Excerpt for Things a Cowboy Sees and Other Poems by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

Miller’s work stands out like a Thoroughbred in a pen full of ponies. His wry humor works the same way that Baxter Black’s does—it saves us from taking ourselves too seriously.

— Gary Vorhes, former Editor-in-Chief

Western Horseman magazine

A true westerner to the core and one who’s “made a hand” as a scribe as well, Rod Miller is that rare breed who blends artistic sensibility with cowboy attitude. He’s funny and serious and hits all the marks in-between, and always in that high-quality, polished verse he writes—the kind that looks as effortless as a great bronc ride, but is every bit as tough to pull off as that ride was.

— Jesse Mullins, Jr., founding editor,

American Cowboy magazine

Reading Rod Miller's poems is like getting a giant box of candy . . . I always look forward to his contributions. I particularly enjoy the ironic humor and admire his sophisticated use of the language, which he somehow manages to present in a completely accessible way. We get many poems that have the feeling of being "dashed off." And then we get poems like Rod's! It's a pleasure.

— Margo Metegrano

Books by Rod Miller


Goodnight Goes Riding and Other Poems

Newe Dreams

Things a Cowboy Sees and Other Poems


The Death of Delgado and Other Stories

Rawhide Robinson Rides a Dromedary:

The True Tale of a Wild West Camel Caballero

Rawhide Robinson Rides the Tabby Trail:

The True Tale of a Wild West CATastrophe

Rawhide Robinson Rides the Range:

True Adventures of Bravery and Daring in the Wild West

The Assassination of Governor Boggs

Cold as the Clay

Gallows for a Gunman

Father unto Many Sons (forthcoming)


The Lost Frontier:

Momentous Moments in the Old West You May Have Missed

Go West: The Risk & The Reward

Massacre at Bear River: First, Worst, Forgotten

John Muir: Magnificent Tramp

Pen-L Publishing

Fayetteville, Arkansas

Copyright © 2017 by Rod Miller

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying and recording, or by any information storage or retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.

ISBN: 978-1-68313-120-5

Second Electronic Edition

Pen-L Publishing

Fayetteville, Arkansas

Edited by Chila Woychik

Cover design by

Cover photo ©James Fain

Dedicated to Jesse Mullins, Jr.,

the editor who first saw fit

to apply ink to my poetry.





I. Horses and Hosses

A Bolt of Broomtails


Haiku for a Horseback Morning

Beauty is Only Skin Deep (But Ugly Goes

All the Way Through)

Last Full Measure of Devotion

Eternal Flame

My Memories are Looking Up


II. Life Out West

Morning Glory

A Guide to Ranching for the Politically Correct

A Little Madness in the Spring

Irons in the Fire

Hot Time


Road Warriors

Meadow Hay


Work Ethic

Things a Cowboy See

The E.S.L. Ranch


No Enjoyment in Unemployment

Gates Left Open


Haiku for a Former Rounder

Gone to Town

Go Home Again

III. The Rodeo Road

Bad Road

Rodeo Regina

Landing Gear

Why I’m Not a Roper

Rodeo Rhythm

Looper Blues

Womb to Tomb

Long May It Wave

Luck (But Not Exactly the Beginner’s Kind)

Ranked Among the Top 15 Automobiles of All Time

Number 16

IV. Roundups and Trail Drives

Rhyme of the Ancient Trail Driver

Brother’s Keeper

Cowboy Coffee


Tabula Rasa

Trail Driving Days

The Cowboy Trail

V. Making a Hand

Cowboy, Defined



The Staff of Life

About the Author

Bonus Pages

Did You Enjoy This Book?

Preface to the Second Edition

This little book of poems has led a productive life since it was hatched in 2011. One of its poems, “Tabula Rasa,” won the Western Writers of America Spur Award in 2012. Things a Cowboy Sees and Other Poems won the Fred Olds Poetry Award from Westerners International in 2011. The Academy of Western Artists christened it Best Poetry Book with the Buck Ramsey Award in 2013.

When the publisher, Chila Woychik, decided to shutter Port Yonder Press to pursue other dreams I was not willing to see the book go out of print. But I did not want to become a publisher myself, although that is an option chosen by more and more poets and writers nowadays. Not me.

So, what to do?

Pen-L Publishing to the rescue!

