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Notes from a Western Life at WindbreakHouse.WordPress.com
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may be found lower down in this left-hand column so, for example, you can search for all blogs with "Writing Suggestions."
A dated archive of blogs is also available below the index.
Click here to jump to the index
, or scroll down to see a selection of photos related to the blog posts.
Blacksmith or Wordsmith
Iron legs from yesteryear.
Smaller iron items inside.
The scrap-iron table.
Dust, Grass, and Writing
Like the native grasses, the roots of writing go deep and reach out in many directions.
Tough prairie grass roots splitting open a rock.
Green life may be found under dry debris.
Fringed Jacket Foofaraw
Turtle carved from bone.
Turtle made of silver.
Warrior Woman pin.
George's grizzly bear claw earring.
Powwow jingle cones made of tin.
A tiny dream catcher.
Harley Owners' Group pin in honor of Jerry.
Wally McRae's cufflink and tooth.
South Dakota Poet Laureate? Not Right Now, Thanks.
"An older writer, conscious of his or her limited life span, may have specific projects in mind to complete. Thus, requiring that the Poet Laureate travel and teach extensively may exclude older writers regardless of their worthiness to hold the position."
Don't just click "like" about some political story you read.
Pick up the phone or write a letter and make a difference.
Ah! The Bathtub.
A brass hook on a nearby wall to hold my robe or a towel.
A removable wire basket stretches across the tub to hold my soap and sponges.
Now on Facebook.
If you Like me on this Facebook page you'll get notifications of my newly-posted blogs as well as announcements about my books, writing retreats, and other events to do with Windbreak House.
No kitten videos, but I post Tuesday Writing Tips, Wednesday Word Posts, and various other writing-related stories, announcements, book reviews, photos and the occasional joke.
More Stories and Essays by Linda
may be found on this website.
* Home Page Message archives
Many of these essays have writing advice. All have photos, some have recipes, a few have poems.
* Poetry Page essays
Read suggestions for writing and performing poetry and the stories behind some of Linda's poems.
* Critter Stories
Brief stories and photos of birds and wildlife seen on Linda's ranch may be found on this page.
* Gallimaufry Page
Stories and photos that don't fit anywhere else.
Linda on YouTube
Nancy Curtis, publisher and owner of High Plains Press, recorded a couple of videos of Linda reading her poetry and posted them on YouTube.
To see Linda read "Where the Stories Come From"
To see Linda read her poem "Make a Hand"
Or go to www.YouTube.com
and search for Linda Hasselstrom.
You may also want to visit the High Plains Press facebook page
where you will find these two poetry videos and much more about the many great western books-- poetry and non-fiction-- published by High Plains Press.
# # #
click here to send an e-mail message to Linda.
If this link does not work-- some web-browsers are incompatible or perhaps your computer is blocking pop-ups-- copy and paste this email address into your email system:
or send Linda a letter:
Linda M. Hasselstrom
PO Box 169
Hermosa SD 57744
March 13, 2015
The fringed jacket that I wear to The National Cowboy Poetry Gathering was a gift from my partner, Jerry, and has become a weighty, but necessary, part of my performance, my Gathering armor.
The jacket was made by Double D Ranchwear as part of a collection apparently inspired by Western and Indian styles. In its original form, the jacket was probably inspired by military action on the Northern Plains. It’s heavy blue denim, cut like a military jacket, but decorated with fringe and a bead breastplate.
The beads down the front echo an Indian hair-pipe breastplate. Hair-pipe beads are tubular, and may be from a half-inch to as much as four inches long; mine are three inches long. Usually they are tapered at the ends, with a center hole.
Nobody seems certain when and where hair-pipe beads were first used and made, but archaeologists have found shell ones nearly 4,000 years old, probably made in coastal regions and dispersed through trade. After about 1624, hair-pipe style beads were made of glass, brass and silver, as well as horn and bone, mostly in the eastern part of what is now the U.S. The beads were particularly popular between 1880 and 1910.
By that time, the hair-pipe breastplate had been adopted by Indian tribes west of the Rockies and were also worn by tribes in the northwest. They are still used in powwow regalia in chokers, breast plates, earrings and necklaces worn by both men and women.
Little information is available on how the beads were made, but they were probably drilled with a rotary, belt-powered drill and shaped on a lathe. Some beads are still made of horn or bone, and may be black, white, or decorated in a variety of ways. Cheaper plastic ones are also available.
My jacket may recall the fact that Indian warriors sometimes picked up military clothing after a battle, and adapted it to their own use; the hair pipes down the front would function as both a shield and as decoration.
Fringe also adorned the buckskin clothes worn by fur trappers and traders in imitation of Indian clothing, but it wasn’t solely decoration; it helped shed rainwater, as well as helping a garment to dry faster because the fringe acted as a series of wicks to disperse the moisture. A buckskinner might also use a piece to tie up broken gear.
So the jacket’s original style is a combination of American Indian and military influence, which appeals to me as symbolic of this prairie where I live: occupied by Indians who were chased off by the military, and then adopted by people like me who don’t fit willingly into a particular mold.
When I was in buckskinning (reenacting the beaver-trapping era of the 1830s with muzzle-loading rifles) with my second husband, George, we collected a considerable number of accoutrements. I have muzzle-loading rifles, clothing of the era, and plenty of what we buckskinners called “foofaraw”—jewelry and other decorative objects.
