We’ve been having a great time going through photos of the 33rd National Cowboy Poetry Gathering by our photographers Jessica Lifland and Charlie Ekburg. We wanted to share some of them with you — Enjoy!
We’ve been having a great time going through photos of the 33rd National Cowboy Poetry Gathering by our photographers Jessica Lifland and Charlie Ekburg. We wanted to share some of them with you — Enjoy!
By Amy Hale Auker
Behind our barn, in the horse lot, is an oak tree. It is actually three oak trunks that rise from the same base creating a basin above the roots. When it rains or snows, the basin fills with water. It is a smart oak tree.
The first year I went to the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering in 2002 I was amazed to see how many people were living lives similar to my very small wife-of-a-cowboy, remote-cow-camp existence, and yet they were writing poems and songs, creating art and crafts, bringing their lives from the ranches up onto the stage, sharing the work of growing food with a broad audience.
Since then, I have only missed one Gathering. I always come away inspired and encouraged. I come away with my well filled to the top.
This year, I began my #roadtriptoelko with a slightly negative attitude. Because of world and national affairs, I dreaded gathering with my friends. I dreaded hearing more divisive talk. Plus, I had been working with The Moth, a storytelling organization out of New York City, to tell my own story on Saturday night. It was hard. It was hard to work with the director, Maggie Cino, because I felt like I already knew how to tell a story. After all, I am an author! I tell stories on stage almost every time I introduce a poem. I blush to admit that I wasn’t taking direction well. Maggie persisted through many phone calls to hone my story, to help me tell it better. In the weeks leading up to the Gathering, I worked hard on that story as well as poetry and material for other sessions on my schedule. Andy Hedges and I collaborated to pull together a last-minute Guy Clark Tribute/Jessica Hedges Benefit, and the work softened me. The Western Folklife Center was generous in their help for the late-night tribute show, and I began to realize that my phone calls with Maggie, if I would lighten up and listen, might pay off in a better, clearer performance. Maybe cowboys have something to learn. Maybe a good hand is open to new things. Maybe that openness is what makes us better hands.
We arrived in Elko midday on Wednesday. Before the artists’ breakfast on Thursday, every shred of my concern about divisiveness was gone. And my pockets were full of gifts… honey, oranges, lemons, a gorgeous photograph by Jessica Lifland taken when she visited the ranch, a cell phone antenna booster, a bottle of Apple Crown Royal, a box of copper-plated horseshoe nails, a red suede coat from Jim Bone, a flowing blouse from Pam Brown, a homeopathic remedy to ward off the flu, and more hugs than I could count.
But the real sea-change for me was on Friday afternoon when I joined Teresa Jordan and the rest of The Moth storytellers for rehearsal. When I heard the other stories I realized that only by being open was I going to, once again, fill my well. The diversity of the stories was incredible. Teresa’s story was one of leaving the land so many years ago. We heard a story of the Oregon Trail from a third-grade teacher, a story of loss and healing from a Native American man with a strong sweet voice, a story of immigration and homecoming from a man from Guatemala. I told my story of leaving the land only to return to dig in deeper. I realized that one reason I love my community so much is that we are inclusive rather than exclusive. That when we open our doors, we all win. We tell about growing food and making art from agrarian roots. We recite the words of tradition. In that telling, we make room for anyone who wants to hold hands with us. To dance with us. And we learn from them just as much as they learn from us.
The keynote address written and delivered by Andy Wilkinson, spoke of reconciliation. Art, especially poetry and music and story, brings us together, makes us kinder to one another. The 33rd National Cowboy Poetry Gathering was one of community and kindness. As I stood on stage on Saturday night, I felt the tiny rock in my pocket, the one given to me by Brooksie, the one shaped like a bird on a nest if you look at it from the right angle, and was flooded with love. I was flooded with hope. I recognized the beautiful strength in humans coming together to share, the beautiful idea of gathering. It is hard to be divided when we look each other in the eye and tell our personal narratives.
