Elko 2020



On our way home from the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko, Nevada, Robbin and I replay a collage of meaningful moments, fragments of conversations, poetry and music as we cross the Great Basin. Avoiding I-80 and Donner, taking the longer, southern route over Tehachapi instead, it has become like Groundhog Day, both coming and going over the years as we cross the pastel sagebrush expanse of the high desert.

Since 1989, I’ve watched the Gathering evolve from strictly traditional recitations to more contemporary expression rooted in a hands-on, rural ethic of the livestock culture where a man’s word is still his bond, where neighbors trade labor and the land offers a living for those tough enough to endure the whims of the weather. With more hugs than handshakes, it has become a reunion where respect remains high, but we’ve lost a few of the best along the way.

With many new faces, an obvious effort to inject some youth into the offering, it was invigorating and inspirational. Included in a great session with poets Forest VonTuyl from Oregon, Jonathon Odermann from North Dakota and singer-songwriter Tracy Morrison from Idaho, I was assured that the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering will survive with renewed energy and originality. My kudos to the staff for locating so much young talent residing in the West.

I always look forward to visiting and reading with one of my favorites, Patricia Frolander, past-Poet Laureate of Wyoming, pictured above. Robbin and I will continue to replay the moments as we get down to the business of branding calves. It’s good to be home.


5 responses to “Elko 2020

  1. Sounds like a fun time, John. I have never been but have thought about it. I’d love to present, but some folks have said the preferred and dominant form is ballad and the subject matter limited to “real cowboys”. I know a man who presents there and at other gatherings across North America, and he refers to anything in a non-ballad form as “prose”. I’m too old for that aggravation. I’d love to present some poems from my ~Bodark County~ book which are set on the Llano Estacado, and would have some picker laying down lines behind me. So here’s my question: you have a copy of ~Bodark~ on hand; do you think there’s stuff in there that would be well-received along with some guitar? If so, how might I go about getting on their play list out there? I’d apreciate any advice you might have. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Frankly, I wouldn’t worry about labels and your material and vernacular style would certainly work in the open mike sessions at Elko. The open mike sessions have evolved to where the best of them make a night show on the last night of the Gathering. I suggest you Google the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering for more info. I’m not sure how strict they are on background experience for the open mike sessions, but your material demonstrates a certain knowledge of the culture, plus an intimate perspective of the Llano Estacado. Check with Meg Glaser or Brad McMullen.


  2. New hat?

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Patricia Frolander

    John, thank you for your kind words and treasured friendship. Am sure enjoying your book, Reckoning. A highlight of the Gathering was to visit with you and Robin!


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