I realized the jacket wasn’t quite “cowboy” but I’ve never considered myself to be purely a “cowboy” poet. I like and respect many cowboy poets, but have many other interests, including the historic era of the beaver trapper where a white woman would not have been welcome or comfortable. I own western clothes—boots, hat, boot-cut jeans—but don’t wear them full-time. Depending on my task for the day, I may dress like a rancher or like a professional businesswoman. So in a spirit of irony, I began turning the jacket into something that was neither cowboy nor buckskinner attire: a War Shirt to bolster my courage when I have to stand up in front of people to speak.
I realized that without George, I wasn’t likely to attend many buckskinning rendezvous, so I tied souvenirs from my buckskinning life onto the fringe. I wore the jacket the first time as armor; nervous, I wanted familiar things around me. I also wore my buckskinning hat, a broad-brimmed felt with a beaver fur hat band, and talked about being one of the muzzle-loading reenactors.
I was also curious about the reaction of these cowboy folks I didn’t know. Would the folks at the Cowboy Poetry Gathering be offended by my failure to adopt cowboy attire?
I tied on several metal cones of the type used to make jingle dresses for Indian powwow outfits. The first ones I saw were made of the metal discs from the top of chewing tobacco cans—Indians recycling--but now they are manufactured for powwow use. Several brass bells add their tones to the sound. A friend made imitation scalp locks from tiny deer toe bones and hair from horses’ tails. A grizzly claw set with turquoise was George’s earring. His horn tobacco container hangs from one fringe. I tied my jaw harp close enough so that I could play it while wearing the jacket.
To honor Jerry, I placed a HOG (Harley Owners’ Group) pin at the shoulder. As balance, on the other shoulder is a pin featuring a woman with a horned headdress holding a shield in one hand and a sword in the other: a militant feminist symbol. Somewhere is a miniature dream catcher given me by a former student when I visited him in the penitentiary. Among the fringe hang several millifiori glass trade beads made with flower designs in Venice, and Chevron glass trade beads, watermelons, and other beads that have been used for several thousands of years as trade items. Some of my beads are old enough to have been used during the fur trade days of the 1830s on the plains. My Cloak of Visibility carries memories I can’t even articulate. The jacket jangles and clanks, and carries symbols of many different parts of my life.
I’m not sure how the average cowboy poet views my jacket, but at least one man understood and appreciated its humor and symbolism. Wally McRae, the greatest living cowboy poet, raised his eyebrows the first time we were onstage together and said with a smile, “That’s quite a rig.” I wasn’t entirely sure how he meant that until the next year, when he brought me one of his cufflinks to tie on.
When I mentioned the cufflink while performing, the Western Folklife Center archivist asked if I’d will the jacket to the Center when I’m finished with it.
I suspected he was more interested in Wally’s cufflink than in my jacket.
This year, when I mentioned the cufflink exchange onstage, Wally told me that he’d lost a tooth at a recent gathering. He promised to bring it to me next time we meet, and if he does, I’ll find a way to wear it. More good memories will follow me.
I wrote this blog on February 13, soon after returning from the Cowboy Poetry Gathering. A couple of weeks later the mail contained a small envelope with Wally McRae’s return address. Inside was this note:
This is the tooth I, like a three-year-old cow, shed at the Gathering a few years back. It appears I should have been more dedicated to brushing and flossing. So—hang it on your war shirt as a token of the good medicine we seem to develop while sharing a program. ---- Wally McRae
The Wally McRae Fang now hangs next to the Wally McRae cufflink on the jacket’s left side, where my heart is.
# # #
Linda M. Hasselstrom
Hermosa, South Dakota
To hear the jingle jangle of the jacket see my YouTube clip here:
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February 10, 2015
Cowboy Poetry Gathering Autograph Session.
While I was signing books with John Dofflemyer of Dry Crik Review, a writer who had attended a retreat at Windbreak House waaay back in 1997 stopped by with her daughter and grandson. Meeting old friends is one of the great things about gatherings.
A week ago, on February 2, I arrived home from the 31st National Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko, NV, sponsored by the Western Folklife Center.
A trek to the Gathering from South Dakota requires a serious investment of time; Elko is about 800 miles from Hermosa. I left home Monday, January 26, to drive to Glendo, WY, to meet Nancy Curtis, who had agreed to drive from her home, and Yvonne Hollenbeck, who, like me, was an invited performer.
I consider the financial compensation for this gig to be perfectly adequate, especially considering how poetry is valued in this country, but I suspect nobody goes to The National Cowboy Poetry Gathering just for the money.
So why do we go, I’m asked every time. I always think of an old cowboy song I hear on every visit, “The Night Rider’s Lament.” Part of Michael Burton’s chorus to this song is:
He asked me why do you ride for your money
Why do you rope for short pay
You ain’t getting’ nowhere
And you’re losin’ your share
Boy, you must have gone crazy out there.
Perfectly defines the attitude of a lot of folks about writing cowboy poetry! If I’m crazy I’m in good company. One night I sat under the spotlights on the stage of the G3Bar in the Western Folklife Center in the company of Wallace McRae, Paul Zarzyski and John Dofflemyer. I was marveling at the fact that 300 people had paid $30 or $35 each to hear us read and recite our poetry. No musicians, no other attractions shared the stage-- just poets.