From folklorists who give dance lessons, to Butch Hause keeping the sound board going long past midnight during the Guy Clark Tribute, to a hat full of cash for Jessica and Sam Hedges, to old friends helping me when I almost melted down with nerves, to a song by Rod Taylor about turning off the news and going out of doors… this Gathering was my best ever.
The well in the base of the smart oak tree behind the barn is full from all of our winter moisture, and my well is full because we gathered, we came together in community, rooted together, growing up strong.
By Darcy Minter
Every year, we look forward to welcoming new poets to the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering, and this year is no exception. One of those poets is Maria Lisa Eastman, who ranches with her husband Skip in Hyattville, Wyoming, on the west side of the Big Horn Mountains. Maria and Skip have a wonderful tradition in their home. When they have dinner guests, they scatter poetry books around the table and ask people to browse through them and read a poem if they are inspired. Skip encouraged Maria to read her own poetry to their guests. And, she says, he has been “bugging” her to apply to perform at the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering for a long time. She says she finally did it to shut him up. And she couldn’t believe it when she was accepted!
Maria says she started writing poetry as a young girl needing to express her pre-adolescent angst. And she has been writing poetry for more than 40 years. Her poems are often about horses which are her passion. She started taking riding lessons when she was five years old and has ridden ever since. Whether riding in the rainy countryside outside of London, England, scrimmaging polo ponies in Santa Fe, or working cows and riding fences on ranches in New Mexico and Wyoming, she’s always made sure horses were near. While riding colts out and collecting native grasses in New Mexico, she earned a master’s degree in range and watershed management. Currently, she operates Rainhorse, a nonprofit organization offering equine-assisted activities and therapies, and she trains in dressage on her 18-hand gelding Brego, a horse she rescued six years ago. Many of the horses that Maria works with in her equine program are rescued.
Maria is new to Elko and new to performing her poetry. Fresh off her recent readings at a local book store and book club, Elko will be her third time in front of an audience. Her poetry has always been personal, written for herself. Now she is ready and looking forward to sharing it with us!
You can see Maria perform several times throughout the Gathering. Check out our full schedule of events here.
By Maria Lisa Eastman
When I wake in the morning
I can’t wait to see my dear friends –
The animals who live around me.
The dogs wag and grin, they
Groan in delight as they greet the early day.
Horses stretch and nicker across a sleeping pasture
They prick their ears as one
When oats splash against a wooden pail.
Barn cats unfurl their downy limbs and blink –surely they are smiling-
In the slow building heat of the sun.
Baby calves, black against the quicksilver grass
Buck and hump, butting their quiet mothers
Who graze together with studious pleasure.
Do we need a reason to be glad of the day?
Look at all those around us- for them it is enough
That the sky brightened
And enough that the sun warms
For these wise ones, enough to live one more simple day.
By Chris Simon, Filmmaker
The Western Folklife Center has been working on a series of four poem-films that powerfully communicate contemporary rural issues, ideas and insight—particularly the subject of water in the West. Titled Moving Rural Verse, these films are produced in collaboration with respected Western poets and experienced video artists, and will premiere at the upcoming National Cowboy Poetry Gathering, January 30-February 4, in Elko. Filmmaker Chris Simon worked with poet Linda Hussa and Reno filmmaker Jerry Dugan to produce a film of Linda’s poem “Homesteaders, Poor and Dry.”
When Meg Glaser, Artistic Director at the Western Folklife Center, told me about her new project, Moving Rural Verse—four poems on water in the West made into films—I was intrigued. When she asked, “Would you like to do a poem by Linda Hussa?” I was thrilled.
Then Meg said, “It’s ‘Homesteaders, Poor and Dry’.”
“Isn’t that about drought?” I probe, gazing out my window at the pouring rain. “That’s right!” Meg says brightly.
“And don’t they have to kill a cow and drop a little girl down a well so that the baby won’t die?”
“Can’t you get creative? And no blood.” She hangs up fast.
“Homesteaders, Poor and Dry” is an incredibly powerful poem about the hard emotional impact of drought on a family. It is told from the perspective of the young daughter. It would not be an easy film to make.
