Though the Gathering has evolved in many ways over the last three decades, its emotional impact on me seems always the same. The music, poetry and camaraderie of friends heightens the senses, sandpapers the synapses, to leave me vulnerable and more fragile than I’m used to. A catharsis, or cleansing that strips away my everyday defenses to become more uncomfortably human, even on stage.
In yesterday’s session with Amy and Gail Steiger, it was like getting hit by a Mack truck as I informed the audience of Amy’s accomplishments as an author of three books, winner of a Willa Cather award for the first, ‘Rightful Place’, when all the pride I felt for her stuck in my throat, leaving me helpless to speak, helpless to read the poem I dedicated to her after I finished reading ‘Winter of Beauty’. Completely surprised, I was swept up and away into a blurry sea I couldn’t navigate until Joel Nelson in the front row said, “It’s OK, John, we got all morning.”
His steady voice righted me, and after much fumbling for alternate poems, I finally read the piece. Just one of many emotional moments, and just part of Elko’s annual rejuvenation for me.
Prior to the Gathering, I was interviewed by a writer for the Smithsonian: where apparently I failed to truly express the impact of the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering on me.