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Notes from a Western Life
Ranging Far and Wide on the High Plains and Beyond
Linda M. Hasselstrom's Blog

Poetry in Daily Life

. . .
In 2009, I was asked to write about “poetry in daily life” for the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering magazine. This is what I wrote.

The lines of quoted poetry are cited at the end of the essay.

* * *

One sweet mornin’ long ago, my mare and I were trailing cows and calves home from summer pasture near the Badlands, where the sharp crests dream in the sunset gleam.

My father’s green ‘49 Chevy pickup idled in front, while Rebel nipped slow cows on the tail, and I day-dreamed about riding wilder horses after faster cows.

I kin ride the highest liver
‘Tween the Gulf and Powder River


For my twelfth birthday, I’d gotten Sun and Saddle Leather by Badger Clark, South Dakota’s poet laureate and one of the finest cowboy poets ever. I began to hear “The Legend of Boastful Bill” in my head.

So Bill climbed the Northern Fury
And they mangled up the air


While I recited, Rebel twitched an ear, jingling her bridle to the hoofbeat rhythm. By the time the cows ambled home, I’d recalled most of the words. My father didn’t care for Bill’s methods:

I’ll cinch ‘im up and spur ‘im till he’s broke

but he could recite most of “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” and “Snowbound.” Mother preferred ballads:

Summer of 'sixty-three, sir, and Conrad was gone away--
Gone to the country town, sir, to sell our first load of hay.


She’d learned “Kentucky Belle” in grade school. When she was 91, we recited it together, tears in our eyes, reminiscing about the past, or, as Badger put it:

Men of the older, gentler soil

Poetry is part of everyone’s daily life. The advertising jingle you can’t get out of your head is someone’s best effort at making you remember. After 25 years, I can still see the blonde driving the pickup with this bumper sticker:

You’ve never lived
until you’ve loved a sheepherder


If you remember a line, it’s likely poetic. Samuel Taylor Coleridge called poetry “the best words in the best order.” Making a living as an itinerant writer, I drive a lot, remembering good lines to force the ads and bad jokes out of my brain.

Over the Springtime plains I ride,
Knee to knee with Spring


Poetry romps me through bleak regions with bad radio stations, keeps me from tuneless singing. With poets as passengers, I’m never alone. Badger reminds me:

I stand here, where the bright skies blaze
over me and the big today.


A day that starts with poetry is better than one without. Online, I often read www.cowboypoetry.com and The Writer’s Almanac. I hate going to town, but when I do, I warble:

We’re the children of the open and we hate the haunts o’men,
But we had to come to town to get the mail.


Badger lived just up the road, and answered my sixth grade letter [oops, I was guessing, because I hadn’t yet found the letter; I was in eighth grade] with encouragement to write, so I can almost hear him chuckle:

And we’re ridin’ home at daybreak--‘cause the air is cooler then--
All ‘cept one of us that stopped behind in jail.


Letters piled on the seat, I hurry home to my real work, declaiming as he did:

“Just a-writin’, a-writin’,
Nothin’ I like half so well
As a-slingin’ ink and English--
if the stuff will only sell.”


* * *

By Linda M. Hasselstrom
First published in the magazine for the 25th National Cowboy Poetry Gathering
Held in Elko, Nevada, January 24 - 31, 2009.

# # #

Quotations in the essay:

One sweet mornin’ long ago,
-- from "The Legend of Boastful Bill" (Badger Clark)

the sharp crests dream in the sunset gleam.
-- from "The Bad Lands" (Badger Clark)

I kin ride the highest liver
‘Tween the Gulf and Powder River

-- from "The Legend of Boastful Bill" (Badger Clark)

So Bill climbed the Northern Fury
And they mangled up the air

-- from "The Legend of Boastful Bill" (Badger Clark)

I’ll cinch ‘im up and spur ‘im till he’s broke
-- from "The Legend of Boastful Bill" (Badger Clark)

Summer of 'sixty-three, sir, and Conrad was gone away--
Gone to the country town, sir, to sell our first load of hay.

-- from "Kentucky Belle" (Constance Fenimore Woolson)

Men of the older, gentler soil
-- from "The Plainsmen" (Badger Clark)

Over the Springtime plains I ride,
Knee to knee with Spring

-- from "The Springtime Plains" (Badger Clark)

I stand here, where the bright skies blaze
over me and the big today.

-- from "The Westerner" (Badger Clark)

We’re the children of the open and we hate the haunts o’men,
But we had to come to town to get the mail.

-- from "From Town" (Badger Clark)

And we’re ridin’ home at daybreak--‘cause the air is cooler then--
All ‘cept one of us that stopped behind in jail.

-- from "From Town" (Badger Clark)

“Just a-writin’, a-writin’,
Nothin’ I like half so well
As a-slingin’ ink and English--
if the stuff will only sell.”

-- inscribed by Badger Clark on a copy of Sun and Saddle Leather, and quoted in the Preface to the 1952 edition, written by “R.H., who is not identified in the book.”

# # #

For more information:

See my other blog posting about my childhood correspondence with Badger Clark ("My Brush with Fame: Badger Clark").

Western Folklife's website for the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering

The Badger Clark Memorial Society's website

Cowboy Poetry Website page dedicated to Badger Clark

Website for The Writer's Almanac
Garrison Keillor recounts the highlights of this day in poetic history and posts a short poem or two.

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