Cowboy poets stir up images of the West during Prescott visit

Poets seasoned and youthful read their works at Prescott’s library.

Prescott residents Bruce and Susan Matley, better known as Nevada Slim and Cimarron Sue, perform a cowboy poem with musical accompaniment.

Prescott residents Bruce and Susan Matley, better known as Nevada Slim and Cimarron Sue, perform a cowboy poem with musical accompaniment. Photo by Rachel Alexander.

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Sixth-grader Mary Groom reads an original creation before receiving the first place prize in the cowboy poetry contest.

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Susan Matley reads dramatically to students and community members at the Prescott Library’s annual Cowboy Poetry Celebration.

PRESCOTT — For sixth-grader Mary Groom, riding horses at her grandparents’ home is the perfect inspiration for poetry.

“When I ride this pony named Dandy, it’s just so fun and I feel so free,” she said. “I don’t know how to express it, but my mom said, ‘Just write it down,’ so I did.”

Groom was one of five students who read cowboy poetry Tuesday night at the Prescott Library’s annual Cowboy Poetry Celebration.

Prescott couple Bruce and Susan Matley, better known as Nevada Slim and Cimarron Sue, headlined the celebration, singing and reciting several cowboy poems. After their performance, several students read poetry they had submitted for the library’s competition and adults stood up at a microphone to read their own work and other poems during an open session.

Matley, acting as Nevada Slim, explained the origins of cowboy poetry to an audience of about 30 people.

“What is cowboy poetry?” he asked, looking meaningfully at a front row full of elementary school students. “Well first of all, it would make Emily Dickinson turn over in her grave.”

The poetry style he explained, came from early cowboys who moved out West. Many were illiterate, so they made up stories to pass the time or share information. Rhyming stories, especially when set to music, proved easier to remember, and over time a style of poetry to talk about life on the range developed.

During the open session, Prescott resident Amy Fenley read an original work about her dog, Chloe, that longs to be a real cow dog but is hampered by the fact the Fenleys own no cattle. Instead, Chloe has to chase cats and hope that the neighbors’ cattle set foot over their property line.

Fenley’s husband, Jim, read a poem about his favorite hat, and another from the perspective of a piece of rope he owns.

April is National Poetry Month in the U.S., and this week is Cowboy Poetry Week. Susan Matley said Congress designated the observance more than a decade ago.

“It’s about the only thing Congress has ever done unanimously,” she said.

Before the event, the Prescott Library hosted a poetry contest for students with two divisions: pre-kindergarten through third grade, and fourth through eighth grades.

Mary Groom won first place for the older group, while kindergartner Kyle Krutsch took first for the younger division.

Librarian Lara Schnick, who organized the event, said she enjoyed seeing so many people get up and read or perform. She also appreciated the thought that went into the kids’ work.

“The stories that the kids come up with are so creative. I just love that,” she said.

Rachel Alexander can be reached at rachelalexander@wwub.com or 509-526-8363.

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