The poetry of work

Cathryn playing ukelin

Cathryn with ukelin, instrument from the thirties

There was a time when my ex and I took the stage as part of the cowboy poetry scene. For him, it was a dream come true. For me, it was fingernails on a blackboard. Not for the other poets we listened to, whose work came from a deep place, but for me. I was always a reluctant farmer and rancher. The inequity between outflow and inflow of cash gave me high blood pressure for the first time in my life.

Our colleagues on the circuit were completely smitten by the life. I was a reluctant participant.

Even a reluctant rancher cannot help but understand the role of cowboy poetry. The poems are stories of the land, of the life, of tragedy and joy, of comedy and pain, and, ultimately, of the meaning of life. On the British Columbia circuit, rhyming was preferred but not required. Cattle and horses were royal subjects. Sheep were an embarrassment.

Prince George cowboy poetry festival

Some of the "real" cowboy poets at the Prince George, BC, festival

I had always been in the camp that derided country music and cowboy poetry. I believed the mockery that if you played country music (and, for me, cowboy poetry) backward you got your wife back, your truck back, your dog back, etc.

My brief experience on the cowboy poetry circuit taught me how wrong I was. There was nothing cynical or shallow about the poems I heard. There was celebration of the land, the people, the animals. There was agony over weather, death, injury, illness, and financial losses.

The poems were stories. They were literate, elegiac, funny, mournful, celebratory. They were stories of a way of life that works its way deep into the soul.

Pioneer Ranch

Pioneer Ranch, my home for nine years

My ex and I had both sheep and cattle. I never bonded with the cows. I adored the sheep. Still, I’m grateful for all of it—the times when all plans were halted because we had to tend to a cow, sheep or pig in difficult labour, the hours spent stretching wire for new fences, the endless rounds on a tractor as we cut, baled, and brought in the hay, the magic of Northern Lights, the wary trust of wildlife.

So in that spirit, I share with you a song we recorded on “The Bull Rider’s Wife”, with thanks to talented lyricist Fred J. Eaglesmith. The song is a story, and the story still squeezes my heart.

13 Summerlea

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Cyndi in BC - October 3, 2010

I was a reluctant farmer’s wife for many years but I survived. I have lots of good memories but I’m just as glad I’m not farming any more!

Tweets that mention The poetry of work « Story Route – Cathryn Wellner -- - October 3, 2010

[…] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Cyndi Cassidy, Cathryn Wellner. Cathryn Wellner said: I never really belonged in the world of cowboy poetry but came to appreciate it […]

storyroute admin - October 4, 2010

We’ll have to swap stories some day!

DazyDayWriter - October 8, 2010

Ah, I can relate to this having grown up on the Dakota prairie … ranching, rodeos, cowboy hats and boots … yes, a kind of life poetry, no doubt. Enjoyed this, thanks! –Daisy

ERIC GICHIRA - November 2, 2010

By Eric Gichira

Hope is nothing to contest
Hope is nothing to detest
It takes things simple
In it honesty is ample

Like rain falling on grain
Hope seeks to attain
A measure of influence
Always with some consequence

She carries a heavy burden
That’s not always hidden
Yet sometimes she speaks
And other times she licks

So let her regain
Her former state again
And no, you won’t grumble
Even when you tumble

For she leads you to gratitude
And a change of attitude
If you never, never relapse
Or let her, let her collapse!


Written by
aka The Poet of Nairobi


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