blogging (hope you can tell it was successful).  It was conducted by Teresa Jordan, artist and writer, including author of the lovely western memoir, “Riding the White Horse Home.’  We attended poetry readings and discussions of western land use, immigration struggles along the border with Mexico, and efforts to preserve a ranching way of life in these difficult economic times. We listened to lovely music, old standards and new compositions. I can’t imagine reproducing the warmth, the humor, the energy and the feeling of families reaching across great distances.  But I do want to share a few quotes from the week.

  • Teresa: “I want to remind us of the story of the woman homesteader more than a hundred years ago who was so lonely that she wrote poems and safety-pinned them to tumbleweed, in the hope that the tumbleweed would snag on a fenceline and someone would read her poetry.”
  • John: “I we’re not a bunch of oafs out there despoiling the land. We live there.”
  • Poet William Stafford, when asked about writer’s block: “When poetry comes hard, lower your standards and keep writing.”
  • Amy: “If you think cowboys are romantic, try living with one. For a long time.”
  • Audience member before a performance: “That’s what I like aobut Nevada – 24 hours a day you can get a drink. It’s the anti-Idaho.”
  • Amy: “Hollyhocks are the ranch woman’s best friend. No matter what you do, they just bloom when you need them most.”
  • DW: “February is the longest month of the year. It generally runs until the middle of July.”
  • Ken: “You wear a hat, among other reasons, so you have something to tip.”

And, perhaps, the most riveting mooment for us was Andy Hedges reciting a poem written by Andy Wilkinson, ‘Mining the Mother Lode’, an angry and mournful lament about the draining of the Ogallala aquifer in Texas. “What will we do with this gift of the mother-lode?/…Pray for the water, the sweet Ogallala lake/nourishing all who tread lightly and carefully/…”  It was a stunning performance that brought the audience to its feet and was cautiously hopeful despite its dire warnings.

We’ll go again to the Festival.

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