Celebrating Cowboy Poetry in Nevada

Cowboy poetry is an occupational tradition, born out of a livelihood that is dependent on land, water and weather. At a time when demand for the West’s natural resources is at an all-time high, and a changing climate is contributing to drought and its devastating consequences, it is critical to bring together those who depend on the land and those who are tasked with ensuring its sustainability, to share stories and solutions to the region’s growing resource concerns. The National Cowboy Poetry Gathering, which takes place in Elko, Nevada, January 28 to February 2, 2013, is a natural forum for discussions about these and other subjects pertinent to the rural West.


People in the rural West are hungry for solutions to the challenges we face,” says Meg Glaser, Artistic Director of the Western Folklife Center, which produces the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering. “The Gathering is a place where urban and rural westerners can come together to share their experiences with each other and get best practices advice from other professionals. Because people are sharing an artistic experience at the Gathering, the atmosphere is terrific for listening and creative problem-solving.”

Among the topics of discussion at the 29th Gathering will be the challenges of water in the West. A roundtable discussion among four presenters will offer a range of perspectives and experiences on topics ranging from regional drought to resource conservation, sharing local stories to working collaboratively. The intent is to generate food for thought and provide practical tools for water conservation. There will also be a follow-up conversation with audience members. Panelists are Bill Zeedyk, a consultant who helps ranchers restore wetlands and riparian habitats using “low-tech” bio-engineering methods and native materials; Lisa Hamilton, a photographer and writer who collects and shares stories of individuals’ relationships to water in the West; John Ehrmann, who, as founder of the Meridian Institute, has pioneered the use of collaborative decision-making in many challenging areas, including water conservation; and Jack Loeffler, an aural historian, radio producer and writer whose focus includes restoration and preservation of habitat, the relationships of indigenous cultures to homeland, and understanding the role of cultural diversity in preservation of habitat.

The Gathering will also host the following presentations:

A discussion of evidence-based horsemanship with well-known horseman Martin Black and neuropsychologist Dr. Stephen Peters, who have studied the horse’s brain and its development for keys to horse behavior and in an effort to find solutions for best practices in horsemanship.

A conversation about agriculture and the creative muse with poets and ranchers Sean Sexton, Linda Hussa and John Dofflemyer. Writer and artist Teresa Jordan will host this discussion of how the natural world is a source of artistic inspiration for those who work the land for a living, and how their creative lives are enriched and challenged by their ranching occupation.

In presentations about the practice of poetry and storytelling, cowboy poets will share their insights on choosing poems to recite, and how to enhance the performance of poetry. Photographer and writer Lisa Hamilton will share stories of farmers and ranchers throughout the West and discuss the communication challenges of telling rural stories to an urban public.

The following discussions will take place as part of the cultural exchange with Italian cowboys (butteri) at the 29th National Cowboy Poetry Gathering:

Ranching in Italy’s Marrema: Past, Present and Future—a presentation on the deep roots of ranching in Italy as well as the contemporary realities of making a living raising cattle in this part of the world.

Italian Ranching East and West—a discussion of the current state of ranching in the American West and Italy, and thoughts for the future of the occupation in both countries.

Ranch Women Swapping Stories—a sharing of stories, poetry and prose among Italian and American ranch women.

Italian American Ranching Stories—an afternoon of stories that connect the dots between Italy and the American West, honoring the generations that immigrated and those who continue to ranch in northern Nevada.

These presentations and discussions are free with the purchase of a 3-day Deluxe Pass, which is currently priced at $60 and good for Thursday, January 31 through Saturday, February 2. Single Day Passes are also available for each of these three days at a cost of $25. A full schedule is available online.


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