FORT MCLEOD, Alberta
Listen, Pilgrim, back in 1994 when I was still toiling as an underpaid sluggo in the reporting ranks of the Calgary Herald, I was asked to write a story based on a press release sent out by the cowboy poets’ society in Pincher Creek. All that was expected was the usual dull three paragraphs.
Bragging here, but bright spark that I was back in those days, I had the coruscating idea of writing it up as a cowboy poet might.
The dear old Herald didn’t quite know what to do with the outcome of this effort, but to their credit they didn’t spike it. They merely slammed it into a hole on the city page under a pedestrian headline: “Pincher Creek to host annual round-up.”
My colleagues, however, gave me a standing ovation when I came down for coffee the next morning, something that had never happened before and has never happened since. The managing editor of the day, on his way through the revolving door like all the rest of them, grumped: “Loved the poem. Don’t ever do it again!” Without a word of a lie, he ended up in Dayton Ohio, possibly as punishment for allowing it to go to press!
The facts were accurate, however, and the Herald never had to print an apology, correction or retraction. Here’s the story:
Pincher Creek to host annual round-up
They’ll be ridin’
From Lubbock, Texas,
Has set out
For Pincher Creek.
It’s those drat-blamed
81 of ’em
Their yearly readin’,
Roundup, tea party
Seven years now,
In the fairgrounds
Down in Pinch’
Came last year,
For t’ hear ’em,
It’s a cinch.
To June 19
Who’s in charge.
So go gas up the truck!
And the barbecue
Are 20 bucks,
But Stevick says,
Are all sold.
So if you
Like yer rhymin’
With yer ropin’
And yer beans:
You come on down
To Pincher Creek,
They want you
On the scene.
After that grand success, the Herald rewarded me with a trip to Pincher Creek, whence I filed an uninspired and now entirely forgotten story – not in verse, as per my instructions – though, at my age, forgetting stuff like this or anything else isn’t entirely unexpected. I mean, I’m practically the same vintage as Rick Orman and Ted Morton, for crayon’ out loud, only without the nice, outside-my-snack-bracket Sam Abouhassan suits and cordovan loafers! (I do, however, have a nice pair of boots.)
I was reminded of this just the other day when what should show up in my e-mailbox but a press release from the Western Folklife Centre in Elko, Nevada, (of course, they don’t spell centre that way, but nuts to them!) plugging their 28th national cowboy poet gathering, Jan. 30 to Feb. 4, 2012. (Why me, now? I have no idea. Maybe because my former neighbour is Ian Tyson’s cousin, and he’ll be there – Ian, that is, not my former neighbour.)
However, since event this will no doubt be covered heavily in the mainstream media on the theory that what worked like a darn on June 9, 1994, must still be a great idea, I feel obligated to warn you about a couple of things about these guys, who made me real ornery in Pinch, and make me real ornery to this day on the rare occasions I think about them.
First of all, there doesn’t seem to be a heck of a lot of new blood in this field. At any rate, I’m sure I saw some of the same names on the list for 2012 as back in ’94. But that would be no surprise because these guys are real snotty about who’s a cowboy poet and who ain’t. And I can tell you that as far as they were concerned back then, you weren’t a cowboy poet if you couldn’t memorize your poems – although I bet you nowadays they all read them off their iPhones in squeaky voices and keep them real short so they can Tweet them around to their “followers.”
They were also real economical about keeping their promises when they said they’d have an open session where anyone could read a cowboy poem. Leastways, they wouldn’t let me read mine.
I’d rushed back to my truck, see – which, really embarrassingly, in those days was a Chrysler mini-van fully of baby diapers and stuff like that – and penned a cowboy poem for city people that, if you don’t mind me saying so, was pretty darned good.
And they wouldn’t let me read it! They said it was “too late,” which really strains credulity if you watched the same Western movies I did (apparently along with most Alberta Conservatives, see accompanying photos) when you were growing up.
In their defence, sort of, I think the real reason was that the lady before me read a poem that … and brace yourselves, people, because this is pretty ugly … didn’t rhyme!
Well, I can’t say I approve of that, but it’s probably not as a bad as not keeping your word as a cowboy poet and, to be frank, I’ve never really forgiven them denying me my sly little digs. That’s when I gave up the art for Elizabethan sonnets about the NDP and, I must say, it’s their loss.
Anyway, from that day to this I’ve never had an excuse for that poem to see the light of day, but thanks to the press release from the Folklife Association – whatever the heck a folklife is – now’s my chance. So here it is, establishing my credentials, I surely hope, as a True Albertan as true as any candidate for the leadership of the Progressive Conservative Association of Alberta, even the ones that like me that were born on the West Coast.
After this, I expect, nothing more will ever again be said in this space about cowboy poetry. And I don’t want to hear any cracks from the usual online trolls about not giving up my day job!
Deconstructing the West
There’s men that wear their sisters’ shoes!
(Each one a college grad)
They’ll tell ya God Hisself is dead,
And eatin’ beef is bad!
They don’t approve of drinkin’ beer,
Cigar smoke makes ’em weep.
They want to register your gun,
And repossess your Jeep.
They’ll tell you that for womenfolk
All marriage is pure hell:
But put your kids in daycare
And they’ll think yer mighty swell.
Plain talk and self-reliance
Are to them a wicked curse.
But worst of all is this, my friends…
They don’t believe in verse!
Perfessers say that rhymes are dead!
The folks who write ’em, bent.
The only thing they can’t explain
Is where their students went.
Well, let me tell ya sumpin’, boys,
Sweet poetry ain’t dead.
Not here where deconstruction means
Takin’ down a shed.
So if you seek inspirin’ verse,
Well, all you need, my friend,
Is to sit down by the campfire
In the compn’y of good men.