Cowboy poetry is a form of rhyming, metered folk verse associated with the inhabitants of the Western United States, especially those who made their living on ranches and farms as cowboys. Because it is often written in folksy vernacular and with a sing-song rhyme scheme, Cowboy poetry is often dismissed as doggerel. To a growing group of enthusiasts, cowboy poetry is honest, straightforward, and accessible, and therefore it has a basic, personal appeal. It has become a popular form of American folk art.
Cowboy poetry was relatively unknown as an art form before Hal Cannon, with a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, organized a "Cowboy Poet Gathering" at Elko, Nevada in 1985. Rope Burns, a cowboy poetry and music periodical, estimates that there are now somewhere between 2500 and 3000 cowboy poetry and western music festivals held annually in the United States.
Cowboy poetry's origins can be traced back over a thousand years to Scottish and Irish shepherds telling stories in song and verse, usually in rhyme for ease of remembering. It was probably first heard in the U.S. when Civil War veterans, many of them immigrants, found themselves making a living as cowboys thousands of miles away from home and family, and passing the time with songs and poems of their adventures, or stories reminiscent of loved ones and days-gone-by.