But the audience doesn't necessarily have to pay to hear the greatest cowboy poets and musicians in the nation. During every day of the Gathering, many sessions are free in the convention center. If you’d wandered into the Turquoise room last week, you could have spent an hour with me, John Dofflemyer, and Elizabeth Ebert, from Thunder Hawk, South Dakota, who was a closet poet until 1989. In 2005 when she was 80 years old, then-Governor Mike Rounds proclaimed February 24 as Elizabeth Ebert Day. (Learn more about her at www.cowboypoetry.com
). Her work is hilarious, honest, and bone-deep true.
I admire the hard work the staff does to name the various sessions, especially since they know the writers will interpret the titles any way they darn please. This year we had titles like:
Love of the Well-Crafted Line
Living the Deep West (a prose session with me and Wally McRae, hosted by Texas poet Joel Nelson)
And We Shall Ride
Stories in Verse
Best Laid Plans
Southwest Song and Sonnet, and
Dames Don’t Dally, among many others.
Or you could wander up to the high school building behind the convention center where volunteers kept the music going all day long-- some of it open mic and some from respected and well-known musicians. One of the highlights of this gathering was listening to the music of Baja California Sur played by residents of that lonely place, who also set up an exhibit showing how they live.
Besides all the poetry, there are sessions on a variety of other subjects. The early part of the week is usually devoted to workshops on writing, rawhide braiding, silversmithing, ranch tours, talks and discussions about conflicts between ranchers and others. Students from Owyhee Public School and other filmmakers worked on videos about the Deep West.
One of my favorite musical events at this year’s gathering was watching Glenn Ohrlin, 88, play and sing with Brigid Reedy, 14. The two shared a real joy of music, and it was a joy to watch them tease each other. Watching Glenn was painful, because he was so thin he looked like a walking skeleton, but his voice and mind were clear and strong, and he played beautifully. We heard that he drove to the Gathering with a passenger who was not happy with his driving. Ohrlin always preferred to travel by pickup truck. His rule was that if there was more than one way to get somewhere, he always took the road he’d never traveled, even if the distance was longer and the road narrower. Glenn lived in Mountain Home, Arkansas, where he operated a cattle ranch and lived in a stone house he’d built himself. As I finished writing today, I got word that Glenn has died.
Keynote speaker Gary Paul Nabhan is an internationally-known nature writer, food and farming activist and proponent of conserving the links between biodiversity and cultural diversity. He has been honored as a pioneer in the local food and seed-saving communities by a half-dozen magazines, and written numerous books. (I was once fortunate enough to dine with him at one of the local Basque cafes and immediately became a fan, though he’s been writing books faster than I've been reading them.)
Gary spoke about the work on conservative conservation being done by a group of ranchers and environmentalists loosely organized as the “radical center.” Groups like the Quivira Coalition (quiviracoalition.org
), founded by two environmentalists and a rancher, aim to “build resilience by fostering ecological, economic and social health on western landscapes through education, innovation, collaboration and progressive public and private land stewardship.”
Nabhan quoted Aldo Leopold on a fact much of our society has forgotten, “People starve when land and water are degraded and forage declines.” But he had good news too: the market for grassfed beef is growing faster than that for any other commodity, as 60% of the farmers and ranchers in the U.S. have made changes in their methods that lead to better conservation of resources that belong to all of us. The Cowboy Poetry Gathering always features keynote speakers who challenge and enlighten.
Another pleasure of going to Elko is eating Basque food available several places that originated with the Basque sheepherders of the region. My favorite meal this trip was a pork chop at the Toki Ona Basque Diner, accompanied by salad with a zingy dressing, soup, spaghetti, and Potatoes Ana. Our waitress, Kelly, happily described how to make Potatoes Ana, and I've made them twice since I got home. If I make them any more before July, I won’t be able to fit into my jeans.
Another important part of the travel to the Gathering, at least the way I've done it fairly often since my first invitation in 1993, is the companionship of the trip. Driving can be a challenge, but it allows for long and deep conversations. Some of my best friendships have deepened and matured as we rolled along I-80, through Rawlins, Rock Springs, Evanston and the Three Sisters-- the three long hills truckers hate. We slide through Salt Lake City and pass the great lake and wheel along the broad flats where travelers stop to arrange rocks in messages and symbols. In Wendover, Nevada, the casinos are always lit and very few people notice the shabby trailers and shacks housing the folks who keep those games spinning and those motel rooms clean. And then Elko, which I am told is surrounded by beautiful mountains and desert; I've rarely gotten outside the streets and sites of the various programs.
And in Elko, we are hip by haunch with folks who come to hear cowboy poetry. In some cases, the clothes they are wearing would buy the ranches of the folks who are reciting on stage.
I always admire the togs, but I’m there for the company of people who were writing about rural western life long before cowboy poetry began to attract crowds. As Badger Clark remarked, we just love “slingin’ ink and English” among other folks who understand the job that we've taken on: telling the truth about our rural western lives.
Linda M. Hasselstrom
Hermosa, South Dakota
# # #
For more information:
See the Western Folklife Center's website at www.westernfolklife.org
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April 30, 2013
The Sisters Grimm interior.
