Poetry Friday: Cowboy Poetry

Jun 28, 2019

Cowboy poetry originated after the Civil War during the great cattle drives from the western U.S. to the North and East. Long days on ranches and dusty trails meant lots of time for cowboys to ponder their surroundings and circumstances and put them to rhyme. It has since evolved into a narrative art form, with gatherings worldwide. In this week's Poetry Friday segment, KNAU listener and poet Tom Weathers - a longtime regular at Prescott's annual Cowboy Poetry Gathering - brings us an original piece about life on the range. He brought his guitar into the studio and set his poem to music. 

The Cowboy, by Prescott artist George Molnar
Credit George Molnar/Google Images


TW: This poem was inspired by the Arizona Cowboy Poets Gathering. One of the activities that they set up for the poets every year is to invite us to write a poem based on the annual poster art that’s part of their advertising. That year, the picture was of a cowboy propped up against his saddle. I like to think that it was at the end of the day. It was a beautiful oil painting by George Molnar. So in that, I could picture this guy, you know, paper was probably scarce. He would either have a tally book in his pocket, or possibly he would have a scrap of paper from his monthly visit to town of the hotel stationery.

And, so I just started thinking about where these poems come from. I’d heard stories from my cowboy friends, but I wanted to give the gentleman in this poster art his own story. And that’s where the poem, Thanks for the Poem, came from.

Cowboy poet Tom Weathers at the KNAU studios
Credit Gillian Ferris / KNAU

Thanks for the Poem, by Tom Weathers

He’d been rastl’n a mood, that set him to brood’n

Trying to figure what this life’s trail’s about

But instead of just frettin, to a poem he starts settin’

Some rhymes to help sort it all out.

At the head of the sheet is the name and the street

Where he bathes and beds down when in town

And though the pages were white, when he started to write,

They’re now become, more finger smudged brown.

For the lines, they come slow, and the cowboy don’t know

When the next inspiration might hit

So he carefully pens, even the least unction when

A piece to this wrote puzzle might fit.

It’s a tally he’s takin’ as each new day’s breakin’

That he fashions to rhyme in his head

Then in dusk’s fading light he commences to write

His trails account, which ‘til now’d gone unsaid.

There’s some thoughts that fly by, with but a heartbeat to try

To lass’ it an ddally up with a pen

Into a simply put line, set to meter and rhyme

How he feels when a new day begins.

And some thought plod along, not much flash, but so strong

‘Bout the ties his life holds with the soil

And the hills, and the rain, the grass covered plain

Making pleasure from what others call toil

Now his daily subjection, to this written reflection

In anecdotes current and past

Had in time reached such number

That one night, fighting slumber

He set to reading them all, first to last.

And as the verses unwound, him setting there on the ground

He took to seeing his life, like his rhymes

For if that tales to be told it needs be taken in its whole

To make sense, not just verse at a time.

‘Cause though life’s lived bit by bit to make sense out of it

The trail needs be judged by its whole

There’ll be drought, there’ll be rain,

Maybe glory and some shame

But the end of life’s trail its goal.

Well that thought brought a grin,

‘cause now the blowdown he’s in

Didn’t seem where he’d always need roam

Then, with a glint in his eye he tipped his hat to the sky

And told his maker, “Thanks for the poem.”

Poetry Friday is produced by KNAU's Gillian Ferris. If you have an idea for a segment, drop her an email at Gillian.Ferris@nau.edu.