The softer side of Durango's Wild West legacy will take center stage this week with the arrival of the 21st annual Durango Cowboy Poetry Gathering. The grizzled, weather-worn poets and musicians who will grace local venues and art galleries are the real deal, which is what makes the gathering such a special and meaningful event."One of the unknown 'rules' of our particular Poetry Gathering is that all the poets and musicians who are invited here must come from a working ranch background," said Linda Mannix, who, as the Gathering's coordinator, has been a driving force behind the event every year since its inception.
"That means they have either lived on a ranch, or currently run a ranch, so that they 'know of what they speak.' Most write their poems from true-life experience and are not professional entertainers," she said.
As he has for the last several Gatherings, renowned cowboy poet and former big animal veterinarian Baxter Black will kick off the festivities Thursday night at the Community Concert Hall at Fort Lewis College. Black's act is a combination of cowboy stand-up with some from-the-heart poetry and music mixed in that's made him a star in similar venues nationwide, as well as a fixture on National Public Radio.
Black's is only the most recognized of the 40 or so names coming to town.
The visitors are a mix of poets, artists and musicians, and it'll be hard to not run into a multi-talented cowboy on the streets, stages and galleries this week.
The poets come here from as far away as South Dakota, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Wyoming, Texas, Utah, New Mexico, Arizona and other parts of Colorado.
During Cowboy Poetry week, the word "venue" takes on its own unique definition. Poets will perform aboard a special Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad train, on a poetry and music trail ride at Rapp Corral, and in an old-time radio variety show at the Henry Strater Theatre hosted by Lindy Simmons, a recently retired Fort Lewis College professor.
The Strater will host the meat and potatoes of the Gathering on Friday and Saturday night with two performances each evening of poetry and music by eight poets and The Rocky Mountain Rangers.
"Cowboy poetry covers a broad range of topics, and it's not always the 'aw-shucks' kind of stuff," Mannix said.
"There will be funny stories that will make you laugh, stories about a rancher's love for his wife, sad stories about losing a good horse and even patriotic stories about our great nation. The Durango Cowboy Poetry Gathering is trying to keep this art form alive and bring it to our town to remind folks that Durango is still a real, Western town."
firstname.lastname@example.orgFreelance writer Mike Clark contributed to this article.