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Montana Western alumna reads at national gathering

UMW News Bureau

Montana Western alumna Denise McReaMontana Western alumna Denise McRea took her poetry to the national stage as a performer at the 2010 National Cowboy Poetry Gathering at Elko, Nevada from Jan 23 to 30.

McRea began writing cowboy poetry 25 years ago. She mostly wrote for herself until she attended her first cowboy poetry reading as a spectator and not a performer. There, in Idaho, McRea found her voice among kindred spirits.

“At my first gathering in Saint Anthony, Idaho, 18 years ago, I heard my deepest, most powerful feelings about life on a ranch, about the culture I grew up in, about old cowboys, and horses, and the places I loved, expressed by other people in their poetry,” McRea said. “I felt, for the first time, that I belonged, that I was not on the outside looking in. These poets spoke my language. Their words were music to my ears. I had a connection with the other poets instantly, through our shared love of the life we were writing about.”

McRea’s poem “Beaverslide” conjures up the stark beauty of the western landscape and those who work from the land.

The bleached grey bones of the beaverslide,
Like the bones of an animal
Stand there silently, reminding me
Of a time when these meadows were full
Of strong men and strong teams of horses
Putting up the fragrant meadow hay
To be fed out to the hungry cows
On some faraway cold winter's day.

McRea has since read her work at cowboy poetry gatherings around the region from Bannack, Mont. to Pocatello, Idaho and Kanab, Utah. Her appearance at the 26th annual National Cowboy Poetry Gathering marked a significant professional stepping stone for her work. She likened the event to the Olympics of cowboy poetry.

The week-long folk festival is an annual celebration of life in the rural west through poetry, music, film and art. In 2000, the United States Senate recognized the cultural value of the event and passed a resolution naming the Elko Gathering the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering.

McRea was recommended as a performer for the event in April of 2009. As part of her application package, she sent a short bio detailing her connection to the western lifestyle, her awards and honors and a listing of publications. In addition, McRea sent three selections in both written and recorded form. McRea was notified in May that she had been accepted.

Each poetry reading was topical with a set theme. McRea read on Thursday, Jan. 28 at 3 p.m. with the theme, “A Change in the West.” She also performed a general reading on Friday, Jan. 29 at 2:45 p.m. On Saturday, Jan. 30 at 9 a.m, McRea read under the “Community, Friends and Family” theme.

“I write about the people, places and life I love," McRea added. "I go to gatherings to hear other poets’ lives or to hear the old classic poems again and to be inside that community again. I am thrilled to get the opportunity to be part of it.”

Four years ago, McRea enrolled at the University of Montana Western where she received a bachelor’s of science degree in education with majors in English and Art K-12 in 2009. She is currently teaching American literature at Salmon High School in Idaho and working on a librarian/media specialist degree.