Cowboypoetry.com names Lariat Laureat
CowboyPoetry.com officially named its fourteenth Lariat Laureate on March 3 – and “8 Seconds” – winners in a global competition on the internet’s cowboy poetry site. This popular folk form celebrates and honors ranching and rural life.
Minnesota rancher, writer, and poet Diane Tribitt was recognized as Lariat Laureate for her poem, “Half the Hand.” The poem was written with Georgie Sicking, well-loved octogenarian poet and “cowboy” – the term Georgie prefers – in mind. Tribitt recalls that after fixing fence one day and complaining about her hands, she later “thought about Georgie, and I remembered her hands. I thought about all the things those hands had done – as a woman, a horseman, a cowboy, a mother, a widow. She has earned every right to be called a cowboy, and she is one of the best ever.”
Tribitt performs her poetry throughout the West. She has just returned from being a featured poet at the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering. She is the Senior Executive Editor of “I.M. Cowgirl” magazine.
The “8 Seconds” finalists are, alphabetically: G.M. Atwater of Gardnerville, NV; Ken Cook of Martin, SD; Michael Henley of Cabot, AR; Stuart Hooker; Slim McNaught of New Underwood, SD; Mag Mawhinney of Vancouver Island, British Columbia; Dale E. Page of Monrovia, IN; and Kip Sorlie of Viborg, SD.
Most of the Lariat Laureate finalists share rural roots, and their poetry speaks to the importance of the preservation of an endangered way of life and its stories. In the face of challenges, there is often a celebration of the rewards of the lifestyle, its community, and its values. Many honor their Western heritage. All of the poems have a sharp realism at their center, in recognition of both the work and rewards of ranching and rural life.
In “The Cowboy Life,” G.M. Atwater, a mule packer and a cowhand from Gardnerville, NV, writes about the reality of hard work, and the balance of pride that comes from such the work. She says the poem is “…a reflection any working cowboy may have, about the irony of the romantic vision of western living as opposed to the grimy, grungy, manure-in-the-bootheels reality of it…” She comments about why she writes cowboy poetry: “Cowboy poetry presents the heart and soul of a way of life: the good, the bad, the tragic and the hilarious, and as we rocket headlong into the 21st century, I think it’s important to retain past traditions. Just in the past 15 years we’ve all seen the ranges and ranching change. Cowboy poetry is a way to make sure that life is not forgotten. It is a way to remember who we still are.”
“Winter Range,” by Mag Mawhinney of Vancouver Island, British Columbia, also acknowledges the challenges of the cowboys who work for little pay, but who reap great rewards. The poem was submitted for CowboyPoetry.com’s annual “Christmas at the BAR-D” celebration, and was inspired by an experience working cows. She tells, “The beauty of that meadow and surrounding forest, the contrast between the inquisitive actions of the dogs and the other animals grazing peacefully on grass stubbles protruding through the snow, gave me a feeling of pure joy, a completeness beyond words. The scene was God’s winter masterpiece. And it’s moments like that when I understand why a cowboy is willing to work for short pay.”
A love of the land and its beauty is also reflected in “Where Hard Grass Meets the Sky” by Slim McNaught of New Underwood, SD. The Black Hills of South Dakota were the inspiration for his winning poem. The preservation of the heritage of the West and respect “for those who went before” inspires his writing. He says, “We have not only the opportunity but also the responsibility to their memory to carry on their cowboy poetry style and their principles…”
Those who went before are important themes for cowboy poets. South Dakota rancher Ken Cook’s poem, “Grandpa,” honors his grandfather, Frank E. Buckles, a cowboy and rancher from a respected South Dakota family of working men. The poem speaks to his grandfather’s industriousness and skill in his work, and the lessons learned by a grandson are woven in the words.
A ranching grandfather also inspired Stuart Hooker, who was raised on his family ranch near Gila, NM. He tells that his poem, “Ever Seen a Cowboy,” was inspired by his grandfather and brother: “Their dedication and hard work at raising cattle have always amazed me. I can still see my grandfather on a ridge looking for cattle during a gather. My brother has followed suit and can still be seen out in the pasture working cattle.”
“Packin’ Sammy,” a poem by Arkansas business owner and rancher Michael Henley, was submitted for Art Spur, a regular CowboyPoetry.com project that invites poets to be inspired by selected pieces of contemporary Western art.
The subject for Henley’s poem was California poet and artist Pat Richardson’s drawing of “Sammy,” a mule. The poem delivers wisdom drawn from Henley’s experiences. He comments, “I’ve often used pack stock as examples of how we mistreat the folks in this life who we count on the most. The most trusted child, sibling, friend or employee will get the call on all the tough stuff and it’s sure true with our horses and mules…”
Dale E. Page looks back on an experience of 40 years past in his poem, “Once We Were Kings.” Page was born and raised in Oklahoma City, OK, and lives now in Monrovia, IN. He has worked as a horseshoer, dude wrangler, and bull rider, and his featured articles on Western artists and saddlemakers have appeared in top Western publications. His lyrical poem reflects on his past, time spent at a camp in the Sangre de Cristo Mouintains near Cimarron, NM. One stanza reads, “For a few short years we were pleased to live/As the luckiest of men./We enjoyed the best that this life can give/Because we were cowboys then.” He comments, “This poem was written to illustrate the feelings of looking back to where we can’t go, to times we can’t forget and don’t want to.”
Kip Sorlie of Viborg, SD, connects the past and the future in his poem, “In Living Memory.” Asked about its inspiration, he responds, “Look into the eyes of an old trail hand, as he tells a story by a campfire’s light. Look into the eyes of a young boy listening to the story being told. What can be more inspiring than witnessing the connection of the past to the future?” He shares, with many of the poets, a sense of duty to preserve and pass on the stories of the working West. When asked why he writes cowboy poetry, he comments, “How do I interpret the expression in the eyes of a 4-year-old riding with grandpa, to find the herd and bring it home? How do I equate that expression to the seeds of honor, trust, respect and perseverance that are being planted? Who, if not an old cowboy, can nurture the sprout that grows? I will continue to plant and nurture. It is an imperative worth pursuing and preserving.”
Cowboy poetry’s popularity is celebrated year round at CowboyPoetry.com, in an ever-growing number of publications and recordings, and at hundreds of regional gatherings. No other way of life has spawned so many poets and so many compelling, enduring stories. Cowboy poetry’s stories of the past and present preserve the heritage of an endangered culture, an important part of North America and North American history.
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