I wrote out a scenario for how I’d like to interpret Linda’s poem. Getting from what was on paper to film… well, that was a problem. I’m a documentary filmmaker. I usually film what is there, not create it. Dropping a camera down a well to show a little girl’s point of view is not in my skill set. I decided to collaborate with Reno filmmaker Jerry Dugan who made Buck Ramsey’s poem “Anthem” into a film for the Nevada Museum of Art. As a commercial and extreme sports filmmaker, Jerry could bring the technical skills needed plus additional creative perspective. We arrange to film at the Hussa Ranch at the northeastern tip of California. Linda and her husband John start combing the country looking for a hand-dug well. Their milk cow, Blossom, is offered a starring role. Fortunately, it has stopped raining.
Jerry and I rendezvous in Reno. I generally work with only a sound recordist (if I’m lucky); Jerry brings a crew of six. That’s seven including me. What can they all do?
The next day it becomes clear. Everyone has a job and everyone is busy. Jerry is on camera assisted by Ryan. Mike does stop-action camera. Trent and Keaton are in charge of MoVi. They will rig the camera down the well. Canyon operates the jib, a complicated apparatus that will give us overhead shots. In truth, everyone does whatever is needed.
A sleepy Rylee Dickson, nine years old, arrives with her mother to play the girl. They had to get up at 4:00 am to make the three-hour drive from Reno. We dress her up in overalls and braid her hair. Keaton is drafted to play the dad and he gets overalls, too. With some dirt smudges they can pass for 1930s ranchers. Blossom is brought into the barn. She looks pretty healthy for a cow that is drought-stricken, but you can’t have everything. Blossom does not like the look of the knife in Dad’s hand. She really doesn’t like the camera being poked in her face. She rolls her eyes and pulls back. This translates well onto film. She goes back to her stall with an extra ration of hay.
After shooting all morning at the ranch, we set out for the hand-dug well John Hussa found. It’s half way between the Hussa Ranch and Gerlach, Nevada, out on the sagebrush plains. It is perfect. We pull off the covering boards and when the guys drop a bucket down it comes back with dead scorpions floating in the water. We all take an extra step back.
Rylee going down the well is accomplished through the magic of cinema and the technical expertise of Jerry and crew. Then it’s time for her big scene—the one that will make or break the film. Rylee nails it and as Linda, Jerry and I watch the screen, tears come to my eyes. This is even better than I had imagined.
You can see for yourself when “Homesteaders, Poor & Dry” premieres at the upcoming National Cowboy Poetry Gathering as one of the Moving Rural Verse Series.
And, don’t worry, no cows nor children were harmed in the making of this motion picture.
See “Homesteaders, Poor & Dry” and three more Moving Rural Verse poem-films on:
Thursday, February 2, 12:15–1:30pm Ruby Mountain Ballroom #1, Elko Conference Center
Friday, February 3, 11:00am–12:15pm, G Three Bar Theater, Western Folklife Center
Moving Rural Verse was produced with major support from the National Endowment for the Arts, ArtPlace America, the Community Foundation of Utah and from Western Folklife Center stakeholders.
By David Roche
Driving west down Idaho Street in Elko, Nevada, and entering the central district at 4th Street, the unsuspecting traveler is suddenly confronted with a grazing trio of horses languidly munching in a rustic corral. Not in the flesh, mind you. A large 7 by 17-foot black and white photo mural, plastered on the plywood siding of a boarded up building puts the driver into instant time warp. Further down the street, in an alley behind the Pioneer Hotel, a calf roping cowboy bears down with lariat flying. Out on 5th Street, a steam engine on the wall of the Western Folklife Center peeks out toward Railroad Avenue where the real trains once ran. What’s going on?
The downtown corridor of Elko has long been subject to the blight of empty storefronts, most recently along Idaho Street. To address the problem with ideas developed through creative placemaking projects and techniques from other similar street artworks, the Western Folklife Center, through the support of the Nevada Energy Foundation and ArtPlace America (and the generous permissions of Pedro Ormaza and Mike Reynolds), commissioned Reynolds Photography to produce these photographic images for outdoor wall installation.
