Celebrating the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering


Cowboy poet and 2009 National Heritage fellow Joel Nelson talks about the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering that takes place each year in the small community of Elko, Nevada. The Elko experience is spiritual every year. I didn’t go to the first gathering there in 1985 but I went to the second one and just to be in the company of working cowboys and ranch people who were seriously writing poetry about themselves and what we do was spiritual. I’ve often said that we sometimes get a little bit tired of maybe of doing what we do. Maybe it doesn’t last very long but there’s always a little bit of boredom in practically any type of work. But when we go somewhere with words that we’ve written about our lifestyle and share them with other people, we come back from that with a little bit more pride in what we’re doing and a little more enthusiasm for what we’re doing. The poetry comes from our life and without the life we lead we wouldn’t have the experience to write that poetry. But then the work that we do is reentered with a freshness that we wouldn’t have had we not gone and shared that poetry with our contemporaries. So it’s a symbiotic relationship: the poetry feeds the work and the work feeds the poetry.

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