From horse stalls to cozy bookstore.
. . .
From the outside, you might mistake it for just another big red Nebraska barn on the outskirts of a small town.
But The Sisters Grimm Bookstore and Coffee Shop, inside a barn that once sheltered Tennessee Walking horses, is unlike any barn-- or indeed any bookstore or coffee shop-- I’ve ever visited. I wish it had been here when I was living just 50 miles away in Cheyenne, Wyoming and desperate for a hideaway like this.
Inspired by her senior college thesis on the fairy tales collected by the Brothers Grimm, Jamie Carpenter chose the store’s name when she convinced her sister Jessica to join her in the business-- but there’s nothing grim
Order an espresso coffee, tea, or choose from other drinks freshly made in the compact kitchen. Select a pastry made by the owner’s mother and other neighborhood cooks and settle onto the comfy couch. Depending on the day, you might be able to visit with owner Jamie, join a meeting of a community group in progress or just pick up a book and read.
On Saturday, April 27, I was privileged to do a public reading and conduct a writing workshop in one of Sisters Grimm’s cozy nooks. Everyone nibbled on home baked treats while they listened to me read from Dirt Songs
, 50 of my poems published with 50 of those from Nebraska’s Twyla Hansen. Later, several of the audience members were happy to read what they had written during our mini-workshop.
With the help of her parents, Tim and Deb Nolting, and her sister Jess with husband Juan Rocha, Jamie mucked out the stalls and scrubbed the walls with bleach. Tim and Juan built bookshelves by the dozen and created a handy kitchen and modern bathroom with a rustic atmosphere. Tim and Juan are now converting the barn’s upper floor into a spacious and light-filled apartment, using recycled materials for floor, ceilings and other built-ins. A massive stack of books awaits distribution to the proper shelves downstairs.
The store specializes in used books and each stall holds a specialty: mysteries (I left with a dozen), westerns, religious, children’s and regional (Nebraska, Wyoming, Colorado, South Dakota, Kansas and Montana), as well as history, art, textbooks and general nonfiction. New books include titles from Storey Publishing (www.storey.com
) on gardening, crafts and farm and ranch life, as well as selections from local and regional authors.
Besides the books, the store is filled with antiques, photographs, paintings and greeting cards and many of these delights are for sale. I bought some delicious goat gouda made by Victory Hill Farm (www.VHFarm.com
). The store also stocks sharp cheese from Coturnix Creamery, which uses milk from the Irish Cream Sheep Dairy in Bushnell (www.IrishCreamSheepDairy.com
). I meant to buy scented soaps likewise made locally of goat milk by Double L. Country Store (www.doublelcountrystore.com
). Quilts and ancient farm machinery are part of the decor.
Everywhere are personal touches that make the place feel like a particularly welcoming home: the new burlap bags covering the couch. The gigantic cups in which coffee is served. Photographs of local sights. Greeting cards lying on shelves where the browser sees their individuality rather than a rack of sameness. Around the top of the kitchen wall appears the same printed alphabet from which I studied printing in the Hermosa grade school. Pick up a book, rock, read, sip, while the afternoon away.
Sound like a reader’s idea of heaven? There’s more: the food: besides the espresso and other drinks, Jamie serves pastries baked by her and her sister, their mother Deb and a neighbor. And she’s available to cater lunches for groups reserving the barn for special events.
If you’re driving I-80 across the nation’s midsection, plan a stop at the southwest corner of Nebraska; Bushnell is just 12 miles west of Kimball. Dive off the convenient interstate exit, drive three miles north to Bushnell, cross the railroad tracks and drive three or four blocks to the first stop sign, where you’ll see a Sisters Grimm billboard. Turn left and you’ll see the barn and its spacious parking lot.
# # #
For more information:
The Sisters Grimm
1598 RD 34 N
(Corner of Maple & D Streets)
Bushnell NE 69128
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January 22, 2012
Linda wearing the Pipestone cap.
. . .
Folks tend to stare when I wear my black corduroy cap labeled PIPESTONE with the crossed butcher knife and sharpening tool on the front. Of course, the cap came with a story.
The occasion was one of the many readings I’ve done at Southwest State University in Marshall, Minnesota. The reading took place after 1991, because the poem that occasioned this story was first published in Land Circle
that year, and in 1993 appeared in Dakota Bones
, published by Dave Pichaske, who still teaches in Marshall.
The poem I read that evening was “Butchering the Crippled Heifer.” This is not an easy poem to read or to hear. I consider it an important poem because it raises difficult questions about meat-eating and expresses the ideas in graphic images. I love to read the poem because it is dramatic; several people who have commented on it mention its strong religious overtones. Still, before choosing to read it, I try to determine if I will have the kind of audience that will appreciate the poem’s complexities.
At the end of my reading for the evening, people gathered around me to comment and to have their books signed. I noticed the quiet man wearing the Pipestone cap, but I couldn’t make out the insignia. Finally he was able to approach and did so with his cap in his hand.
He really appreciated the poem, he said, because very few people, even or perhaps especially people who eat meat, understand what it’s like to kill a bovine and to butcher it. He believed that I understood and respected the process-- as he did, because he was a professional meat cutter, his skills represented by the symbols he pointed out on the cap: a butcher knife and a sharpening steel. And then he said that because I understood, he was naming me an honorary professional meat cutter-- and he gave me the cap.