Duke and Kimberly Pennell agreed to include Things a Cowboy Sees and Other Poems in their growing catalog of good books. I got to know and like Duke and Kimberley when they published Goodnight Goes Riding and Other Poems. (That book, too, won the Westerners International Fred Olds Poetry Award in 2014, and one of its poems, “Song of the Stampede,” was a Finalist for the Western Writers of America Spur Award in 2015.) I got to know them better and like them more as we put together a collection of my short fiction, The Death of Delgado and Other Stories (whose title story won a WWA Spur Award in 2012 and “A Border Dispute” was a Spur Award Finalist in 2006).

All thanks to Duke and Kimberly and Pen-L Publishing for keeping Things a Cowboy Sees and Other Poems alive. And hats off to all the readers, reciters, editors, and others who have helped keep my ongoing efforts to become a writer alive.

—Rod Miller, 2017


As with any literary work, many people contributed to this collection of poetry, some in ways they are not aware of. I would like to acknowledge a few of those.

The book is dedicated to Jesse Mullins, longtime editor of American Cowboy magazine. I owe my first published poem, and many others that made it into print, to Jesse. Gary Vorhes, and, later, A. J. Mangum, editors at Western Horseman magazine, also published several of my poems, as did C. J. Hadley of Range magazine. I owe them all a debt of gratitude for lending credi-bility to the idea that I could be a poet.

Special thanks is due Margo Metegrano, the brains and brawn behind the world’s largest cowboy poetry web site, Margo’s contributions to the art of cowboy poetry are beyond comprehension, as is the attention she has paid me. From encouraging my submissions to bestowing honors to promoting my writing successes in other media to featuring the essays I’ve penned on writing poetry to arranging introductions to other poets, her support has been more than deserved or expected, and much appreciated.

Many, many poets, living and dead, have lent assistance, if only by inspiring me to write harder in an attempt to reach their level. Some have become friends. While I cannot name them all, they include, in alphabetical order, S. Omar Barker, Baxter Black, Laurie Wagner Buyer, Charles Badger Clark, Doris Daley, Janice Gilbertson, DW Groethe, Yvonne Hollenbeck, Don Kennington, Phil Kennington, JoLynne Kirkwood, Bruce Kiskaddon, Mike Logan, Wallace McRae, Jane Morton, A. B. “Banjo” Paterson, Vess Quinlan, Buck Ramsey, Pat Richardson, Red Shuttleworth, Red Steagall, and Andy Wilkinson.

Paul Zarzyski and Bob Schild merit special mention, both because of the personal time, attention, and kindness they showed a bothersome novice poet and because much of their poetry is inspired by their time in the rodeo arena, memories of which also triggers many of my poems.

Thanks to Chila Woychik and her saddle pals at Port Yonder Press for their willingness to publish a book of cowboy poetry (few publishers are brave enough to take on such a job) and their hard work to make it a better book than it deserves to be.

Finally, thanks to my wife, Susan, and daughters Kate and Lisa, who try not to bother me when I try to write. And to my dad and mom, Howard and Renee, who brought me into a cowboy world and allowed me to grow up in it—a fact I did not appreciate enough at the time.

Some of the poems in this collection appeared in other publications, occasionally in slightly altered form:

“Cowboy, Defined,” “The Cowboy Trail,” “The E.S.L. Ranch,” “Irons in the Fire,” “Landing Gear,” “Looper Blues,” “Why I’m Not a Roper,” and “Ranked Among the Top 15 Automobiles of All Time” appeared in American Cowboy magazine.

“The E.S.L. Ranch” appeared in the anthology The Big Roundup. “Outlaw” appeared in Cowboy Magazine.

“Rodeo Regina” appeared in the anthology Cowboys are Part Human.

“Cowboy Coffee” appeared in Cowboys are Part Human, Cowboys and Cookouts, and Elko Daily Free Press.

“Rhyme of the Ancient Trail Driver” appeared in the Denver Post and Elko Daily Free Press.

“Bad Road” and “Things a Cowboy Sees” appeared in New Plains Review.

“A Bolt of Broomtails” and “Go Home Again” appeared in the anthology New Poets of the American West.

“Gone to Town,” “Morning Glory,” “Road Warriors,” “The Staff of Life,” and “Work Ethic” appeared in Range magazine.

“Beauty is Only Skin Deep,” “Long May It Wave,” and “Why I’m Not a Roper,” appeared in Rope Burns.

