How A Godless Democrat Fell in Love With Cowboy Poetry
You might call me smitten by the whole affair. By the cowboys, of course: their hats, their vests, their boots. Their wry smiles and fat handshakes. By the elderly couples lining up to thank the poets for their verse, to whisper you’re our favorite, to request a John Hancock from a man virtually unheard of outside the room. By the sun punching through ashen clouds above the snow-packed Ruby Mountains. By the crunch of rock salt underfoot. By the volunteer shuttle driver, retired from the gold mines, reclining behind the wheel and waiting for the next show to end. By the casino meals and the spilt whiskey and the faces red with laughter. By singer-songwriter Don Edwards yodeling “And they go hoo yip hoo yip hoo hoo di hoo di yip … ” By calloused hands worn smooth through nostalgia. By the cries of winter at the barroom doors. By the glowing tip of a cigarette in the crystal night sky. By the deluge of doggerel and the fat golden nuggets of a poem that shine long after I’ve left the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko, Nevada.
I had dipped my toe in the waters of cowboy poetry for a New Yorker story in 2016. And then I fell in. My friends wonder what happened. Sometimes I do, too. I earned a graduate degree in creative writing. I like good books—I pretend to, anyway. Erin Belieu and John Berendt currently grace my nightstand. Though I dress from the Target clearance rack, Gay Talese is my style icon. I subscribe to Poem-a-Day. I’m not sure about God. I’m a Democrat.
Cowboy poetry doesn’t fit.