There is a cultural movement sweeping the Western plains like a prairie fire: cowboy poetry. In gatherings and festivals from Fort Qu’Appelle to Pincher Creek, from Maple Creek to Stony Plain (and beyond), cowboy poets are chanting the praises of the ranching culture as never before.
In Rhyming Wranglers, you will meet men who are “double damn tough” and women who are even tougher. You will find plenty to laugh about from “The day Leonard taught me to chew snuff” by Denis Nagel, to Neil Meili’s “The Old Dry Guy and the Bath”. The whole spectrum of range life is presented: the clamour and danger of a cattle stampede; the fragrant beauty of a prairie night; the unexpected loss of a loved one. And there’s a lot of cowboy philosophy here too, from the no-nonsense creed of Robert Service’s “The Quitter” to the subtler values of Sid Marty’s deeply moving “The Rider with Good Hands”.
Rhyming Wranglers includes not only poets from pioneer times, and the current stars of the cowboy poetry festival circuit, but such major outlaw poets as Sheri-D Wilson, Sid Marty, Doris Daley and Corb Lund. You will find they all speak the authentic lingo of the cowboy.
HARVEY MAWSON – A retired cowboy who makes his home at Dundurn, Saskatchwan where his family has been ranching for five generations, Harvey is the author of several books of poetry, notably Brimstone and Bobwire, and a book of short fiction, Cowboy Up, Rodeo Stories.
W.J. “ROBBIE” ROBERTSON – A retired RCMP staff sergeant (after 40 years’ service), Robbie Robertson enjoys nothing more than reciting poems in his 1896 NWMP period uniform. He has appeared on CBC and CTV, and has performed all over the world, ranging far from his High River, Alberta home.
FRANK GLEESON – Frank Gleeson is a cattleman and poet who operates the Lone Birch Ranch at Williams Lake, B.C. (with his wife Betty). He has appeared at many poetry festivals across Canada and the U.S., including the big gathering at Elko.
ROSE BIBBY – Rose Bibby performs at many gatherings with husband Garth, travelling from their home at Westlock, Alberta. She is the author of several booklets including Rosebriar Ranch Ramblings and Rosie’s Rhyme and Reason and an audio tape, Hayshakers “Live” at the Bluff.
BOYD TAYLOR – Boyd Taylor grew up on a family farm in Saskatchewan. After a long career as a teacher, he retired to ride horses and write cowboy poetry¸ “because it speaks to the real events and people of the West, using a combination of truth, myth, and humour.”
DORIS BIRCHAM – Doris Bircham has been partnered with the same man, same ranch, same prairie wind forever. Author of a book of poems, Teamwork, she has been a performer and organizer at the Maple Creek Cowboy Poetry Gathering since it began 14 years ago.
SID MARTY – Born in England, Sid Marty grew up in Medicine Hat, and worked on horseback for many years as a National Park warden in Alberta and B.C. Author of two poetry books, Headwaters and Sky Humour, he has also published major works of nonfiction about his beloved Rocky Mountains.
DORIS DALEY – Proclaimed “queen of cowboy poets”, Doris Daley has produced four poetry books and a CD, Poetry in Motion. Doris comes from a gene pool of “ranchers, cowboys, Mounties, good cooks, sorry team ropers, Irish stowaways, bushwhackers, liars, two-steppers and saskatoon pickers.”
LEE BELLOWS – Lee rode bull, worked as a rodeo clown and barrel man at the Calgary Stampede and Canadian Western Agribition, and now works as a district livestock inspector in Saskatchewan when he isn’t performing cowboy poetry at every event within riding distance.
NEIL MEILI – Neil Meili published his first book of verse, Cowboys, Poets, and Pilots, in 1995 with the New Texas Press, Austin, Texas, where he was a director of the Austin International Poetry Festival. He has published 16 books of poetry since, and takes part in poetry strolls and gatherings across the continent.
KEN MITCHELL – Ken Mitchell, story-teller¸ playwright, poet and actor was awarded the Order of Canada for his efforts in “promoting Canadian literature at home and abroad.” Most recently, he participated in the Cucalambe Festival of Country Music and Poetry in Las Tunas, Cuba.
THELMA POIRER – Thelma Poirier belongs to a horse-ranching dynasty that goes back to pioneer days, and has spent a lifetime raising cattle in the rangeland around Wood Mountain, Saskatchewan. Thelma represented Canada at the Elko gathering in 1992, and has returned many times since.
ANDREW SUKNASKI – A leading poet of the Western Canada literary renaissance, Andy Suknaski has had a long and productive literary career. He won international acclaim with Wood Mountain Poems, edited by Al Purdy, and has since published many more books of verse.
MARK ELFORD – McCord, Saskatchewan rancher Mark Elford is also a musical performer. “The Great Divide”, written as a tribute to his father who died shortly after Mark’s brother Wes was killed, was performed by the country-gospel band Family Reunion and recorded as an audio cassette.
JUDY HOPKINS – Judy Hopkins recently performed at the Royal Saskatchewan Museum’s Cowboy Poetry Festival in Regina. Her self-published book Fed From Different Streams appeared in 2000. It included “Wonder Dog”, a sly testimony to the poetic naming of animals.
