The New Era - All about Sweet Home since 1929

Local retiree, horse lover, loves poems from the range

 

September 27, 2017

Photo by Scott Swanson JIM CROTTS, here on his steed, Mickey, is a connoisseur of Cowboy Poetry.

Jim Crotts might seem an unlikely prospect to lead a gathering of poets.

He’s retired from the Information Technology department at Linn-Benton Community College and he’s big into horses.

Just like he is into poetry – particularly Cowboy Poetry.

Crotts is organizing A Night With the Cowboys, an evening of “Cowboy Poetry and Songs of the Old West” at Sunshine Industries on Oct. 7. This is the second Cowboy Poetry night Sunshine has hosted. The first, Crotts said, drew about 100 people last April.

“This is a logging community, he said. “A lot of our community members have no idea what we’re talking about. But everybody went away smiling, asking when we were going to do it again.”

Cowboy poetry is the modern embodiment of the art of storytelling and folk music carried on by cowpokes around the campfire on cattle drives and in bunkhouses in years gone by. Though it’s recognized as having roots extending back around the turn of the century, it came into its own as a recognized art form in the 1980s in Elko, Nev., Crotts said.

“Folks got together, had a ‘gathering,’ he said. “It was mainly one cowboy sharing with another cowboy. But it took on a life of its own.

“We still recite poems written in early 1900s. They are as valid today as they were then. Things don’t change much out on the range.”

The Elko event, he said, is “huge, not only for the West but for that community. It’s a big deal.”

The six-day National Cowboy Poetry Gathering, so named by an act of Congress, is held each winter in Elko. This year’s event, Jan. 29-Feb. 3, will be the 43rd, expected to draw 30-some poets who will perform to an international audience numbering in the thousands, according to website promoting the event.

Crotts, 72, grew up on a homestead in Alaska. He and his wife Janis, now retired after 31 years as a special education teacher for the Sweet Home School District, moved to Sweet Home about 40 years ago. Janis now serves as a board member for Sunshine Industries.

Crotts said his experience with computers brought him to LBCC, where he “championed” getting the campus connected to the Internet.

“I thought it was going to be big,” he said. “I had no idea.”

He said he was good with computers “because of the way my memory worked.”

“Most people say, ‘I can’t see you in I.T.’ I was just wired that way. “I’m no big brain. I could compartmentalize and remember a lot of steps. I used it to my advantage.”

A number of factors helped introduce Crotts to Cowboy Poetry.

He and Janis are into horses and they enjoy participating in team penning and sorting events, he said.

“I spend a lot of time in eastern Oregon, in the mountains,” he said. “I ran across things that made an impact on me. Because I had written poetry all my life, it was natural to want to put that on paper, to build a story out of it.

“I didn’t care if people read it. Just me,” he added, launching into one of his shorter works, called

“Vibrant:”

“The mountain peaks are covered with snow,

While flowers fill up the valley below,

As far as the eye can comfortably see,

All of it vibrant, all of it’s free.”

Some of his poetry has been posted on national websites.

Cowboy Poetry tends to focus on the “cowboy code,” Crotts said.

“Pride, skill, knowledge, not leaving a buddy behind – things we all admire. Cowboys aren’t the only ones who practice these things, but cowboys do practice these things.”

They can be humorous, such as someone getting bucked off a horse, or buying a horse that turns out to be a “rag bucker, getting burned on that,” he said. Others “are incredibly moving,” such as “when a cowboy vital to the crew dies and they have to move on, push on.

“Generally, they try to convey the cowboy way.”

It stems from an oral tradition, he said. “Guys out in the sage, strumming their guitar, in many way more literate than we might give them credit for.”

The genre has “rhythm and rhyme, not like the blank-verse poetry we see so much these days. It’s more like a song and many become songs.”

Locally, there’s a group in Eugene called the Old People’s Riding Club, “Who love a campfire and some poetry and songs,” he said.

Although some hold that practitioners should have some connection to cowboy life, Crotts said the people involved in the Sunshine event on Oct. 7 come from all walks of life.

“Generally, they spend a lot of time with their horse, riding,” he said. “They appreciate the cowboy way even if they aren’t cowboy.”

 
 
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