“Feral” and “Number 16” appeared in Roundup Magazine.

“A Guide to ranching for the Politically Correct,” “Hot Time,” “Luck (But Not Exactly the Beginner’s Kind),” “No Enjoyment in Unemployment,” “Number 16,” and “My Memories are Looking Up,” appeared in Western Horseman magazine.

An Introduction to Cowboy Poetry in General and This Collection in Particular

Long, long ago in a time before iPods, before cell phones, before Blackberries, when there was no satellite television, no on-demand movies, no YouTube, people had to devise their own entertainments. Before America was wired, back when we were unplugged, people took every opportunity to get together, enjoy each other’s company, and amuse one another.

At any moment, in any crowd—in a parlor, a schoolhouse, a grange hall, around a campfire—someone was likely to offer a soliloquy from Shakespeare, someone else might sing a favorite song. And you’d likely hear a recitation of a poem. School children routinely memorized long passages of plays and prose and poetry and offered them in public interpretation; grownups continued the tradition.

While echoes of those bygone days of homemade enter-tainment remain, it’s a tradition that’s largely forgotten in our tuned-in society. And one place you’ll hear those echoes is in the tradition of cowboy poetry. There are hundreds, probably thousands, of men and women who, at the drop of a wide-brimmed hat, will happily reel off a rhyme for anyone who’ll listen. They’ll recite “classic” poems from the cowboy catalog, more modern compositions they’ve gathered from other poets, and creations of their own. They’ll flock together at hundreds of appointed times and places all across the country to share verses with one another and audiences that range from a handful to standing-room-only auditoriums.

It can be argued that cowboy poetry presented in public recitations paved the way for a renaissance, of sorts, for spoken poetry. Other than a few scholarly conclaves, where academic poets read mostly droning, angst-ridden free-verse selections to one another and few others, there was a dearth of poetry for public consumption in the decades between the disappearance of the finger-snapping beat poets of the 1950s and cowboy poetry’s appearance on the scene in the 1980s. Its continuing, even growing, popularity very likely played a role in the advent of today’s slam poetry phenomenon.

So where did cowboy poetry come from, and why?

Early Days

Let’s go back, briefly, to those days when memorization and recitation of poetry and other literary works was popular. Cowboy work involves long hours on horseback or in isolated camps, leaving those who herd cattle alone with their thoughts for extended periods—a perfect situation for learning popular poems and other recitations, and even creating original works. Then, evenings around campfires and in bunkhouses provided ample opportunities to share verses committed to memory. Popular poems—and songs and tall tales—got passed around from ranch to ranch, town to town, and became entrenched in the tradition.

Some of those poems from the earliest years found their way into the permanence of print; most simply disappeared along with those who recited them.

The “Golden Age” of cowboy poetry came a few decades after the demise of the trail-drive era that defines our cowboy mythology. Nostalgia for the “disappearing West” led to wide-spread writing of reminiscences, memoirs, songs, and poems by and for people longing for those bygone days. Poems about cowboy life and the Old West were published in magazines and newspapers, on calendars and post cards, in collections and anthologies, and on practically anything else ink would stick to. The best of the poems from that era survive, and still please audiences at cowboy poetry gatherings and performances today.

Some were penned by real cowboys—men like Bruce Kiskaddon and Carmen William “Curley” Fletcher who knew the cowboy life firsthand. Charles Badger Clark and S. Omar Barker had limited connections with cowboy work, but their poems were and are extremely popular. Some, such as E. A. Brininstool and Henry Herbert Knibbs, were mere observers of the American cowboy, but managed to pen poetry authentic enough to be appreciated by cowboys. And some ever-popular poets among the cowboy crowd, most notably A. B. “Banjo” Paterson and Will Ogilvie, never saw a cowboy in his natural state on a ranch on the Western range, but created outstanding rhymes based on the similar experiences of “drovers” on “cattle stations” in the Australian “bush” or “outback.”

Almost any gathering of cowboy poets will include recita-tions of the works of some of those “classic” poets (or others) along with poems of more recent vintage and original com-positions by the reciters.


But how, and why, did cowboy poetry survive the demise of public recitation and other homespun entertainments once so commonplace? It all comes down to a cold winter day in Elko, Nevada, in 1985. And, of course, a lot of preparatory work to get to that day.

