OCEANSIDE — Cattle rancher and poet Gary Robertson will perform his cowboy poetry at the Civic Center Library Jan. 11. Robertson urges people who are not cowboys and have never heard cowboy poetry to attend.
“If I do it right, if I write the poem right and tell the poem right, everything I write about agriculture and ranching hopefully transcends that,” Robertson said. “Hopefully it touches people who choose mechanics, skydiving, serving in the military, people doing what they were meant to do.”
His poems share universal messages about family and everyday humor.
Robertson also likes the challenge of turning a joke he has heard into a poem.
“I write about family stuff, relationship stuff,” Robertson said. “You don’t have to wear cowboy boots and a cowboy hat to get it, if I do it right.”
Robertson, now age 62, has been writing poetry for 25 years.
“I have made my living livestock ranching all my adult life,” Robertson said. “I’m a poet and a cowboy.”
Both ranching and storytelling are in his blood. His father and grandfather were ranchers.
His grandmother was a Chickasaw Indian who shared storytelling with him.
“My grandma was the greatest storyteller I ever knew,” Robertson said.
“My grandmother on my mom’s side was Chickasaw Indian. My dad was a transplanted Texan to Oklahoma. Being Texan and Indian I had no choice, but to be a storyteller.”
Cowboy poetry follows the tradition of spoken word and is shaped in part by listeners’ response to it. The voice and location where a cowboy poem is told is as much a part of the experience as the poem itself.
“It comes from a tradition of the cattle drive days,” Robertson said. “It’s a way of storytelling and sharing.”
Cowboy poetry dates back to the 1880s when cowboys told each other poems and stories as entertainment.
Some cowboy poets write in free verse, but Robertson prefers to write in rhyme and meter.
“Style wise it hasn’t changed a great deal,” Robertson said. “The subject matter has in some cases.”
Robertson draws his inspiration from cowboy poet legends Buck Ramsey and Joel Nelson, and contemporary lyricist James Taylor.
His performances blend poetry and storytelling.
Robertson’s ranch in Oklahoma is also used a film shooting location.
He said the best piece of advice he got on his writing was from a screenwriter he met who told him to “tell the story.” Robertson continues to follow that advice.
“I don’t do a poetry reading,” Robertson said. “I tell a poem.”
Robertson sells CDs and publications of his poems.
He advises people to read cowboy poetry deliberately and out loud.
“For me it’s a spoken form of communication,” Robertson said.
“I’ve had a lot of poems published and it’s a great honor. But I sell CDs because I want people to hear it.”
“I hope someone reading it to themselves appreciates the structure and goes back and reads the story.”
Robertson has been a feature performer at Colorado Cowboy Poetry Gathering, Arizona Cowboy Poetry Gathering, Cowboy Hall of Fame, Gene Autry Museum, The Conejo Cowboy Poetry Festival, and Big Bear Cowboy Poetry Gathering.
Robertson will perform at the Civic Center Library community rooms at 3 p.m.