A work-in-progress entirely dependent on weather conditions, wall surface composition and the viscosity of the cream-of-wheat paste used to glue the photo paper to the walls, Reynolds Photography and Western Folklife Center volunteers have been busy attaching and re-attaching images that change the feel of the neighborhood.
Deon and Trish Reynolds, based in Eureka, NV, have been traveling the highways and byways of Nevada for more than 25 years. Deon shoots black and white panoramic images with those disposable plastic Kodak Funsaver cameras once found in drugstores everywhere but utilizing film stock he customizes and installs. Trish shoots her black and white photographs with a 1920s box camera. Both of them have had distinguished gallery showings of photographs and other multimedia works. Trish is a member of the Wild Women Artists group of Nevada and Deon recently stepped down after serving several years as a Nevada Arts Council board member.
Titled “WestStops,” a play on words referencing both camera aperture nomenclature and local geography, the large mural-size photographs give instant pause, a momentary visual meditation on time, timelessness and the circling ebb and flow of life, decay and continuity. Like the work of ramshackle structures of the rural South by the late William Christenberry, Reynolds Photography’s dedication to craft inspires an understanding of both the beauty and the poignancy in viewing images that may depict scenes out of place in the center of town but that magnify the current reality of empty storefronts as part of that same natural cycle of appearance and disappearance in the rural West.The patina of age extends to the cameras used and the darkroom techniques.
While ranch traditions of horses and cattle continue to the present, the steam trains are gone and ghost towns of abandoned mining towns dot the Nevada countryside, the latter replaced by major earth-moving operations. The glory days of downtown Elko—when big name bands played the Commercial Casino and the train ran right down the center of town between Commercial and Railroad streets—are past and gone. But the idea of a downtown Renaissance is always a possibility. For us at the Western Folklife Center, we have the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering to attract winter audiences and a canvas of brick and plywood on the sides of buildings on which to inscribe some of the visual stories of time and place in the second decade of the 21st century.
For a time-lapse video of the installation process on Deon’s Facebook page, click here.
“After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world.” Phillip Pullman
“Real Stories. Straight Up.” That’s the theme of the upcoming National Cowboy Poetry Gathering—our 33rd! As January turns to February, we will be gathered in Elko, sharing first-hand accounts, narratives passed down and around, and undoubtedly a yarn or two. The Gathering presents stories told in verse and melody and prose. To that mix, we are adding personal narratives, told by real people about real occurrences in their lives, in real time.
In case you haven’t noticed, stories are The Thing these days—there has been a renaissance of storytelling, and these stories have a much broader audience as they are distributed through digital media. We’ve gone from the campfire to the podcast. But stories are best told in person, to a rapt audience, and storytelling has always been at the heart of the Gathering arts. Our participants love to tell a good story and to listen to one. Check out all the Gathering storytelling sessions at nationalcowboypoetrygathering.org/full-schedule/. Look for the quote box icon and you’ll know there will be stories in that show.
We are particularly excited to be hosting The Moth Mainstage at this year’s Gathering, Saturday, February 4, at 8:00 pm in the Elko Convention Center Auditorium. The Moth is a leader in the national resurgence of storytelling performance, and is dedicated to the art and craft of storytelling. Since launching in 1997, The Moth has presented more than 20,000 stories, told live and without notes, by people from all walks of life to standing-room-only crowds worldwide. It is a dance between documentary and theater, storytelling and performance, everyday people and entertainment. The show features five carefully selected storytellers who develop and shape their stories with The Moth’s directors. Past shows have featured stories by an astronaut, a pickpocket, a hot-dog-eating champion and hundreds more. In addition to the live Mainstage performance, which it presents all over the world, The Moth also produces The Moth Radio Hour, which is presented on more than 450 public radio stations. We listen to it in Elko on Nevada Public Radio, from Las Vegas. The Moth also produces a popular podcast, has open mic competitions, works with high school students on storytelling performance and even helps corporations solve problems through storytelling.