I wore it the rest of the evening. Sometimes I wear it when I’m reading the poem, and tell the story with pride.
Here’s the poem.
Butchering the Crippled Heifer
aim the pistol at her ear. Stand close.
She chews slowly, eyes closed. Fire.
She drops. Kicks. Sighs.
Cut her throat and stand back.
Blood bubbles and steams.
wrap chain around each ankle,
spread the back legs with a singletree.
The tractor growls, lifting;
the carcass sways.
drive the knife point in,
open the belly like tearing cloth,
the blade just under the skin.
Cut around the empty udder.
Don't puncture the stomach.
Sheathe the knife and reach in.
Wrap your bare arms around the slick guts.
Press your face against warm flesh.
Find the ridge of backbone; tear the
membranes loose. Hold the anus shut;
pull hard until the great blue stomach bag
spills into the tub at your feet.
Jerk the windpipe loose with a sucking moan,
her last sound.
Breathe blood-scent, clean digested grass.
Plunge one arm into the tub, cut loose the heart,
and squeeze the last clots out; slice the liver
away from the green gall, put it all in cool water.
Eat fresh liver and onions for supper,
baked heart tomorrow.
Cut off the head and feet,
haul them and the guts to the pasture:
coyotes will feast tonight.
pull the skin taut with one hand,
slice the spider web of tissue with care.
Save the tail for soup.
Drape the hide on the fence.
Let her hang:
sheet-wrapped, through three cool October days,
while leaves yellow and
coyotes howl thanksgiving.
Cut her up:
bring one quarter at a time to the kitchen table.
Toss bones into the big soup kettle
to simmer, the marrow sliding out. Chunk
scraps, pack them in canning jars.
Cut thick red steaks, wrap them in white paper,
labeled for the freezer.
worship at a bloody altar, knives singing praises
for the heifer's health, for flesh she made
of hay pitched at forty below zero last winter.
Your hands are red with her blood,
slick with her fat.
where your next meal is coming from.
Copyright Linda M. Hasselstrom
# # #
For more information:
Land Circle: Writings Collected from the Land
published by Fulcrum Publishing.
This poem may be found on pages 317-319 of the 1991 edition (cloth)
and on pages 356-358 of the 2008 Anniversary Edition (paper).
is a featured book on this website. Click here
to read all about the book.
Dakota Bones: The Collected Poems of Linda Hasselstrom
published 1993 by Spoon River Poetry Press (now Plains Press).
This poem may be found on pages 54-55.
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February 8, 2011
Linda at the CPG in 2011.
Photo by Nancy Curtis.
. . .
I was a performer at the 27th Annual National Cowboy Poetry Gathering, Elko, Nevada, in January, 2011. After I returned home I was asked if modern cowboy poets are still largely ranchers and people who make a living from the land, or if they, like the majority of the US population, live in cities or the suburbs.
There's a strict selection process for the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering, so most of the performers are people who really do make a living from the land because that's one of the requirements. But the Western Folklife Center, sponsor of the CPG, is flexible as well-- whereas most participants used to be strictly from the west, we've now discovered there are cowboys in Florida, for example, and some of them come to perform. Moreover, the folklife experts have created links with agrarian grassland peoples all over the world, so each year features cowboys from other countries-- we've had Argentina, Ireland, Australia, and this year was Hungary.
Glaring exceptions, of course, get lots of attention. Like Baxter Black who used to be a country veterinarian but is now a performer. Success, sadly, may mean a person can make more money performing than ranching, so they may quit ranching to perform full time. Baxter Black is one of the rare individuals who has been successful enough to quit his “day job,” and he is known to generously lower his fees on some occasions when doing so will help a community organization.
Many of the performers, though, have to really pinch pennies to come to the gathering, since the pay is not great. We don’t mind, though, because we get a chance to speak with visitors about ranching. Most of us feel we do a considerable amount of education not only during our performances, but while standing in line for a buffet, or working our way through the crowds at the various events. I’ve been threatening for years to write a poem about the conversations that begin in the women’s restrooms, which often lead to exchanges of business cards, and further communication after the gathering. I’m sure that part of the attraction of the Gathering for visitors is the chance to talk with performers and ask questions about the real ranching life.
Many of the people who attend the Gathering are admirers of the life of the working cowboy or cattlewoman. Wally McRae (rancher, cowboy poet and philosopher, an inspiration to me for years because of his work against coal strip-mining in Montana) reminds us that they are our fans, so they want to be like us. We wanted Roy Rogers or Gene Autry pistols when we were kids, too. Thus they dress in cowboy gear: They buy flamboyant boots decorated with carvings in red or blue or black leather. They wear huge, swooping hats adorned with silver, and don’t observe western custom by taking them off during performances so that the audience members behind them can see the stage. They wrap themselves in leather vests, leather jackets, and leather dresses swaying with foot-long fringe. Around their necks are neckerchiefs in every color imaginable and big enough for a bed spread, held in place with silver scarf ties. Some of those folks are wearing gear that cost as much as a pretty good ranch. But remember, says Wally, those are the people who pay the entrance fees and buy the books. They wish they could live the lives we live; they are our groupies.