DAVE PRATT – Dave Pratt, a Cree-Dakota has worked across Canada and the U.S. as a rodeo rider and cowboy. The title poem of his first book, A Cowboy Rides Away, was dedicated to his friend Lionel Poitras, a Cree-born RCMP officer who was killed at a rodeo.
MIKE PUHALLO – Now a cattle rancher, Mike Puhallo became a rodeo cowboy at the age of 16 and rode the circuit for over 20 years. He has published three volumes of cowboy verse: Rhymes on the Range, Still Rhymin’ on the Range, and Can’t Stop Rhymin’ on the Range.
ANNE SLADE – Ann Slade wrote Denim, Felt and Leather and co-wrote Pastures, Ponies and Pals (book and tape) , and A Voice of Her Own. All three poems in Rhyming Wranglers appeared in Bards in the Saddle, a collection of the Alberta Cowboy Poetry Association published in 1997.
BRYN THIESSEN – Bryn is a popular preacher and veteran performer whose distinctive handlebar moustache – 16 inches from tip to tip – is much-admired at cowboy poetry events throughout the west. “The Prairie Breeze” appeared in his illustrated collection Wind in the Pines.
PHYLLIS RATHWELL – Phyllis raises cattle near Rockglen, Saskatchewan, where she is also a school principal. She claims to be “equally (in)competent at workin’ cattle, checkin’ pens, fencin’, balin’, cussin’ gates an’ ridin’ the grub line.” She produced a tape, Three Babes On A Bale with Terri Mason and Doris Daley.
WAYNE“SLIM” MITCHELL – Slim Mitchell grew up and still lives on the XM Bar ranch near Moose Jaw. He began performing as a Stompin’ Tom Connors impersonator, took up cowboy poetry, and appeared at many cowboy poetry events, usually with Bill Gomersall and the Mitchell Boys.
SHERI-D WILSON – Probably the most radical cowboy poet in Canada, sheri-d wilson is a writer and actor who has electrified audiences everywhere. The author of six books of poetry and a CD, she has won every major performance poetry contest including the title of Heavyweight of Poetry, USA.
DENIS NAGEL – Denis Nagel, now a veterinarian, grew up on a farm and worked many years on cattle ranches. “The Day Leonard Taught me to Chew Snuff”, his first published poem, is homage to his early mentor Leonard Swanson, a rough-and-ready wrangler from the hills.
CORB LUND – Corb Lund and The Hurtin’ Albertans have toured Australia, Europe and the U.S. They won a “Roots and Traditional Album of the Year” Juno in 2006 and were featured in Universal Pictures’ “Slither”. Before moving to Edmonton, Corb rode, herded, and rodeoed for several years.
The best cowboy poetry I’ve read speaks poignantly – if with the delightful country corniness, and insouciant joy and humour – of a justly celebrated but vanishing ranching way of life. ..Ken Mitchell’s accomplishment here then is considerable. He’s given us a chronology of the cowboy poetry sub-genre, reaching back to nineteenth and early twentieth century archival cowboy verse, and placed it where it belongs in the tradition of light verse narrative, ballad, tall tale, shaggy dog story, folk yarn; even gone so far as to show a continuum between what we would recognize as folk art – comparable say to old painted milk pails and weathered door mirrors and wagon wheel driveway markers or chandeliers – and verse satire or truly western rural free verse. Several of the poets represented are seasoned veterans of the cowboy poetry festival circuit – Elko, Pincher Creek, Maple Creek, etc. – and evince considerable skill with accentual syllabics, wit, timing, and delivery. What we don’t get in indirection and metaphor we get in spades in hyperbole, ironic leg-pulls, wry (rye?) wit and humour. You’ll smile a lot reading this book, and, occasionally, break out into lusty guffaws.
Looking for a little cowboy poetry to recite around your backyard fire pit? A new volume of verse about life on the range and the wide-open prairie can help you on your way. Ken Mitchell has selected works from 40 poets in his volume titled Rhyming Wranglers — Cowboy Poets of the Canadian West. Mitchell’s roots are in ranching, like so many of the poets whose work he lassoed for this project. He grew up on a ranch near Moose Jaw, Sask., then hung up his cowboy hat in the city where he taught English at the University of Regina. A playwright, actor and novelist, he has more than 25 books to his name… This is a fine collection of lines that beg to be read or sung aloud. That’s one of the draws of this genre — it really is meant to be shared.
About the Editor
Ken Mitchell is a well-known Canadian playwright, actor and novelist, with over 25 books to his credit, including the legendary “country opera” Cruel Tears. His drama about Norman Bethune,Gone the Burning Sun, toured the world in the 90s. Mitchell grew up on a family ranch near Moose Jaw, and went on to become a professor of English at the University of Regina. His most recent theatrical work, No Ordinary Cowboy, a tribute to the rodeo man Bill Gomersall, will tour Western Canada in 2007. He lives in Regina with his wife, the scholar Jeanne Shami.
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