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New Cowboy Poet Pays Homage To History

A man in a khaki button down shirt stands at an angle in front of a tree.
Joshua Dugat
Poet Joshua Dugat has taught high school, fought fires and served as a ranger for Lousiana State Parks. He's now getting MFA in poetry, pursuing a passion for spoken word and writing.

Elko's 35th annual Cowboy Poetry Gathering wrapped up this weekend. Nearly 50 poets, musicians and musical groups, including diverse and dynamic new voices, have shared their artistry. The event is older than Josh Dugat, a first-time presenter, whose poetry pays homage to the  boots that stood on stage before him. KUNR's Holly Hutchings has more with him. 

The National Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko, Nevada is currently celebrating its 35th anniversary, wrapped up on Saturday. Classic and modern poets join musicians, dancers, storytellers and artists to honor the art and culture of rural life in a weeklong celebration. One of the focuses this year was on looking toward the future of the medium while remembering the roots of not only the event, but the American West.

One contemporary poet who is lending his voice to the Gathering stage for the first time this year is Joshua Dugat. From Alabama, Dugat says his work parallels the cowboy poetry derived from Western artists because it, too, comes from a sense of place and sense of connection to the ranches of his region - and a life on the land.

“There are a lot of parallels between land ethic and community ethic,” Dugat says. “I think it goes to show that if you know a place intimately, you are inclined to care for it. You’re inclined to care for the people you share it with and the people who will come after you. In that way, being rooted in a place and in a people are very intimately tied together.”

He says the tradition of the Gathering helps perpetuate that.

He has been a fan of cowboy poetry since his teens and is currently studying for an MFA in poetry and MS in geography from the University of Alabama. The “next generation” poet says his writing makes him a better father and husband because, although it is work, he also says it’s fun and helps him to see ordinary things in new ways.

Dugat recites a poem he wrote in honor of the ranch he grew up on and that has been in his family for generations. The poem is called, Kessler Koi Pond. Listen here.

Sharing his prose with an audience that's made up of the “greats” he has long admired from reading their poetry is a big honor for Dugat. He says he is humbled by the opportunity to step into a space held by many he has looked up to. He hopes that the community-based practice of storytellinng will encourage contemporaries in his field to keep up the medium and share.

“It is important – essential – to honor the form’s traditions, and the practitioners that have and continue to be the standard-bearers,” Dugat says. “The excitement, for me, lies in the new connections that continue to be made as cowboy poetry’s constellation grows. I think the capacity for the poetry to foster these links and relationships is stronger than ever.”

As a note of disclosure, KUNR Public Radio is a media sponsor of the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering.

Holly Hutchings is a former reporter at KUNR Public Radio.
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