Missouri's vibrant cowboy poetry scene

Apr 24, 2013

Lisa Higgins, director of the Missouri Folk Arts Program, poses in her office on April 22, 2013. Tiny cowboy boots decorate Higgins' workplace. The folk arts program helps fund the annual Missouri Cowboy Poetry and Music Festival.
Credit Harum Helmy / KBIA News

If you think all cowboys are of the rugged, silent and stoic Marlboro Man type – think again. Some cowboys write poetry.  

Every year since 1998, for a weekend in April, a group of cowboy poets Missouri and its surrounding states gather in Mountain View, Mo., near West Plains. They spend three days in town, usually from Friday to Wednesday, giving poetry performances, playing folk songs, telling classic cowboy stories. The gathering, also known as the Missouri Cowboy Poetry and Music Festival, is one of the largest of its kind in the Midwest. 

This year's festival starts Friday, April 26. To get myself ready for a weekend full of cowboys reciting poems and singing, I met with Lisa Higgins, director of the Missouri Folk Arts Program. Through the program, Higgins has helped fund the event. She tells me what to expect from cowboy poetry: 

"Kind of like the blues, cowboy poetry can be a little blue. And by that I mean, maybe a little vulgar.  Because you have a community of people who are isolated and kind of share a lot of inside jokes. But really, as much as that humor is there, there really is this focus with cowboy poetry as an occupational art form. It really is about celebrating, and also maybe lamenting a little bit, the work that happens on the range, in your saddle club or in your little ranch."

Higgins said the cowboy poetry festival is the fruit of the Mountain View community's hard work. 

"I have friends, colleagues, folklorists who work at the Western Folk Life Center and of course they are the host of the national cowboy poetry festival," Higgins said. "To know about that and to see a community in Missouri be so excited about hosting this event, the content of the programming, and the people who come to the event are so excited about the event, that's the thing that's always struck me: The enthusiasm and the positive energy that they have for it."

For a full report from the cowboy poetry festival, stay tuned to KBIA.