And some of them may even notice that we don't dress quite as well-- because we can't afford to-- and come away with a clearer understanding of the realities of ranching.
And while many of the audience members are fans of cowboy or rhyming poetry, or of individual poets, I received a great reminder that the interests of the audience are also broadening. When reading my poems “Butchering the Crippled Heifer” and “Coffee Cup Café,” I announced that the two poems had been accepted by Garrison Keillor for his third book of Good Poems
about American Life, and the audience cheered.
One of the wonderful things about the Gathering, though, is that no matter who the performers are, it is held in ranch country-- though the town (Elko, Nevada) is now changing because of expansion of the railroad, and a big gas pipeline coming through from Wyoming.
The Gathering and its many sessions, particularly those at the G3 Bar, which is in the old Pioneer Hotel, now the headquarters of the Western Folklife Center, would not exist as it does without the more than 400 volunteers who are recruited from Elko and surrounding towns to hand out programs, drive performers from their hotels to their performances, set up stages, and do all the zillion tasks that makes an event like this work.
The cattlewomen-- both those officially belonging to several organizations, and other ranch women-- make food every single night for the performers at the G3 Bar. Each night before I performed, I could go down to the basement and choose something to eat from huge pans of meatballs, lasagna, spaghetti, salads, pies, and tubs of bottled water, soft drinks and beer-- all donated, and being kept at the proper temperature to be eaten before or after the performance. Many receptions throughout the week are supplied by these volunteer cooks, who are then in the line dishing up the food-- so the feeling of the Gathering remains very much like that of a potluck in a ranch community.
Someone did remark, though, that as the ranches get bigger, the communities get smaller.
# # #
For more information:
The Western Folklife Center website
with information about the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko, Nevada.
The Poetry Page
on this website has information about my poems accepted for Garrison Keillor's book in 2011.
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July 2, 2010
. . .
The news this week: On July 1, 2010, the Library of Congress appointed W.S. Merwin as the US Poet Laureate.
I'm delighted. Here's my story of meeting him years ago.
I'd been visiting a California college for a couple of days, giving readings and workshops. My airline ticket was cheaper if I stayed over the weekend, so my hosts invited me to do so, and join them for W.S. Merwin's visit a few days after mine.
A group of us went to dinner with him. The others, knowing my views on beef, instructed me not to order meat as he's a vegetarian; I told him at the table, and he laughed-- I had fish anyway, because I was in California.
He said he likes isolation so he can work; "I have a telephone that I can call out on, but no one can call in."
"How can you do that?" I said, and he just looked at me. Of course he doesn't give anyone the number.
He was extremely kind, made sure I was included in the conversations, and we all had a great time. But we talked until something like 15 minutes before his reading, hurried to campus, parked, and everyone rushed toward this lighted building where he was supposed to speak. We could hear the crowd of waiting students.
He was hanging back and I was next to him and saw the look on his face.
I've done a lot of readings where people assume you can go directly from the dinner table to the podium. Sometimes the organizers of a reading don't realize that the writer may need to relieve herself, to throw up from nervous tension, or just to have a few moments alone; bathrooms can serve all those purposes and few writers start a reading without visiting one. "I know where there's a bathroom," I said.
"Oh good," he said and we peeled off into the dark.
The organizers got to the reading and . . . Merwin and I were missing. (He has been known to be interested in the ladies.) They were running around like chickens with their heads cut off; when we got back they snarled, "Where did you TAKE him?"
"The man had to go to the bathroom," I said.
The building was full, students sitting in the windows, standing against the walls-- and they ushered him down the aisle to the front of the room. I listened from outside, leaning in a window. The talk was wonderful.
# # #
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April 5, 2010
. . .
My contact with Badger Clark was brief and by letter, but his influence on my life has been huge. I may have first encountered his poetry in the Custer County Chronicle
newspaper where it regularly appeared during my childhood. My mother gave me my first copy of Sun and Saddle Leather
in 1955, probably for my twelfth birthday. My first copy of Sky Lines and Wood Smoke
is number 252 of 1000 from the numbered edition of 1958, and I believe my grandmother Cora Belle Hey gave it to me.
To memorize Clark’s poems, I practiced reciting them while moving cows to pasture. I’d read a particular poem two or three times before starting the ride. The rhythms-- iambic pentameter-- fit perfectly with the movement of the horse, and feeling that rhythm could sometimes help me find the line I was searching for in my brain. On days when the cows were slow, my father probably heard me bawling, “At a roundup on the Gily one sweet morning long ago” to make them move. A few years ago I was present when Paul Zarzysky momentarily froze while reciting that poem, Badger’s popular “The Legend of Boastful Bill” in front of a crowd in New York City; I was proud to be able to bellow the line to him.
I also recited several of Badger’s poems in declamation contests; my favorite, which I discovered still lurking in my brain and recited at the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko, NV, a few years ago, might be “The Westerner.”
My fathers sleep on the sunrise plains
and each one sleeps alone.
Their trails may dim to the grass and rains,
For I choose to make my own.
Mumbling this poem under my breath at key points in my life has helped me make my own trail.
