You don’t have to be a cowboy to be a cowboy poet, but it helps.

“If you live the life, you have a better idea,” said Dennis Flynn of Decatur, Texas.

Flynn took home the Best of the West trophy, three belt buckles and the most money at the National Cowboy Poetry Rodeo on Friday and Saturday in Abilene.

Flynn retired last year as a cowboy and he and his wife raise “a little hay, some pretty good horses and fabulous grandkids,” he said.

He looked the part with his denim, hat, boots, handlebar moustache and twinkle in his eye. Neckerchiefs are optional.

This was his first time at the poetry competition, he said, but he’s been writing poetry and speaking at conferences and events for 35 years.

He came to the national competition this year because, “I just heard it was fun.”

“Competition this year is really, really tough,” said Danny McCurry, a day-worker from Ash Grove, Missouri, attending his fifth rodeo. Ranches tend to be smaller in Missouri than in Kansas, he said, and a day-worker goes wherever he’s needed.

‘That’s a thing?’

McCurry wrote his first poem in 1986 after working late for three months building a saddle. He saw some cowboy poets one night on “The Tonight Show” with Johnny Carson and thought, “That’s a thing?”

He wrote his first poem about the saddle he had just finished building.

This year, he was in the middle of some of the toughest competition in a “rhyme-off” after tying with Tim Keane of Manhattan, in the Silver Buckle Poet Serious final.

To break the tie, McCurry and Keane had to present another original poem. McCurry won that time.

The Silver Buckle category is open to anyone; Rising Star is only for people who have not won a buckle.

Each of those categories is divided into four more: Serious and Humorous, Poet and Reciter. Poets must present their original poems, and Reciters perform someone else’s poetry.

Flynn took home the most money, $1,503, because he entered so many of the events in both Rising Star and Silver Buckle categories, said Geff Dawson who owns and promotes the NCPR with his wife Dawn.

The rodeo is designed “to make fair poets good and good poets better,” he said.

The Dawsons took it over in 2015 from Sam Jackson because, “I figured I owed it to the event to keep it going,” Geff Dawson said.


“It changed my life,” he said of winning the national championship twice, once in Utah and once in Colorado.

After Dawson won in 2006, he began getting jobs in Silver Dollar City and on RFD TV. Then he started writing music to go with his poems and performing those songs.

The NCPR is designed like a stock rodeo, Dawson said, and it is a national competition with contestants coming from Nevada, Oklahoma, Missouri, New Mexico and New York.

Everyone competed Friday, when half the contestants were eliminated.

The finals were Saturday followed by a Shootout, not officially part of the NCPR, Dawson said.

Rodeo Shootout

Keane, who has been writing cowboy poetry for more than 20 years, came back to win the Shootout. McCurry settled for co-reserve champion with Shawn Williams, of Oklahoma.

Keane who looks like the iconic cowboy, tall and slim, dressed in denim, cowboy hat and boots, and the twinkle in his eye, however, is not a working cowboy like the others. He is a professor of landscape architecture at Kansas State University.

After the poetry rodeo wrapped up, the Dawsons and several of the winners and musicians moved from the Shockey-Landes Building to Great Plains Theatre for the Chisholm Trail Western Music Show.

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