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Wednesday, 18 June 2014 14:32

Swift Current cowboy poet shares his passion with readers in new publication

Written by  Matthew Liebenberg
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Farmer and cowboy poet Bryce Burnett is sharing his passion for the ranching lifestyle with readers in his first published work that will be officially released during the Swift Current centennial and homecoming weekend.

He has been reading poems for many years at cowboy poetry gatherings and people will frequently ask if his works are available in a book or on CD.
“I thought it’s about time I did it,” he said. “I’ve had enough material of that genre so I could put together and make a decent book out of it.”
The publication, titled Homegrown and other poems, has recently been released by Regina-based publisher DriverWorks Ink. The company specializes in the publication of works by prairie authors.
The collection of 63 poems and 44 photographs, most of them taken by Burnett, is already available in bookstores. A formal book launch will take place at 1:30 p.m. on June 28 during a cowboy poetry session at the Heritage Pavilion, which will be located at Kinetic Park for the Centennial Homecoming that takes place in conjunction with Frontier Days.
According to Burnett, many of the poems in the publication will appeal to people who are attending the centennial celebrations in Swift Current.
“I’m writing about the western heritage of southwest Saskatchewan,” he said. “It’s poems about the history of the land here and the experience of growing up in southwestern Saskatchewan.”
The poems refer to the life of homesteaders in the region and celebrate the many facets of farming life, from family meals to community events and trips to town for Sunday worship services. There are poems about cattle shows and rodeos as well as fishing trips and the beauty of nature.
“There are a lot that have a humorous twist to them and then there are some that are a bit more on the serious side,” he said. “You write about things that have happened to you on the farm and especially if there is a kind of a humourous twist to them. I’ve been told that the best cowboy poems start out as a tragedy and over time they are kind of humourous. Some say the ingredients of a cowboy poem are tragedy and time.”
The poems are organized in different sections according to a few broad themes. In many cases, the poems are related to his own life on the family farm near Swift Current that was homesteaded more than a century ago by his grandparents.
“The one is called the Prospectors of the Prairies and tells of some of the old-timers that homesteaded here and people that I remember and that my dad introduced me to when I was a boy,” he said. “Then I’ve got another section on roots, reflections and inspirations. It’s more about growing up and my mother and father and my grandparents.”
He has been writing cowboy poetry for about 15 years. He wrote his first one when he was looking for a poem about showing cattle for inclusion in a breed publication.
“I tried to find one and I couldn’t,” he recalled. “I actually phoned Baxter Black and talked to him about it and he didn’t have anything. He’s one of the most well-known cowboy poets in North America and he said to me: ‘Well, you’ll just have to go and write one yourself.’”
Burnett wrote his first poem after that conversation and it was printed in the breed publication. To his surprise this poem was read during a cattle show at Agribition.
“There was a break in the show when we went to get the picture of our grand champion bull,” he said. “The announcer started reading my poem that was in the breed publication and I found myself more interested in how the poem was going over than I was in the picture of the bull. After that I just started doing a few more poems.”
His poems vary in length and in some cases it will take a while before he eventually writes down his thoughts.
“Quite often, I will have a poem figured out in my head for a year or two before I fine-tune it and get it on paper,” he said.
According to Burnett, there is a clear rhythm and beat in cowboy poetry.
There is also a rhyme that is often absent from modern poetry.
“One of the reasons for that is that a lot of the cowboy poetry has been handed down from generation to generation and cowboy to cowboy,” he said. “A lot of the poems were of everyday happenings. They sit around the campfire at night after the long drive on a cattle drive and talk about it and make poems and recite poems, but the easiest way to remember them and learn them was if you could rhyme them.”

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