Young for Their Sage


This Sunday, during the annual Cowboy Poetry and Music Festival in Santa Clarita, there's going to be a "Youth Poetry Roundup."

No, you won't see a herd of junior Whitmans and Millays swirling and kicking up dust as they are pursued by lariat-wielding cowboys. Nor will the 500 poems that Santa Clarita-area kids submitted for judging be tossed into the air for a random grab by the 10-gallon-hatted judges.

For this part of the cowboy festival, folks will put on their Sunday manners and settle down for a proper poetry reading. A poetry competition was held in local schools this winter, and the top three winners in each category will read their works.

Readers will include the high school first-prize winner, Drew Hildebrand from Saugus High; Sara Marie Dillingham from La Mesa Junior High, who won in her category; and Sonia Griffing from Heritage Christian School, leader in the elementary category.

This is the first time the poetry festival, now in its fifth year, has had a competition open to kids.

"It was Mayor Jan Heidt's idea, as a way to involve youth in the festival," said Andree Walper, organizer of the event.

Every teacher in the Santa Clarita Valley area was sent an announcement about the competition--and responses came in by the hundreds.

Folks who attend the readings will immediately notice that the kids have picked up on some important aspects of current cowboy poetry.

"It's different from the usual country and western (music lyrics), which are about barrooms and dysfunctional love," Walper explained. "Cowboy poetry is not urban-themed. The better cowboy poets have a spiritual emphasis in their poetry. They're out there in the open seeing all God's splendor, (and) there's no TV on the range."

The rules of the contest reflect this preindustrial environment:

"Rhyme or be in rhymed couplets."

"Tell a story--narrative historic oral tradition."

Drew Hildebrand, a high school junior, brought some unusual life experience to bear when he wrote his winning poem, "The Cowboy Way."

"We rely too much on the modern [conveniences]," he said. "I know you can live without them like the cowboys did."

Drew and his family often participate in historical reenactments, not the usual Civil War soldier type, but as trappers and mountain folk from an even earlier era. He wrote part of "The Cowboy Way" by candlelight during an encampment reenacted in the Sierras.

"The Cowboy Way"

Seems to me that once I heard a song about the way

A cowboy should present himself and act throughout his day.

It told that one should always say and do what he sees best,

Take action to correct the wrong, leave talkin' to the rest.

To be at defense for those who can't provide for themselves,

To be a friend to those who have been put on the shelves.

To stand a constant sentinel 'gainst those who might do wrong,

But seemed to me there wasn't something right about this song

Why should this honored "way" be kept to those who sling the gun

Why should it not be told this way about most anyone.

--by Drew Hildebrand


"Youth Poetry Roundup," contest winners reading their winning poems, Sunday, March 29, 3 p.m., Cowboy Poetry and Music Festival's Chuck Wagon Stage (next to the food court); Melody Ranch and Motion Picture Studio, Santa Clarita; parking-shuttle at 13th Street and San Fernando Road; festival admission $6; (805) 255-4910

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