Another of my favorites is “The Plainsmen,” (Men of the older, gentler soil,/ Loving the things that their fathers wrought
) or maybe “From Town” (We’re the children of the open/ and we hate the haunts of men.
) Of course, his most popular and best-known poem, “The Cowboy’s Prayer,” is often reproduced on place mats, t-shirts, mugs, and funeral programs as having been written by “anonymous.” This happened even during Clark’s lifetime, and he was philosophical about it.
Why was I writing to Badger Clark? From a reference in his letter, after much brain-cudgeling, I concluded I wasn’t merely writing as a fan. I believe that the seventh and eighth grade students of Hermosa Grade School, under the direction of Mrs. Anna Tubbs, put together a historical project in 1957. We interviewed older residents of the communities around Hermosa, recorded their stories, and made a scrapbook. We dedicated that scrapbook to Badger Clark, and made plans for the class to visit him. (In an effort to locate the original, I’ve now volunteered to catalog some collected documents at the Custer County 1881 Courthouse Museum.)
Here’s Badger Clark’s letter, postmarked Custer, SD, Feb. 7, 1957 2 p.m., and typed on a manual typewriter on paper with a simple letterhead:
* * *
Custer South Dakota
9 February, 1957 [yes, for whatever reason, it's dated after the postmark]
Thank you very much for the honors you confer upon me by dedicating your scrapbook to me. It is hard for me to realize that I am becoming an old-timer, though not a pioneer. For so many years I have looked to older men as old-timers but now, all of a sudden, those men are gone and there seems to be nobody left but men younger than I. It is a strange feeling and someday, a long way ahead, I hope, you will experience it.
As I have written Mrs. Tubbs, I have no speaking engagements this spring and you are free to set your own date, but, as I told her, with a big crowd and a small cabin, it might be well to put it in April or May when, with good luck the weather will be warm enough for the party to spread out on the porch. I’ve entertained as many as twenty-five young people here in the house, but that’s about the limit. If you want to have a lunch and roast wieners, I have both a range and a fireplace.
Last, I want to congratulate you on being able to express yourself on paper. Writing and reading are both neglected arts in these days. The other day I heard of an eighth-grade boy, writing some sort of an exercise for school, who had to ask his mother how to spell “catch.” And every now and then I get a letter from a college graduate which contains misspelled words or bad grammar, or both. It is a pleasure to get a letter like yours.
* * *
Apparently my class was not able to visit him that spring, because his second communication to me is a 2-cent postcard postmarked 2 p.m. April 26, 1957.
* * *
Badger Hole, 25 April.
Dear Linda: I shall be away for nine or ten days during the first half of May and in fact it is hard for me to know just what days I shall be at home during the month. This is my busy season, you know-- commencements and the like, and I expect the last month of school will bring various special occasions for you. As it is so late, I believe we had better postpone our party until after school begins in the fall. The weather will be more dependable then, for one thing. That may look like a long time to you, but when you’re my age, you’ll know it ain’t, it ain’t, it ain’t!
* * *
Badger Clark died that fall, September 26, 1957, at age 74.
. . .
Last summer, I was asked to record some of my thoughts about Hermosa history for the Hermosa Arts and History Association; I am, I realized, one of the older residents able to do so. And just as Badger predicted, while the date of these events may seem to be a long time ago, “it ain’t, it ain’t, it ain’t!”
# # #
For more information:
The Badger Clark Memorial Society's website
Find information on Badger Clark and his work, purchase copies of his books, and learn about visiting The Badger Hole, his cabin in Custer State Park.
Cowboy Poetry Website page dedicated to Badger Clark
This page includes a huge treasure trove of information about Badger Clark, including some of his poetry, an introduction to the 1922 edition of Sun and Saddle Leather
, information about recordings of cowboy poets reciting Badger’s work and musicians who have set it to music, and much, much more. The site even includes my report on the first annual workshop in his honor I taught in 2006, with photos of The Badger Hole, and information on the movie about him, Mountain Thunder
Cowboy Poetry, Classic Poems & Prose by Badger Clark
Edited by Greg Scott, published (2005) by Cowboy Miner Productions. This book (432 pages) includes all of Badger Clark's short stories; poetry, including more than two dozen previously unpublished or long out-of-print poems; essays; letters; and photos.
As of 2010, the Cowboy Miner Productions website is no longer active. For more information on this book:
Cowboy Poetry website's page for Greg Scott's book
For my review of this book:
Cowboy Poetry website's book review by Linda M. Hasselstrom
I am fortunate to have a copy of the first, 1935 edition of the Sky Lines and Wood Smoke
, printed at “The Chronicle Shop” in Custer and copyrighted by Francis Case. I also have The Badger Clark Story
, published in 1960 and now out of print, by Helen F. Morganti, a formidable newspaper woman and writer whom I knew slightly when I lived in Deadwood. I’m told this is available for $8 postpaid (quantity discounts available) from Black Hills Books & Treasures, 112 S. Chicago Street, Hot Springs, SD 57747 605-745-5545.
Also in my collection, and still available, is Jessie Y. Sundstrom’s Badger Clark, Cowboy Poet With Universal Appeal
. $12.45, postpaid. Make checks payable to Jessie Y. Sundstrom and send to send to: The Badger Clark Memorial Society, Box 351, Custer, SD 57730-0351. This book (about 65 pages) includes much personal history for Badger Clark, three poems, photos, and a bibliography.