Their values and their mission are similar to ours:
The Moth is true stories, told live and without notes. The Moth celebrates the ability of stories to honor both the diversity and commonality of human experience, and to satisfy a vital human need for connection. It seeks to present recognized storytellers among established and emerging writers, performers and artists and to encourage storytelling among communities whose stories often go unheard.*
And, The Moth’s origins are rural—it was started by a poet(!) and novelist on a back porch in small-town Georgia. The founder, George Dawes Green, “would spend sultry summer evenings swapping spellbinding tales with a small circle of friends. There was a hole in the screen, which let in moths that were attracted to the light, and the group started calling themselves “The Moths.”* Cool, huh?
The Moth produces the Mainstage show with a minimum of extraneous activity or props: like cowboy poetry, it is raw, fresh, and beautifully presented, an intimate conversation between the teller and the listener. Last Sunday’s Moth Radio Hour featured a wonderful narrative told by Melanie Yazzie, a Navajo woman on the faculty at the University of Colorado, Boulder. She told a story about her grandmother, who was an extraordinary rug weaver. Her story hinged on a discovery of one of her grandmother’s rugs being displayed and erroneously identified as being made by “Anonymous.” It is a poignant story about the teller’s life in the contemporary art world, but still so connected to the tribal tradition through her elders. This is the kind of story you will hear in The Moth’s show at the Gathering. Listen to it here:
Please join us January 30 to February 4, 2017 for a week of stories, poetry, music, dancing, film, food, conversation and camaraderie! Visit nationalcowboypoetrygathering.org for more information and to get your tickets.
From The Moth website at http://www.themoth.org.
By Meg Glaser
Those familiar with the Western Folklife Center know that our small staff wear many hats, donning whatever is needed on any given day. As Artistic Director, one of my “hats” is exhibitions curator, envisioning our beautiful Wiegand Gallery as a multi-sensory entry into the American West and our organizational mission.
Some of my favorite exhibitions are those that bring together diverse types of arts—folk art intermingled with contemporary paintings, photography, historical imagery, and increasingly, audio-visual installations. As an organization we embrace the blurriness of cultural lines and the opportunity to draw on a deep pool of creativity in order to represent our culturally complex region out in the world. One of the first exhibitions we produced along these lines remains one of my favorites: Trappings of the Great Basin paired William Matthews’ exquisite watercolor documentation of the Great Basin and its people with the elaborate handcrafted horse gear favored in this region.
As he visited and re-visited remote Western ranches and cowboy gatherings to seek visual inspiration, Matthews witnessed the renaissance of gear-making paralleling that of poetry and music. In 1992, with William Matthews’ encouragement, leadership and support, the Western Folklife Center established its Contemporary Gear Fund and Collection to reflect the craftsmanship of some of the West’s most respected artisans.
We extend our gratitude to Willie and the many individuals who have contributed funding and gear to this growing and highly regarded collection.
Visitors can study this unique collection, along with two William Matthews’ paintings, as part of a larger exhibition—Horses of the American West—featured in the Wiegand Gallery through May 2017. The curators for the Nevada Museum of Art’s Horses of the American West drew inspiration from the classic poem “Equus Caballus,” written by our friend and Texas poet Joel Nelson. Filmmaker Paul Moon made an eloquent poem-film of “Equus Caballus” that shares the gallery with a selection of historical and contemporary paintings, photographs and sculptural works drawn from the permanent collection of the Nevada Museum of Art, along with a few special items from private collections. All those interested in the horse and horse gear will not want to miss this exhibition. Time your visit to coincide with the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering to enjoy gallery tours by art and gear historians Kathleen and Griff Durham, as well as other related talks and demonstrations.
In September, we had the pleasure of working side-by-side with Nevada Museum of Art staff members Brian Eyler and Chris Martin as they installed Horses of the American West at the same time our crew were bringing saddles, headstalls and ropes from our collection into the Wiegand Gallery for the current exhibition. The week of being immersed in artwork; working with our generous, skilled and knowledgeable volunteers Beth Carpel, Griff Durham, John Dits and Karen Martin; and working with Nevada Museum of Art staff on site and back in Reno, once again reminded me of how fortunate I am to be wearing this hat.