Prose Ain’t Cowboy Poetry!

To call a prose passage a cowboy poem
is like calling a quatrain a sonnet!

You can be a cowboy and a poet…a cowboy poet…but an unstructured, unrhymed poem (even one on a western or cowboy theme) is not cowboy poetry. Please understand, I’m not against blank and free verse, I write some of it myself, but I am simply and absolutely opposed to labeling such prosaic forms as “cowboy poetry.” They ain’t!

Back in the early 1940s, I was a youthful acquaintance of Charles Badger Clark, the classic cowboy poet who was then the Poet Laureate of South Dakota. He was very definite in his view that authentic cowboy poetry has a metered, rhyming structure. He said meter captures the rhythmic sound of horses hooves on the trail while rhyme enriches the rhythm and aids in remembering the verses you create. He regarded unstructured writings as prose.

True cowboy poetry was, and is, a unique American literary form developed by real cowboys. They “wrote” on pages of the mind even as they rode. The art form requires a degree of self-discipline in order to express your exact feelings under the constraints of structure and rhyme. It is far more complex and challenging than it is to write prose verses.

Badger Clark’s views were enough for me and he inspired me to write my first cowboy poem, which incidentally won first place at the Blaine County Nebraska Fair in 1941. That poem is a reflection of his guidance…true cowboy poetry…and has been one of the most requested poems during my many performances.

I think Badger would look at today’s poetry and say, “Call your prosaic creation ‘western poetry’ or ‘poetic prose’ or whatever you’d like. But please don’t call it ‘cowboy poetry’ when it is not!”

Cowboy Management Styles

Once upon a time I was a management consultant specializing in strategic planning and I helped a lot of people. But then I became a cowboy poet, vicariously reliving my youthful experience as a cowboy. It was then I realized that cowboys are right good managers; hence, this little essay.

I was ridin’ along the other day lis’nin’ to my pocket radio. The fellers was talkin’ about management and it seemed to me that they was gettin’ it all wrong somehow. They was using hard-to-understand high falutin’ words to explain some pretty simple things about the work of managers.

What they was sayin’ boiled down to five real little things that any cowboy fresh off the range could tell you. First a feller has got to know where he’s goin’, he’s got to round up the stuff he needs to get there, he’s got to get his crew lined up and teach them how to use all that stuff, he’s got to nudge folks along, and he’s got to keep up on what’s goin’ on.

Now, that’s a real cowboy’s view of management! And it’s a heck of a lot easier to understand and use than them high falutin’ words: plannin’, organizin’, staffin’, leadin’, and controllin’.

So, here’s the poop on bein’ a manager…

Where are you goin’? Them consultants really get you goin’ on this one. Their first words ain’t too bad…strategic plannin’…but then they start hangin’ other words on to those: vision, mission, values, goals, objectives, strategies, competition, and some other words they make up as they go along. A’course the reason for all a’that is to keep you plumb mixed up to the point that you gotta hire them to help you do all that plannin’ and hire ‘em again if you want to understand what they did for you in the first place!

All them words mean is that you gotta know what you’re aimin’ for, you gotta know why you’re aimin for that, you gotta treat folks right, you gotta take little bittsie steps while watchin’ that you don’t step in a pile of somethin’. Then you gotta consider:

  • Objectives – the total of lotsa bittsie steps
  • Strategies – how all these things fit together
  • Competiton – who’s steppin’ on your toes

Some folks say you can be a one minute manager but I reckon that ain’t right. You gotta be a 24 hour manager else the herd’s gonna get away from you. You got fences to build and fences to fix. You got hay to cut and hay to pitch. You got brandin’ to do and mountain oysters to harvest. You just gotta whole saddle bag full of chores if you’re gonna be a manager. All that takes a bit more than a minute!

What tools do managers use? Again, them consultants really confuse the issue when they talk about resources. Why don’t they just say here’s the tools you’ve got to do your job instead of sayin’ your resources are people, property, time, money, and technology?

It sorta stands to reason that you gotta have folks to do the work, give ‘em the tools and supplies they need, decide when the work needs to be done, get your money outa the bank so as you can pay for all that, and be sure you’re doin’ somethin’ that’ll last for a while.

Hire them consultants if you want to but, fer me, I reckon I’ll stick to Cowboy Management Skills…sort of a do-it-yourself kinda managin’.

Ten Ways Cowboy Poetry Differs from Other Forms

Here are ten ways cowboy poetry differs from other forms:

Will Rogers Book Awards

Will Rogers Mediallion AwardWe’ve just received word that my latest book, Views from the Saddle, has received the 2010 Will Rogers Medallion Award for Cowboy Poetry. It is my second such award, the first granted to my book,  Western Images, in 2008.

The award recognizes both content and production, the latter recognition going to Western Poetry Publications (an imprint of The Resource Network). Specifically, the award recognizes books which exemplify “…the combination of excellent content, high production values and honoring of the Cowboy Heritage that the award was created to acknowledge.”

The award has special meaning for me in that Will Rogers was one of my heroes in the early 1930s. His story-telling ability and his unmatched sense of humor were much appreciated during those days during the Great Depression and drought as I was growing up in the Sandhills of Nebraska.

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