Prescott Library tips its hat to cowboy poetry

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It's time for the third annual Prescott Library Cowboy Poetry Week Celebration. The event is scheduled for 7 p.m. Tuesday at Lions Hall, next door to the Prescott Library, 103 S. D St.

For those unfamiliar to the art form, tending cattle and spouting poetry may seem a little mismatched. Yet this tradition of verse and song grew from years and years of cowboy life and those nights spent around campfires after riding the range all day.

That's when the tall tales and folk songs would be the entertainment and English lesson all in one. And because many cowboys back in the day were illiterate, their poetry had "very strong meter and very strong rhyme," said Sue Matley, known in these here parts as Cimmaron Sue.

With such cadence, memorization was easier, thus allowing the stories of the West to be preserved and spoken from generation to generation, she said. Poetic themes lean toward tradition, family, work, God, history, folklore and, of course, animals and nature.

Works bear titles suc as "Between Earth and Sky," "The Bronco Twister's Prayer" and "A Plain Ol' Ranchwife."

Twenty-six years ago, the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering was born in Elko, Nev., and nine years ago it was recognized in a resolution by the United States Congress, Matley said.

She and her husband, Bruce Matley, or "Nevada Slim," bring a taste of the cowboy poetry movement to the Walla Walla Valley. The duo moved to Prescott from Port Townsend in 2007, and the next year they were ready to launch the local event.

The way of the cowboy is in Bruce's blood, she said. His family has ranched cattle since 1863 in Nevada. Trotting out the cowboy poetry experience for their new hometown seemed a natural fit.

Prescott's size -- it boasts a tad more than 300 people ¬?-- and identity as a close knit community makes it ideal to initiate this kind of event, Sue said.

"It's small enough to identify who you need to talk to, so we talked."

While long-established gatherings elsewhere draw massive audiences, Prescott's event more resembles a family gathering. Proceeds from commemorative CDs and posters will benefit the Walla Walla County rural library program.

Cowboy poetry is not confined to those living in the saddle, she said. "The main standard is an interest in cowboy poetry and a desire to write and recite."

Even Gov. Chris Gregoire has caught the spirit, sending out a proclamation acknowledging Cowboy Poetry Week as April 18-24.

The local movement is growing each year. Nevada Slim and Cimmaron Sue focus on the kids, presenting at elementary schools and libraries. There, they explain the history of the genre and that it is for anyone who has the cowboy life in their heart.

"There are quite a number of folks around here interested in history and genealogy," said Prescott's mayor, Libby McCaw. "So it's a natural fit. It was really well received right away."

Even by the youngest residents, apparently.

What do Cowgirls Do ...

Do cowgirls ride their horses

And ride a lot around the west?

Is it like soooooo hot in the west?

Do you sweat in the west?

Do you find leprechauns in the west?

Do you just ride your horses, or just walk, or run?

And do cowgirls fall off horses?

Do you ride camels?

How long do you sleep in the west?

Is it far from Prescott -- to the west?

Thalia Crispin, first grade, Prescott


Tuesday's free event will feature poets in five age levels reading their work, as well as refreshments and entertainment by Nevada Slim and Cimmaron Sue. For more information call 509-849-2621.

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