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KBIA’s Health & Wealth Desk covers the economy and health of rural and underserved communities in Missouri and beyond. The team produces a weekly radio segment, as well as in-depth features and regular blog posts. The reporting desk is funded by a grant from the University of Missouri, and the Missouri Foundation for Health.Contact the Health & Wealth desk.

Postcard from a cowboy poetry festival

Harum Helmy

This week on the show, we're hearing from Francine Robison and D.J. Fry, two out of the more than 20 cowboy poets and musicians who performed at the 15th Annual Missouri Cowboy Poetry and Music Festival. 

Gaining confidence from performing cowboy poetry

Poet and artist Francine Robison said she had always been shy.

“Even as a teacher, I just hated the first two or three days when I didn't know any kids,” Robison said. “It’s like, ‘Oh my goodness, what am I going to say?’ It was a struggle every year to get through when I knew some kids and we could actually talk.”

But when she first began to study cowboy poetry, Robison’s mentor told her to perform the pieces she reads, to bring the poems to life. Her confidence grew as she performed. 

“I’ve found when you put a microphone in my hand, I’m a wild woman,” Robison said, laughing. “It really helped me, you know, develop a personality there.”

Today, Robison is Oklahoma's cowboy poet laureate. Her appointment was codified by a concurrent House and Senate resolution in 2000. Robison has released books and CDs of her poetry, and continues to perform all over the West and Midwest. 

Credit Harum Helmy / KBIA News
Cowboy poets Ken Lorton (farthest left), Richard Dunlap, D.J. Fry and Jake White watch on as other poets perform at the cowboy poetry festival on Saturday, April 27.


Performing cowboy poetry to preserve the classics

If he were born about half a century earlier, poet and musician D.J. Fry would have loved to be a cowboy.

“Now, you probably think I was [alive during the Cowboy Era in the 1880s],” Fry joked. “It’s hard work, and I know that, but it's something that appeals to me.”

Fry, of Oronogo, Mo., has worked and lived in ranches. He's played guitar for a long time, but jokes that he “should be better at it by now.” When he performs, Fry said he tries to always recite the classic cowboy poems.

“It seems like they were done by old cowboys back in the 1800s,” Fry said. “It kind of shows what the cowboy has to go through, and shows the work of the cowboy, and how hard the cattle work is.”

Listen to cowboy poet and musician D.J. Fry recite an excerpt of "The 'D2' Horse Wrangler," a cowboy poem first published in 1894.

Harum Helmy started as KBIA's Health and Wealth reporter in January 2013. She has previously worked at the station as a news assistant, helping assign and edit stories by student reporters. Harum grew up in Jakarta, Indonesia and graduated from MU with degrees in journalism and anthropology in 2011. She's trying to finish up an MA in journalism.
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