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Scribing the Soul
February 2002

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Kathleen's Current Column

by Kathleen Adams, LPC, RPT
Director of The Center for Journal Therapy

In ancient times, scribes were devotees of the Word. They were the bridges between worlds, charged with the sacred task of painstakingly transcribing the Mysteries into a form that could be referenced by holy men and women. Many centuries later, our modern journals give us unlimited access to the Mysteries of our souls. Through this column, I hope to offer ways that we can approach our own lives with the love and devotion of the scribes of old.

Cowboys, Roots and Poetry

I spent last weekend absorbed in one of my favorite annual rituals: Arvada, Colorado’s Cowboy Poetry Festival. Like Japanese haiku or African praise poems, cowboy poetry is unique unto itself and the rodeo’in, ranchin’, cowboyin’, rough-ridin’ traditions and lifestyles that it documents and celebrates. Arvada is my home town, the place where I grew up, where my mom still lives in the house they bought for $17,000 in 1959.

This is the 13th year for the Cowboy Poetry Festival, and I’ve been to every one, hooked from the very first poem by roughstock rider Paul Zarzyski ("rhymes with bar whiskey"):

Her Levis, so tight

I can read the dates on dimes

in her hip pocket. Miles City,

a rodeo Saturday night…..

Cowboy poetry connects me to my roots. This is the poetry of the land where I was born, the land where I still live, the land I love, the Old West. My Granddaddy Bill was a working Colorado cowboy in the days following Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders. In 1904, my grandmother’s family set out across the Cherokee Nation in the Oklahoma Territory to homestead 40 acres. Although she was only two, Goggie always swore she remembered the day her daddy died, thrown and drug by a spooked horse. With two covered wagons and ten children, my great-grandmother buried her husband at the side of the road and mustered on alone. She eventually settled in the southeastern tip of Colorado, where she raised her family solo.

Poetry brought my grandparents together. Granddaddy Bill penned a little romantic ditty, signed it, and stuffed it in a crevice between the rocks at the top of Two Buttes. Goggie, then 17, climbed Two Buttes one day and found the poem. She thought it enchanting, and asked around town until she found the handsome young cowboy poet. They courted and married and birthed my mother, a child of the prairie.

Legends abound in cowboy poetry: How the rocking, sing-song tempo matched the cadence of the horse. How a ballad crooned from the saddle lulled restless cattle and soothed the loneliness of moonlit patrol. How the vaqueros kept the old Spanish stories and traditions alive through telling and retelling them around the fire. How the ribald humor of the range was used to cool overheated tempers and libidos. How the love poems recited or scrawled by a timid suitor resulted in weddings, babies and a spread of one’s own.

In his essay "Bards of the Bunkhouse," Eddie Nickens writes, "In its written form some might call this poetry simplistic, unpolished. Like a horse in need of a rider, however, these words need a human voice to guide them, and when that voice is deft - or gifted - the result is poetry of emotional clarity and unabashed honesty that speaks eloquently to those far removed from the cowboy experience."

Such a deft voice belongs to Dee Strickland Johnson, "Buckshot Dot," who will open the National Association for Poetry Therapy’s annual conference (Denver, April 17-21) with an evening of high-spirited cowboy "pomes." This one is among my favorites. It brings to mind my grandmother’s stories of her older sisters, for whom the tradition of "box suppers" resulted in marriage. It seems that in cowboy days, churches sponsored Sunday afternoon socials for which girls of courtship age prepared their best picnic meals and lavishly decorated the boxes containing them. Eligible bachelors, particularly those with their eye on a special young woman, used all powers of deductive reasoning, gossip and bribery to learn which box supper belonged to which lady. An auction ensued, and a successful bid guaranteed the couple a dinner date! Read this poem by "Buckshot Dot" aloud, and turn your thoughts toward Colorado and our NAPT home on the range.

Maverick Love Affair

That dang little maverick had strayed again,
and the boss sez to me, "Curly Black,
Put that calf with the herd before sundown;
it's your job to bring her back!"

She was down in the blackberry brambles;
and pickin' berries there
Was Jess Johnson's middle sized daughter,
and she had that pretty red hair
Tied back with a narrow ribbon --
light blue just like her eyes,
And before I got that calf out,
I was in for a big surprise.

She said, "There's a supper social
at the church tomorrow at three,
I thought you might be goin';
'course, it really don't matter to me."
Well, I hadn't been much at church goin',
but I sure was there on that day;
Why, a herd of stampedin' cattle
couldn't have kept me away!

Most of the boxes was fancy --
big flowers to make 'em go;
But one had just blackberry blossoms
tied up with a narrow blue bow.
I'd have bid my horse and saddle,
and I got that simple box --
Also Jess Johnson's daughter --
the one with the reddish locks.

Now here's little Blossom and Berry Black;
I think -- and I have to laugh
When I see their blue eyes and their curly red hair --
what I owe to that maverick calf!

--© Dee Strickland Johnson, "Buckshot Dot"

As President of the National Association for Poetry Therapy, I warmly invite all poets, writers, healers and lovers of words to join us in Denver for our annual conference. "Buckshot Dot" will be joined by keynote poet Naomi Shihab Nye who will present both a poetry reading and a workshop to the full session, as well as in international slate of the finest trainers in poetry and journal therapy in the world. We are especially pleased this year to be joined by Gillie Bolton, one of Great Britain’s foremost voices in the healing power of creative writing, by Dahlia Lorenz, the first credentialed poetry therapist in Israel, and by Patricia Rey Romano, who works in Bogota, Colombia with "children of the violence." Don’t miss this opportunity to immerse yourself in creative healing, to write, to listen, to be moved and touched at depth.

© Kathleen Adams.  All Rights Reserved

Kathleen Adams LPC, RPT is a Registered Poetry/Journal Therapist and Director of The Center for Journal Therapy in Lakewood, Colorado. She is one of the leading voices on the power of writing to heal and is the author of four books, including Journal to the Self and The Write Way to Wellness. Her upcoming seminars include the annual 5-day women’s writing retreat in Colorado July 8-13, and a one-day Journal to the Self workshop in Denver in late July. She would love your feedback on this column; please e-mail kay@journaltherapy.com or stop by her website, www.journaltherapy.com.

Journal to the Self Instructor Certification Training with Kathleen Adams

Read Kathleen's Past "Scribing the Soul" Columns:

January 2002 - "Poem of the Month"

December 2001 "Unseen Companions"

November 2001 "Families Writing"

October 2001 "Coping Strategies for Times of Crisis"

September 2001 "Journal of a Synchronicity"

August 2001 "Rituals for Soulful Writing"

July 2001 "A Baker’s Dozen Ways to Journal Your Dreams"

April 2001 "Journals to Go"

March 2001 "Healing Words, Healing Touch: Jihan's Letters"

February 2001 "Love Letters"

January 2001 "Scribing the Authentic Self"

December 2000 "Riding the Inky Wave"

November 2000 "The Good News"

October 2000 "Soul Food: Exploring Affirmations in Writing"

September 2000 "Diary of a Headache"

August 2000 "Making Up the Truth"

July 2000 "Pockets of Joy"

June 2000 "Five Ways to Scribe Your Intuition"


Read Kathleen's Feature Article on Dream Journals:

Writing in the Dark: Cracking the Soul's Code Through Dream Journals



Visit Kathleen at her Website:



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