With his leather boots firmly planted in front of the microphone, the rugged-looking man in a black ten-gallon hat clears his throat before weaving a rhyming tale about his horse and an angry mother cow squaring off in a pasture. The poet’s eyes are set on roping one of the prizes at the National Cowboy Poetry Rodeo Aug. 2-4 in Abilene.

Cowboy poetry grew out of the tradition of cattle drive and ranch workers gathering around a campfire at night to share tales and folk songs about their daily lives. The men and women from across the country participating in this national contest typically have experienced this unique way of life that provides plenty of fodder for amusing and poignant stories.

Just as in a stock rodeo, the poetry competition pits the skills of one cowboy poet against the others in rounds of both humorous and serious categories of either original work or the recitation of another’s poetry.

“People who have traveled here for the event have told us it’s something really unique and different,” says Geff Dawson, National Cowboy Poetry Rodeo producer. “And, they like that it’s held during the Wild Bill Hickok Rodeo and the Central Kansas Free Fair in Abilene, so there’s something for everybody.”

The poetry competition is free to watch, as is an open-mic session. Tickets are needed for Saturday’s Western Music Matinee, during which the winning poets in each division are announced and recite their poetry between musical numbers by Geff and Dawn Dawson and other guest musicians.  ncpr.us | (785) 456-4494

National Cowboy Poetry Rodeo

Shockey & Landes Building, Abilene
August 2-4 | Admission is free

June 9, Rosalia Ranch in Butler County

Stay after the symphony music ends to hear champions of the Kansas Cowboy Poetry Contest perform their winning poetry as well as other original work and recitation while you sit on hay bales under the stars at the Story Circle. Cowboy musicians also perform original compositions between poetry recitations. This year’s theme for the Symphony in the Flint Hills signature event is water, and will include an art installation courtesy of the Smithsonian Institute exploring cultural, natural and structural elements of water. The Kansas City Symphony will be joined by esteemed vocal performer Aoife O’Donovan for the annual concert portion of the event. Visitors can also enjoy prairie walks, wagon rides, food, drinks and an after-concert party and dance as part of the daylong celebration.

(620) 273-8955

June 8, Manhattan

Listen to some of the state’s best cowboy poets at the Kansas Cowboy Poetry Contest that includes two regional competitions and culminates with the state finals at the Flint Hills Discovery Center. The state-qualifying poetry contests are on April 27 in Ellsworth and May 11 in Fredonia.


(785) 532-8092