The Simple Elegance of Cowboy Poetry

Among the rest stop tourism rack cards with photographs and glossy paper there was a modest yellow flyer promoting a Cowboy Poetry reading the second Saturday of the month. Well hot damn, it was my time of the month, so to speak.

At 8:00 am I met 30ish folks at the Country Barn Steakhouse in Amarillo Texas. Outside, a 1931 truck was on display with a headstone beside it; “Rust in Peace.” The youngest person there was 40–and that’s me. Then a whippersnapper nearing 50, and the rest could be anywhere from 60-100–it’s hard to tell when you’ve lived a life outside and of hard labor. No matter, they were fringed and vested and hatted, as well they should be. One guy actually had a handlebar mustache but I was nervous to take a picture.


As any association does, The Southwest Cowboy Poets Association meeting began with updates about their membership. Someone dislocated her shoulder, another is having an MRI; everyone is invited to a wedding next week. And a member brought boxes of cowboy hats, size 7 1/8, selling for $20. “I must’ve had a fetish for hats. I don’t know what I bought em all for,” he confesses.  One woman misses the announcements because she’s brushing her teeth to keep from contaminating her harmonica.

The Cadence of Cowboy Poetry

Lines two and four rhyme; there’s no symbolism–it’s as straightforward as it can be; the words are simple yet well-chosen and full with meaning. These are stories and they are strong. You learn, you yearn, you’re right there.

I couldn’t capture it all, of course, so go to their website for poems they’ve selected to highlight.

These are turns-of-phrase and tales that caught my ear:

  • Pearl Harbor Day in 19 and 41; went to war a scared and young cowboy and came home a man
  • Grandson growing up to be a cowboy; but right now he has a gap his teeth and a stride that he strives to be like his Dad’s
  • The ranch-hands fall in love when the Mrs. gives birth to a baby girl. They ain’t no quitters–until they find themselves quitting scratching, and cussing, and all of that.
  • Wishing a Merry Christmas to the coyotes (pronounced kai-yoats) because there’s no one else around
  • While building a compound, my torso is varnished with sweat
  • The moon pours over her like slow silver water as she hums in the silence of the stars

Lest We Forget the Harmonica

Sometimes it sounds like a carousel when they play. I don’t know when or why a poem breaks for a harmonica, but it’s a complex instrument and punctuates the sentiment.

Harmonica and cowboy poetry


Do you enjoy poetry? Which style?

One Response


Yes, I enjoy some poetry, but I never thought of it having a “style”. Most of what I’m familiar with I had to memorize in high school. Thus I have a passing appreciation for Shakespeare, Wordsworth, Robert Frost, Walt Whitman, T.S. Elliot and assorted others. All these years later I can still quote parts and pieces; they’re familiar friends. But do I pick up a book of poetry for the enjoyment of the moment? No, though one of our best Book Club experiences was when every participant had to select…and read out loud…a poem they did NOT know from childhood. And then we had to say why it appealed! Some of your prose is poetic, by the way.

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