A couple of academic folklorists, Hal Cannon and Jim Griffith, were intrigued with cowboy poetry as a folk art, and their studies revealed there were still a few cowboys who main-tained the art, memorizing old poems and reciting them in barrooms and bunkhouses. Some, they learned, also wrote poems of their own, often in secret, occasionally with some embarrassment, usually unaware that other cowboys did the same.

With the help of folklorists across the West, Cannon and Griffith scoured the wide-open spaces to locate cowboys afflicted with poesy and invited them to gather in Elko that winter day to share and compare. And so they did, with a handful of poets swapping lines for friends, families, one another, and a few hundred curious onlookers.

For reasons no one understands—including the people who invented the event—the cowboy poetry gathering caught on, and the second annual became the third annual and, in 2011, the twenty- seventh annual and counting. More remarkable is the fact that similar gatherings emerged across the West, spread to the Midwest and even the East, and into Canada. And while events come and go, many are but a few years behind Elko in longevity.

Along with the growth of cowboy poetry gatherings came the emergence of cowboy poets. There seems to be no shortage of folks with a hankering to stand on a stage and share a poem. From working cowboys to part-time cowboys to those raised in a cowboy environment who’ve moved on to other lives in the cities to people who don’t even know which end of a cow gets up first, the desire to recite strikes all kinds.

Poets” and Poets

A few—not nearly enough—of these newly minted poets learn and share the best poems from the classic era. (Oddly enough, the term cowboy “poet” applies equally to those who write poems, and to reciters who have never written a word.) But most write their own stuff. And here, I believe, is where today’s cowboy poetry departs from that of the past.

While cowboy poetry—all poetry, for that matter—was born in the spoken word, it became, and achieved permanence as, a literary art. No one will ever hear—or read—many of those “oral tradition” poems composed and recited and passed around in the late 1800s because they were never put on paper. But the work of the “classic” cowboy poets is still with us because they were writers. They wrote to be published, and the permanence of their poems (beyond their inherent literary quality) came through widespread distribution in print. If any of those early-day poets stumped the countryside spouting poems from the stage, there is no record of it. (Possible exceptions are Badger Clark and S. Omar Barker, both of whom were popular public speakers and included poems in their presentations.) Many of today’s cowboy poets, on the other hand, care little for the written word. They’re out to become stage-show entertainers, so effective recitation takes priority. Rather than poetry, much of what they write might more properly be called “material.”

It’s partly market-driven—the popularity of cowboy poetry gatherings created the situation. More cowboy poetry fans are willing to shell out for tickets to a gathering or for a recording than for a book. There are hundreds of opportunities for “poets” to get on stage in front an audience; opportunities to see your poetry in print are few and far between. Most poetry books, mostly self-published, sell few copies, so today’s poets are more likely to record their recitations and sell them on CD.

It can be argued, then, that cowboy poetry today is more a performance art than a literary art. If you tell someone you’re a cowboy poet, the automatic assumption is that you have a memorized repertoire of poems you can recite on demand. Where those poems come from—whether they are classics or your own compositions— is of little interest.

For the most part, a poem’s entertainment value is now more important than its literary value. This inevitably has changed today’s cowboy poetry when compared to those well-written, carefully crafted “classics.” Many of today’s poems, even if popular in recitation, do not always stand up on the page.

A Gathering of Poems

While I often conduct workshops and give lectures, and some-times read poems in public, the performance trail is not one I have followed—at least as a performer. I admire a good recitation more than most and have enjoyed more cowboy poetry performances than I can remember, but I prefer to sit in the audience rather than stand on the stage. Part of the reason is disposition, but it’s mostly a matter of time and energy. Good reciters spend countless hours and lots of brain power memorizing and rehearsing poems.

I would rather spend that time writing. And reading. And learning.

Fortunately, cowboy poetry today is not all performance. There are still cowboy poets for whom writing matters: poets who craft verse that reads as well as it recites. Those are the poets, along with those from cowboy poetry’s Golden Age, I learn from and look to for inspiration and direction.

In my poems, I attempt at various times to tackle time-honored subjects and emulate traditional and rhyme-and-meter styles, as well as follow the lead of the modern cowboy and Western poets who experiment with subject matter and form. The results are, as most poets will confess, lacking. For while writing poetry can be satisfying, the poems themselves are often unsatisfactory. Such is the bane of anyone who attempts to create something worthwhile out of a blank page and the twenty-six letters of the alphabet.

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