Kevin Martini-Fuller has been taking photographs of all the poets and performers at the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering since its inception in 1985. Many portraits were exhibited this year in the Wiegand Gallery at the Pioneer Hotel, headquarters for the Western Folklife Center in Elko, Nevada. I’m flattered to have been paired in the exhibit with Glenn Ohrlin (1926-2015), a NEA Fellow and friend.
I have been certainly blessed to have spent most of my life on this ranch, 31 years of which have also been associated with cowboy poetry and music, a fork in the road that has changed my life, acquainting me with many, many friends scattered across the West. Looking back, it’s hard to believe, but the emotional proof is among the hundreds of images on these gallery walls.
‘Elko once again a factor in presidential election’
Elko Daily Free Press Opinion
Robbin and I are finally home from Elko, taking the two-day, long way across the Great Basin to reflect and recuperate from too much fun with old and new friends – the special reunion that the Gathering has become beneath the multifaceted offerings on its many venues. When I first arrived in 1989, it was pretty much traditional recitations with very little contemporary expression – half-dozen books for sale – but there was an amazing ‘lost and found’ camaraderie that inspired us all and sparked similar gatherings all around a disjointed, cowboy West of those days.
Mediums of contemporary expression are as varied as technology will allow today, going well-beyond its poetic beginnings, an explosion of all kinds of art, music and video as Cowboy Poetry has evolved, trying, I think, to offer and reaffirm an ethic common to us all, apart from the uneasy business of media hysterics. Breakfast with the Hungarians Monday morning, before the Gathering got into full swing, confirmed to us that this ethic is not limited to the American West, or to the U.S., as we discussed the details of annual and perennial grasses via Agnes Kemecsei, the translator. Jammed around a table in a corner of the Stockman’s coffee shop, the air was thick – and I was reminded of that camaraderie back in 1989, that shared feeling of finding others whose livelihoods depended on grass, who also took care of livestock. It was a wonderful beginning to the Gathering for us.
The rest is, of course, a blur with too little sleep – serendipitous highlights and diversions – ample inspiration for another year to be sure.
Dear Linda, I think of you driving nights
between snow banks, long distances
between farm house lights and little
towns flickering ahead – I think of resolve
to turn a word to fit the truth, hard facts
that wear the heart smooth and bodies out.
I think of you peering under the corral boards,
the love and fear of it, graphic words
jumping off your tongue on their own.
We could make a movie together, gray
reflections in the middle of nowhere,
turning the barnyard upside down
for another look at the world, another
look at why we’re here, at why a life
without some small purpose beyond ourselves –
a waste of time and flesh – better fertilizer
on the prairie to be blown to another place.
Meet you in Elko to read some poetry –
separated by soothing melodies, the cloak
of the old songs, guitars and accordion
to keep us warm. Looking forward, John.
Dry Crik Journal is currently migrating to WordPress. Bear with us as we learn the new format.