Oregon at 2020 National Cowboy Poetry Gathering

By Emily Hartlerode

This winter, I once again headed to Elko, Nevada for the (36th) annual National Cowboy Poetry Gathering presented by the Western Folklife Center. I thank Gathering Manager (and former OFN student staff) Bradford McMullen for paying close attention to the talent in Oregon, with much to offer this year’s focus on black cowboys.

Though I missed Gwen Trice from Maxville Heritage Interpretive Center, I hosted a panel dedicated to “Oregon Outback Voices” where I met Juntura’s emerging filmmaker, Clare McKay and family. Clare is one of six children adopted from Haiti and raised up on ranching. Her documentary, “Living An American Dream,” chronicles the life of ranching and rodeoing from the perspectives of her own family and community of cowboys and cowgirls. “Oregon Outback Voices” also included Clare’s sister and former rodeo participant Anna Rose, their cousin and cowboy poet Annie Mackenzie, musician and poet Forrest VanTuyl (Enterprise), and OFN rostered artist Randi Johnson.

I also met one of Oregon’s most active organizers of cowboy poetry, Tom Swearingen, who not only performs but encourages the future of the cowboy poetry tradition through his work with the International Western Music Association Columbia Chapter. Their Youth Poetry Contest invites young people to compete by age group by submitting a cowboy poem. Winners from each category earn a trophy buckle and perform at the Showcase Concert in Hood River, Oregon October 12, 2020. I appreciate networking with Tom, and we will help you find him too, through his upcoming Roster profile page. Keep checking back!

It’s a thrill to return to Cowboy Poetry each year, to meet new talent and deepen my knowledge of the tradition and its old timers. I’m giving a special shout out to Texas community scholar, Andy Hedges, produces an excellent gateway to the genre in his podcast “Cowboy Crossroads.” One of my favorite poets, Amy Hale, called NCPG the biggest family reunion in the world. What a treat to be part of the clan!

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