Poems on the range: the annual Cowboy Poetry Gathering wrangles writers from all over, including Canada

'There's more lies told per moment than anywhere in North America at that time of year,' says Alberta's Sid Marty.

'More lies told per moment than anywhere in North America at that time of year,' says Alberta's Sid Marty

Sid Marty on horseback, Bryant Creek District, Banff National Park, ca 2001. (Submitted by Sid Marty)

If you ever get the chance to head to the Ruby Mountains, in Nevada, you'll probably come across this charming little city, called Elko. It's got old-timey saloons, lots of ranches, and, well, cowboy poets.

Every year, the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering happens in Elko, and it's exactly what it sounds like: a whole bunch of cowboy poets, all in one place.

"As one rancher has put it, there's more lies told per moment than anywhere in North America probably, at that time of year," says Sid Marty, a cowboy poet who lives at the foot of the mountains in Pincher Creek, Alberta. He's a regular at the Cowboy Poetry Gathering, and will be performing in Elko again this year.

Marty started writing poems on the back of a horse, riding around Jasper National Park. His poems, like most cowboy poems, are all about storytelling.

"There is a feeling now that you have to go and get a master's degree in creative writing in order to call yourself a writer," says Marty, who has published four books of poetry, as well as several non-fiction books, dating back to 1973. "The kind of poetry that I am interested in is based on accessibility. It's tied to the physical world. It's a world of doing. It's a world of people who have mastered a lot of physical skills, and that's reflected in the poetry that they're writing about."

Moving at the speed of a horse, you are soaking up details of the landscape- Sid Marty

Deanna Dickinson McCall is a cowgirl poet who also regularly makes the pilgrimage to Elko, although she's based on a ranch in New Mexico. Like Marty, she writes about life on the ranch and in the mountains, "tales of gritty existence, simple honest love, a code of honor still upheld, and beating overwhelming odds," according to her website.

In her poem Start of a Cold Mornin', she writes about how hard a simple act like getting on a horse early in the morning can be a challenge.

When posts are glazed like a cake
And the wire is taut with ice
The troughs need busting
The mornin's ain't so nice.

The red roan resembles a camel
His back has such a hump
You'd better cheek him up
He'll likely buck and jump.

Deanna Dickinson-McCall on horseback in New Mexico. (Submitted by Deanna Dickinson McCall)

Horses, for obvious reasons, are a regular motif in cowboy poetry.

"Living in the open, you really are living close to our roots as human beings," says Marty. "Moving at the speed of a horse, you are soaking up details of the landscape, the wildlife around you, the weather... and feel very much a part of the landscape. So that informs a lot of the poetry."

Click play above to hear more from Marty and Dickinson McCall, as well as a few other cowboy poets.

The 35th National Cowboy Poetry Gathering kicks off today in Elko, Nevada. If you can't make the trek, there is also a Spotify playlist to make you feel like you're there.

Packing up with Warden Scott Ward, Bryant Creek, BNP ca. 2001. (Submitted by Sid Marty)
Taking a poem break, fall boundary patrol, Banff National Park. (Submitted by Sid Marty)
On patrol, Stoney Creek District, ca. 1977. (Submitted by Sid Marty)

Written and produced by ​Vanessa Greco.

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