September 28, 2022

What is Cowboy Poetry?

 Sara M. Robinson

Recently I discussed cowboy poetry with my weekly poetry critique group. This was a lively discussion as most had not heard of it, or the recently-deceased and beloved Baxter Black.

He was the major contributor to that sub-genre and would richly contribute his verse to late night hosts.

So, what makes this poetry type so interesting? 

Well, for starters, the main topics are near and dear to most hearts: horses, the West, saddles, chuckwagon steak and beans, prairie dogs, and cattle. Cowboy life is a life of rugged independence that we have seen portrayed by the likes of Randolph Scott, Alan Ladd, Clint Eastwood, Gene Autry, and Roy Rogers. The West wasn’t always about bandits and Indians either. 

Many of the poems had a romantic lure which mostly focused on being away from family, the loss of a dear spouse, and longing for a pretty girl. As you can guess by now there weren’t many cowgirls noted, but we have to mention Dale Evans, Annie Oakley, Calamity Jane, and Sandra Day O’Connor. Yes, that one, the Supreme Court Justice who grew up being a cowgirl.

What would be the kind of lines and language we would expect to see? Here are a few to consider:

“I like to think I’m good with cows, / A pretty fair hand with a horse / But am I a surefire

 cowboy? / I’m dodgin’ the answer, of course. // …”. (Baxter Black. Washington Post June 2022)


“They don’t call it Death Valley for nuthin’

And coyotes don’t make a good pet 

But livin’ out here with the griz and the deer you pretty much take what you get” (Baxter Black)

“I know there's some ponies that I cannot ride

Some of them living, they haven't all died.

But I bet all money there's no man alive

That can ride Old Strawberry when he makes that high dive.” (Curley Fletcher)

And here is my contribution, as I thought, why not try?

Bull Rider’s Waltz 

Come jump with me in moonlight

Both of us tied to each other so tight

We’ll jump and careen ever so light

All day and well into the night


Come ride with me on the plains

And we’ll head toward sunset before it rains

We’ll hoop it up and holler out loud

Then laugh at the bull shaped like a cloud


Come live with me and we’ll face the weather

Free of ropes and rough raw leather

We’ll graze in lush green fields

And spend our lives in total pleasure

(Sara Robinson)


Sometimes when we write, we should give ourselves a chance to be totally silly. This is exactly what I did. It doesn’t matter whether it’s good or not. Cowboys didn’t really care either. They were content to entertain themselves and give their occupation a kind of pointless dignity. The point of their work was the work itself. Their poetry was a gift to us.

Keep writing!

This is Sara's newest book. A delightful read!

Sara M. Robinson, founder of the Lonesome Mountain Pro(s)e Writers’ Workshop, and former Instructor of a course on Contemporary American Poets at UVA-OLLI, was poetry columnist for Southern Writers Magazine and inagural poetry editor for Virginia Literary Journal. She has served as guest lecturer at UVA’s College at Wise, Wise, VA. Her poetry has appeared in various anthologies, including We Grew Wings and Flew (2014), Scratching Against the Fabric (2015), Virginia Writer’s Club Centennial Anthology (2017), Blue Ridge Anthologies and Mizmor Anthology (2018). Journals include: Loch Raven Review, The Virginia Literary Journal, vox poetica, Jimson Weed, Whisky Advocate, and Poetica. She is poet and author of Love Always, Hobby and Jessie (2009), Two Little Girls in a Wading Pool (2012), A Cruise in Rare Waters (2013 Stones for Words (2014), Sometimes the Little Town (2016), a finalist for the Poetry Society of Virginia’s 2017 Book Award. In 2019, Needville, her poetry about effects of coal mining on SW Virginia was released and in 2020 debuted as play in Charlottesville. Her most recent publication is Simple River (2020, Cyberwit).






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