Cowboy Poets and Cowboy Poetry

Author: Edited by David Stanley and Elaine Thatcher
This is the first sustained and serious look at the traditions, history, and contribution that cowboy poets and cowboy poetry have made to American life and culture.
Paper – $37
Publication Date
Paperback: 01/01/2000
Cloth: 01/01/2000
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About the Book

In bunkhouses or rodeo arenas, on the trail or around the campfire, cowboys have been creating and reciting poetry since the 1870s. In this comprehensive overview, folklorists, scholars, and cowboy poets join forces to explore the 125-year history and development of cowboy poetry and to celebrate those who sustain it.

Centered around six areas of focus, from historical background to biographical profiles to creative process, Cowboy Poets and Cowboy Poetry approaches the tradition of occupational folk poetry from a variety of perspectives. Contributors trace its history as an extension of the Homeric tradition of storytelling in verse and discuss such topics as the way a text evolves in retelling, how it becomes linked to a tune, and how poetic content fuses with form to generate narrative tension and humor.

Personal and telling portraits of cowboy poets and reciters--including D. J. O'Malley, Henry Herbert Knibbs, and a number of contemporary cowboy poets--illuminate the creative process through which individual poets work within a long community tradition, while comparative studies examine poetry by women, Mexican-American vaqueros, loggers, Argentine gauchos, and Australian bush poets.

Cowboy Poets and Cowboy Poetry offers the first in-depth examination of a distinctive and community-based tradition rich with larger-than-life heroes, vivid occupational language, humor, and unblinking encounters with birth, death, nature, and animals. Throughout, the collection shows that cowboy poetry interweaves two thematic strands: a fierce defense of an endangered way of life and a dynamic celebration of organic wholeness, camaraderie, and individualism.


"The first book-length volume to examine this American tradition of occupational verse in all its historical and contemporary complexity and depth. Even better, it does so in a mixed chorus of voices that includes the poets themselves, in addition to folklorists, historians, and creative writers. . . . The overall effect is of a surprisingly unified voice describing the history of the tradition, the values it expresses, and the strong sense of community and commonality among the poets and ranch people they speak for." -- Andrea Graham, Western Folklore

"It's tough to create a serious study that's also rollicking reading, but this impressively complete look at cowboy poetry is a winner in both categories. . . . Essays include excellent examples of cowboy storytelling in verse and rhyme." -- Si Dunn, Dallas Morning News

"The 27 critical essays . . . are exegetical, evangelical and sometimes (intentionally) risible in appreciating and explicating a rich, complex idiom." -- Publisher's Weekly

"While treating this popular form, the contributors do not lose sight of the exacting craftsmanship required of a poet whose works communicated well enough to be recited and repeated. . . . Cowboy poetry involves oneness with nature, using the sky as an umbrella, and the speaking of authentic experience." -- Choice

"Once derided as unworthy of serious consideration by connoisseurs of fine verse, cowboy poetry finds a growing acceptance among sophisticated readers without a lessening of the love for it held in the hearts of its original audience." -- Martin Naparsteck, The Salt Lake Tribune

"A new and valuable, intimate understanding of the American West as it is today, and a sense of continuity with the past that formed our American character. It shows that cowboy poetry is fundamentally about human relationship to the land." -- Nicholas Peterson Vrooman, North Dakota History

"These samples are enough to make you want to find the book with the complete works of the poet." -- Kent Peterson, Utah Historical Quarterly


Runner-Up, Spur Award for Best Western Nonfiction--Contemporary, Western Writers of America, 2001