times, scribes were devotees of the Word. They were the
bridges between worlds, charged with the sacred task of
painstakingly transcribing the Mysteries into a form
that could be referenced by holy men and women. Many
centuries later, our modern journals give us unlimited
access to the Mysteries of our souls. Through this
column, I hope to offer ways that we can approach our
own lives with the love and devotion of the scribes of
Cowboys, Roots and Poetry
I spent last weekend absorbed in one of my favorite
annual rituals: Arvada, Colorado’s Cowboy Poetry
Festival. Like Japanese haiku or African praise poems,
cowboy poetry is unique unto itself and the rodeo’in,
ranchin’, cowboyin’, rough-ridin’ traditions and
lifestyles that it documents and celebrates. Arvada is
my home town, the place where I grew up, where my mom
still lives in the house they bought for $17,000 in
This is the 13th year for the Cowboy
Poetry Festival, and I’ve been to every one, hooked
from the very first poem by roughstock rider Paul
Zarzyski ("rhymes with bar whiskey"):
Her Levis, so tight
I can read the dates on dimes
in her hip pocket. Miles City,
a rodeo Saturday night…..
Cowboy poetry connects me to my roots. This is the
poetry of the land where I was born, the land where I
still live, the land I love, the Old West. My Granddaddy
Bill was a working Colorado cowboy in the days following
Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders. In 1904, my
grandmother’s family set out across the Cherokee
Nation in the Oklahoma Territory to homestead 40 acres.
Although she was only two, Goggie always swore she
remembered the day her daddy died, thrown and drug by a
spooked horse. With two covered wagons and ten children,
my great-grandmother buried her husband at the side of
the road and mustered on alone. She eventually settled
in the southeastern tip of Colorado, where she raised
her family solo.
Poetry brought my grandparents together. Granddaddy
Bill penned a little romantic ditty, signed it, and
stuffed it in a crevice between the rocks at the top of
Two Buttes. Goggie, then 17, climbed Two Buttes one day
and found the poem. She thought it enchanting, and asked
around town until she found the handsome young cowboy
poet. They courted and married and birthed my mother, a
child of the prairie.
Legends abound in cowboy poetry: How the rocking,
sing-song tempo matched the cadence of the horse. How a
ballad crooned from the saddle lulled restless cattle
and soothed the loneliness of moonlit patrol. How the vaqueros
kept the old Spanish stories and traditions alive
through telling and retelling them around the fire. How
the ribald humor of the range was used to cool
overheated tempers and libidos. How the love poems
recited or scrawled by a timid suitor resulted in
weddings, babies and a spread of one’s own.
In his essay "Bards of the Bunkhouse,"
Eddie Nickens writes, "In its written form some
might call this poetry simplistic, unpolished. Like a
horse in need of a rider, however, these words need a
human voice to guide them, and when that voice is deft -
or gifted - the result is poetry of emotional clarity
and unabashed honesty that speaks eloquently to those
far removed from the cowboy experience."
Such a deft voice belongs to Dee Strickland Johnson,
"Buckshot Dot," who will open the National
Association for Poetry Therapy’s annual conference
(Denver, April 17-21) with an evening of high-spirited
cowboy "pomes." This one is among my
favorites. It brings to mind my grandmother’s stories
of her older sisters, for whom the tradition of
"box suppers" resulted in marriage. It seems
that in cowboy days, churches sponsored Sunday afternoon
socials for which girls of courtship age prepared their
best picnic meals and lavishly decorated the boxes
containing them. Eligible bachelors, particularly those
with their eye on a special young woman, used all powers
of deductive reasoning, gossip and bribery to learn
which box supper belonged to which lady. An auction
ensued, and a successful bid guaranteed the couple a
dinner date! Read this poem by "Buckshot Dot"
aloud, and turn your thoughts toward Colorado and our
NAPT home on the range.
Kathleen Adams. All Rights Reserved
Kathleen Adams LPC, RPT is a
Registered Poetry/Journal Therapist and Director of The
Center for Journal Therapy in Lakewood, Colorado. She is
one of the leading voices on the power of writing to
heal and is the author of four books, including Journal
to the Self and The Write Way to Wellness.
Her upcoming seminars include the annual 5-day women’s
writing retreat in Colorado July 8-13, and a one-day
Journal to the Self workshop in Denver in late July. She
would love your feedback on this column; please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
or stop by her website, www.journaltherapy.com.
Kathleen's Past "Scribing the Soul" Columns:
2002 - "Poem of the Month"
2001 "Unseen Companions"
2001 "Families Writing"
2001 "Coping Strategies for Times of Crisis"
2001 "Journal of a Synchronicity"
2001 "Rituals for Soulful Writing"
Baker’s Dozen Ways to Journal Your Dreams"
2001 "Journals to Go"
2001 "Healing Words, Healing Touch: Jihan's Letters"
2001 "Love Letters"
the Authentic Self"
2000 "Riding the Inky Wave"
2000 "The Good News"
2000 "Soul Food: Exploring Affirmations in
2000 "Diary of a Headache"
2000 "Making Up the Truth"
2000 "Pockets of Joy"
2000 "Five Ways to Scribe Your Intuition"
Kathleen's Feature Article on Dream Journals:
in the Dark: Cracking the Soul's Code Through Dream