The poetry of work
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.
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.
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.