Back in the Saddle, Again

Nov. 25, 2009

Most of my blogs usually have something to do with music.

But today I’d like to turn your attention to a specific kind of poetry.

Cowboy Poetry.

And, by golly, it turns out that Hood River has got its own Cowboy Poet right under our noses. Turns out it’s Duane Lee Nelson, and he’s been working the wordsmithing going on 10 years. And I think that’s pretty cool.

After all, when you think about it, songs and poems are pretty darn close. I can think of a few country and western songs that would stand up on their own as poems. “Cowboy Sweetheart” comes to mind. And if you really want to “get the gist” of what Cowboy Poetry is all about, I’m sure that listening to anything by the Riders in the Sky would fit the bill. I caught their set back in January in Portland, and I could readily imagine that those guys would feel right at home at the ol’ Cowboy Poet Gathering.

The Cowboy Poet Gathering?

Oh, didn’t you see in the paper? It’s happening right over in the next county this weekend. Less than a day’s ride, I’d say. And if you’re in one of those Fancy Stagecoaches, the journey shouldn’t take more than 20 minutes.

I’m sure some of the best Cowboy Poetry has been written on horseback out on the open range. But please, don’t try to drive your stagecoach and write verses at the same time.

You don’t need any trouble from the mean ol sheriff!

Duane Nelson will be appearing at the 3rd Annual Cowboy Poetry Gathering at The Dalles Civic Auditorium on Saturday, Nov. 28. Doors open at High Noon.

Admission during the day is free, and paid admission starts with the 6 p.m. show.

Interview with Duane Lee Nelson:

1. How/when did you get started/interested in Cowboy Poetry?

I grew up on old Zane Grey, Max Brand and Louis L’Amour Westerns, and old time Country Western music, so when I first found some old Cowboy Poetry (by people like Gale Gardner and Bruce Kiskaddon), I really fell for it. They wrote about things that I love: horses, the cowboy life, ranching… then when I found poetry by Baxter Black and Waddie Mitchell, well, I was hooked. But it took quite a while to start writing my own poems. I started writing, and reciting, about 8 or 9 years ago.

2. I believe I've seen OPB's Oregon Art Beat cover this topic (cowboy poets), but it seemed to be focused on Eastern Oregon. Are there any other cowboy poets in Hood River County that we should be aware of?

If there are, I would sure like to get together with them! I know Linda Pishion in The Dalles writes, and there is a fellow named John Bowerman way east over by John Day that wrote some awfully good stuff. But he is retired now. And Pete and Virginia Bennet are very good poets. They live up at Goldendale. But right here in the Hood River Valley?... not that I know of.

3. This event on the 28th is billed as the 3rd annual. How has this gathering grown and who else will be featured?

We started out our first year with just a crazy idea, and we didn’t get started until about a month or two before the show. We got Joni Harms from Canby, and Cowboy Poet Van Criddle from Eugene, and we had a heckuva good show. We pretty much filled the Civic Auditorium show room, but we sure gave a lot of tickets away!

The second year, we got a lot more sponsors, and Centerpointe Community Bank signed on as our Title Sponsor, which made breathing a lot easier! We still just broke even, but we were able to get Waddie Mitchell as our main performer, and we did fill the ballroom. Waddie is one of the very best Cowboy Poets ever, and he put on a fantastic show. So that is the success we are trying to build on. Lori and I (Lori Campanella, my wife) have a vision for this Gathering, and part of that includes continuing to have the very best Cowboy Poets and singers we can get. We have a lot of fun doing this (actually I have a lot of fun; Lori works her tail off!), and we are insistent that the show remains first class all the way through.

4. In this genre, who is among your favorite performers?

Gosh, there are so many! Poets-- Waddie Mitchell, Baxter Black, Van Criddle, Leon Flick, Doris Daley. Paul Zarzyski, from Montana is a free-verse guy that you have to see in person to really appreciate his passion for verse. Singers-- Don Edwards tops any list I can think of; not just of Western singers, but of all singers and musicians in any genre. After listing Don Edwards, I would like to add the following: Dave Stamey, along with Sons of the San Jauquin, Micheal Martin Murphey, Juni Fisher, Joni Harms…well, they are all 1A.

5. Do you travel to other similar type events throughout the year?

Yes, I go to as many gatherings as my work and budget will allow. We do get paid for most of them, but usually, that covers the gas and a meal or two! Last year I performed at The Spirit of the West gathering in Ellensburg, Farm Fest in Eagle Point, the Rogue River Roundup, the Lee Earl Memorial in Lewiston, Idaho, Whispering Pines Gathering in Bickleton Wash., and the Coast Fork Gathering in Creswell, Ore.

6. Ok, this may be a first for my blog, but would you mind writing a sample of your work here and telling us what it's about/why you wrote it?

I happened to have this one in my files here at work, and it is one that I really like, so…

This is one I wrote just because it’s the way I feel about cowboyin’. No one particular day or happening; just a feeling and a mood.

Hope you like it.


by Duane Lee Nelson

"Shortcut Poetry"

Now this cowboy life is challengin', and on your body takes a toll,

There ain't a part of me that ain't been busted, is crooked or no longer whole.

Why just last spring at the "Rockin' G" branding, my finger got left in the dirt.

Caught up in my dallies and sliced clean off, left blood all over my shirt.

One knee got wrecked when a colt fell down, the other has never been right,

since I was doctorin' a calf from a big Angus cow, and mama sure went on the fight.

She wallered me round in the mud for a bit, left my knee pointin' two different ways,

Now from that I got 'bout a six-month vacation, but for a cowboy that's without no pay!

Been kicked in the face, my elbow's been broke, my fingers are all bent and twisted,

My back is toast, my rotor cuffs gone, heck, there's too much to even be listed.

Yes, this cowboy life is challenging; look at me, you can see the cost!

But when I think about it, I realize, that without it I'd surely be lost.

You see...

When I look across the valley to the high rimrock beyond,

And see the mountains shinin' with the coming of the dawn,

When I catch my horse and get him saddled, in the morning light,

And ride across God's country, a-horseback until night.

Hear the meadowlarks a-singin', see an eagle in the sky,

And cows and calves all scattered in the prairie grass so high.

Hear my horse's hooves a-whisperin' in the cheat-grass midst the sage,

Its like I'm living in a storybook, can't wait to turn the page.

All your aches and pains are silent now, your body is at ease,

As you trot away the miles, just as easy as you please.

And your age? Why, it don't mean nothin' now, you're as young as ever was,

And you marvel at God's wonders, and you take the time to pause

And reflect, upon this life you lead, with emotions you can't hide,

You look forward to the coming days, just like a new-wed bride.

Yes, this cowboy life is sure challenging, and on your body it does take a toll.

But in the end, you'll know its worth it all,

Cause it's dang sure good, for your soul.

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