What is Cowboy Poetry?

What is cowboy poetry? Only one poetic form merits that distinction. It has three qualities:

a western or cowboy theme,
true line-end rhymes (such as ABAB or ABCB or ABAC), and
consistent meter throughout measured by syllable count (such as 8-6-8-6).

Poems which do not have all three qualities should be called something other than cowboy poetry…perhaps “western poetry” since there is no tradition for poetry by that name.

The cowboy poem, as a truly American literary form, originated in the West as cowboys rode the range in the mid-1800s capturing the rhythm of hooves on the trail. Without paper and pencil (many had no education), they wrote “in their mind” using both meter and rhyme to help them remember their verses. The poetic form is a true folk tradition which should be respected and preserved!

Who is a Cowboy Poet?

Who or what is a Cowboy Poet? Remembering back to my youthful conversations with The Badger, this might be the answer:

There are only two authentic varieties. You are a cowboy poet only if:

you are actually a cowboy and a poet (regardless of poetic style)…the emphasis is on your profession, or

you may or may not actually be a cowboy but write true cowboy poetry…the emphasis is on the genre.

One who does not qualify as a cowboy poet might better be called a western poet, a generic designation which has no historic or traditional form.

Badger Clark qualified as a cowboy poet in both categories. He was an Arizona cowboy for four years and, overall, his poems were true to the tradition of cowboy poetry as to theme, rhyme, and meter.



Welcome to my personal blog. It’s contents are eclectic and devoted to personal notes and feelings. Please enjoy it.

The term "Poet Lariat" was first used by Mark Twain in his book Innocents Abroad.
Real cowboy poetry has consistent meter (as in the traditional ballad) and true rhymes (as love/dove). -- Clark Crouch
Cowboys of the mid-1800s, most uneducated, wrote as they rode, capturing the rhythm of the trail, pacing themselves with consistent meter, and using end rhymes to assist in remembering their poems.
Cowboy poetry captures the rhythm of horses hooves on the trail. -- Attributed: Badger Clark
To call a free form poem a Cowboy Poem is like calling a quatrain a Sonnet! -- Clark Crouch

Meeting the Badger

If I remember correctly, it was during the summer of 1940 when I was eleven years old that I first met Badger Clark. I had won an expense-paid trip to a conservation camp at Seward, Nebraska in a contest sponsored by the Federal Arms Corporation. My winning entry was an essay about some doves nesting beneath sagebrush right on the ground. Although I was working on my brother-in-law’s ranch that summer, he gave me a week off to attend the camp.

Badger was the featured guest and it was downright pleasant to sit and talk with him. A lot of the young folks had other interests, after all it was a coed camp. Unfortunately, I was a bit young and wasn’t yet inclined to chase around after the girls, so I had some quality time talking to the Badger in between his appearances to read his poems to us. And read them he did…book in hand and not relying on his memory, he presented his poetry.

Mentoring Others

There’s a lot to be said for the creative aspects of writing poetry. It is mentally stimulating, particularly when you’re involved in expressing your exact feelings within the constraints of traditional poetic forms with true rhymes.

Beyond that, however, lies another extremely rewarding aspect of being a poet. And that is mentoring others who wish to be able to express themselves through the creation of their own poetry. Over the past twelve years, we’ve mentored quite a few folks ranging in age from twelve to the mid seventies. It has been tremendously rewarding and fulfilling to witness their success.

One venue for both experienced and beginning poets has been our own website. From that site, ninety-one poems authored by sixteen poets from across the U.S. were published in a book, Western Viewpoints, last year. The book is available through local and internet booksellers around the world. It is possible that another volume might be published in the not-too-distant future as our website now contains seventy-eight poems by fifteen poets, almost enough for a reasonably sized book!

Our requirements are not terribly complex:

western, or cowboy theme in modern or historic setting,
traditional poetic form, not blank or free verse,
true rhymes such as love/dove (but not love/glove or love/over), and
shorter poems (equivalent of twelve or fewer, 4-line stanzas) are preferred.

So, if you are an experienced or published poet, you might consider the rewards of mentoring others in this uniquely American literary form. And, if you are not a poet but you’d like to try your hand at writing some western or cowboy verses, do it and send it along for consideration. Limited mentoring is usually available if desired.

Goose Creek

This poem , “Goose Creek,” which was an award winner in a juried competition sponsored by the Allied Arts of the Yakima Valley in 2007, has just been published in a new regional anthology, Twentieth: Selected Yakima Coffeehouse Poems. The book is a collection of poems which won awards in Allied Arts competitions over a period of 19 years. The poem  was first published in Thirteenth, a chapbook published by Allied Arts in 2007, and also appears in Western Images released by Western Poetry Publications that same year.

Goose Creek

The creek meanders listlessly
amidst the hills of sand…
a shallow, slender thread of life
feedin’ the fragile land.

It brings water to our cattle
and makes the meadows green
with grasses as tall as a man
as far as can be seen.

Willow branches droop o’er the stream,
shadin’ the water’s flow,
creatin’ quiet, cool retreats
where man is wont to go.

This little creek flows steadily
as seasons rise and wane,
grandly fulfillin’ its purpose,
in this prairie domain.

Top Dog: a managerial satire

topdogCvr…managers can survive, be successful, and inspire quality, excellence, and productivity if they know and practice the basics of management…

One of the great secrets for success as a manager is not really a secret. It is well known, but sometimes forgotten in the crush of daily work, that managerial success is the result of learning and practicing some basic skills.

Those who understand that and become proficient in the five basic skills of management (planning, organizing, staffing, leading and controlling) have the tools they need to become successful.

But there are charlatans lurking in the wings, consultants who lead their clients down strange paths. They create buzz words and even pseudo science which only the consultants understand. They build dependence on themselves rather than empowering others.

This satirical book exposes some of their tactics and, in the end, pushes back to the basics.

This 32 page chapbook is now available in paperback (list $8.95) through local and international booksellers and in Kindle format (list $2.99) through Amazon.com.

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

1.  It has a western or cowboy theme, respecting our great Western Heritage.
2.  It captures the rhythm of horse’ hooves on the trail.
3.  It has consistent meter within each verse and from verse to verse.
4.  It has true rhymes…love/dove, not love/wove or love/over.
5.  It uses traditional poetic forms, not blank or free verse.
6.  It offers the challenge for expression within the constraints of meter and rhyme.
7.  It reflects personal experience and knowledge of western life and lore.
8.  It has an obvious meaning which does not require explanation or apology.
9.  It is a true American literary style for both written and spoken presentation.
10.  It is respectful of the heritage, beliefs, opinions, and lives of others.

Will Rogers Book Awards

Will Rogers Mediallion AwardTwo of my books, Western Images and Views from the Saddle, received the Will Rogers Medallion Award for Cowboy Poetry in 2008 and 1010 respectively

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.