Manitoba’s cowboy poet

Ed Brown of Oak Lake is an award-winning storyteller known throughout North America

Cowboy poet Ed Brown draws on his diverse experience as a rodeo cowboy, trapper and artist to paint scenes of western life through poetry and song.

“My performances are an expression of a lifelong love,” said Brown. “It’s a way of life that stubbornly hangs on in the face of drastic global changes.”

Brown, 73, hails from Oak Lake in southwestern Manitoba where he owns a small ranch. A former bronc rider, he’s a member of the Manitoba Rodeo Cowboys Association’s Hall of Fame.

Though he’d played music for years, Brown broke into the cowboy poetry scene in 2000. He was looking for a place to share his original material, and this kept him involved.

Over the past 20 years, Brown has headlined at almost all of the major cowboy poetry gatherings and festivals in Western Canada. In 2005, he was named Manitoba’s Cowboy Poet of the Year. His third CD titled Cowboy Collaboration — a joint project between him and fellow poet BJ Smith — was honoured by the Academy of Western Artists with the coveted Will Rogers Award for Cowboy Poetry CD of the Year.

Storytelling is an important tradition of cowboy culture. Originally, the spoken word shared by trail riders, was used to calm the cattle as they were driven from the west to the city.

“Cowboy poetry isn’t just a way to enshrine the past, but is also a way to reveal the virtues of a life- style at times beset by critics,” said Brown. “I’d say 80 per cent of my poems are funny, while songs seem to be more thoughtful and morose.”

Brown and other cowboy poetry performers strive to show their audience the cowboy life, not just tell it. One way they do this is by fostering camaraderie between performers, as if they’re sitting around a campfire in a western painting.

Sometimes the stories and poems are historical accounts, sometimes they’re colourful cowboy lore about cattle roundups, and sometimes they are ‘bull,’ with the listener left to sort it out.

“He definitely puts forth the cowboy image from his look, self- penned poems, stories and songs,” wrote Gayle Johnson, a freelance writer, in the Baldur/Glenboro Gazette, after Brown appeared at the Raystone Centre in Glenboro this past October. “If you get the chance to attend a gathering featuring the man solely or as a group, be sure to attend, as you will appreciate the cowboy lifestyle that much more.”

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