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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.

Missouri's vibrant cowboy poetry scene

Harum Helmy

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.

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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