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March 1, 2010
. . .
Recently I was asked: Your poetry is about the west, but do you consider yourself to be a "Cowboy Poet"?
A few years ago, I would have said “Definitely not,” since my poetry rarely occurs in iambic pentameter or rhymes.
Today, I’d say, “Yes, but I usually do not write in traditional cowboy poetry form.” My poetry, like that of most of the best traditional cowboy poets, is about the daily working life of the rancher and cowboy, the people whose work helping to preserve America’s once-vast grasslands by raising cattle here.
Here’s some information on how I came to consider myself a cowboy poet, from a letter I wrote to the magazine Northern Lights
in early 1999. The magazine is gone, but will be remembered for its quality. I was responding to an article by Charlie Craighead, “Cowboy Poets: A Study in Oxymoronism.”
I enjoyed the article, I said (and now I quote my letter:)
* * *
. . . even the outrageous pun in the title. Of course some cowboy poetry is awful, but as a noted science fiction writer once said when asked why 98% of science fiction is badly written, “Ninety-eight percent of EVERYTHING is awful.” And I’m glad Craighead admits to a smidgen of jealousy-- why can these folks get published when he can’t? He’s flat wrong about the origins of cowboy poetry; the 14th and 15th annual gatherings in Elko explored the Celtic roots of the genre. And check out Gene Logsdon’s "The Whorehouse Bells were Ringing", among other sources.
But I sympathize with Craighead, who has clearly never been to an event like The Cowboy Poetry Gathering sponsored by the Western Folklife Center in Elko, Nevada. I beg to offer a slightly different view.
Invited to my first cowboy poetry gathering, I marched in with a chip on my shoulder the size of Mount Rushmore. After all, I’ve been labeled as a “nature writer” (without my consent), I won’t shoot coyotes, and I gave up wearing “cowboy” hats because they blew off in a South Dakota wind on a bucking horse. Worse, I don’t use rhyme because I can’t do it as well as Robert Penn Warren and some of those other rhyming poets I studied in (shh!) graduate school. I know cows and horses, but I still expected to have to show the calluses on my hands and other anatomical features to be admitted.
Nope. I felt welcome when the first cowboy opened the outer door of the auditorium for me, slanting a glance under his hat brim. I said, “Thank you, sir.” He sighed and said, “I was afraid you was one of them liberated women who’d yell at me for opening the door.”
I said, “I’m liberated, but my folks taught me not to be rude,” and opened the second door in the series. He grinned, touched his hat in a thank-you gesture and we walked inside together.
I’m sentimental, under my leathery exterior, so when I hear a really good poem I often have tears in my eyes. I make most of my living speaking about writing in the world of academia where writers compete to show their brilliance by composing wordy sneers at each other’s work. They’ll love Craighead’s piece. If I dared to shed a tear at a poetry reading in that world-- if I was truly moved by a poem-- someone would provide an instant analysis according to preconceived notions before I could open my mouth.
“So,” the academic would say, “do you westerners and cowboy poets just sit around reminiscing about the old West that never existed anyway?”
Before I could shift my quid to say, “Nope,” he’d move on to the next question: “Are you really crying because the rhyme is so bad?”
Nope again. By contrast, at gatherings of cowboy poets, folks who tear up are given decent privacy. No one bustles up saying, “You really must progress to the next stage of your grief in order to maintain a progressive development of your psyche.” Or maybe, “May I share with you why I used to cry? Then I’ll give you the card of my therapist [or-- pick one-- shaman, priest, wellness consultant, financial advisor] who for only $20,000 will fix you.”
Since you didn’t ask, I’ll tell you. I cry at the Cowboy Poetry Gathering when a tall, thin man with a gimpy ankle reads a poem in the voice of my father when I was young. Before he lost his mind and told me my writing was garbage.
I cry when Wally McRae reads a poem about the best dang horse-wrangler he ever knew, how all the men revered him and spoke his name with respect. After ten years or so of hearing the stories, Wally thought he’d heard everything there was to know about the man called “Prock” by his elders. When Wally shook the man’s hand at last, he learned one fact no one had ever thought important enough to mention: that Proctor was black.
I cry when a white-haired cowboy finds me in the crowd and says, “Ma’am, your poetry is a blessing,” even if it doesn’t rhyme.
Go to a Cowboy Poetry Gathering, Mr. Craighead-- you should have done so before offering your opinions-- but it’s not too late. You’ll have a great time. No one will throw you out. You may get to read your own work and get compliments on it.
* * *
My letter was published by Northern Lights
in the Spring 1999, issue, Vol. XiV, No. 2, p. 28. I never heard from Mr. Craighead, so I don’t know if he followed my suggestions.
I’ve now been to the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko many times and will appear again in January, 2011. (See the links below for more information on this and related events.)
I’m proud to call myself a cowboy poet. And I wear my broad-brimmed hat.
# # #
For more information:
The Cowboy Poetry website.
The Cowboy Poetry website's page featuring me
, with a sampling of my poetry.
The Western Folklife Center website
with information about the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko, Nevada.
Where in the World is Linda M. Hasselstrom?
A list on this website of my appearances at upcoming events and in various publications.
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