ELKO – The National Cowboy Poetry Gathering is stocked with can’t-miss headline acts. Tickets for a few shows are in such high demand they can be tough to come by.

But all performances are gems in themselves. And there’s plenty to pick from the packed schedule.

Take the “Best Laid Plans” show, for example, which featured poets Carol Heuchan, Pat Richardson and Elizabeth Ebert giving round-robin recitations.

The Thursday afternoon event was well attended.

Heuchan, an award-winning laureate bush poet from Australia, has a long catalog of books and CDs, her latest titled “Partners.”

She kicked off the session with a quick, clever twist on the popular Jack and Jill nursery rhyme. In her version, the couple rekindles on a hill they’ve ascended after years apart, with older bodies and newer attitudes.

Richardson, who preceded each poem with a series of one-liners, recited a self-deprecating rhyme in which a woman is repulsed by the ribald speaker.

“I’ll bet the hovel that you live in has got beer cans wall to wall. Dirty dishes in the sink, and smells like a stud horse stall. You’re a pervert and a lecher that’s always chasing dresses. I said, ‘By God, if you’re not psychic, you sure made some lucky guesses,’” it concluded.

He was the winner of the 1999 Cedar City Poetry Contest and named 2003 Cowboy Poet of the Year by the Academy of Western Artists. He was also a professional saddle bronc/bull rider and a cartoonist.

Ebert, a month shy of 90, claimed the title of oldest Gathering performer, and told the tale of a ranch couple who remembered after a long winter they had a pile of rancid rabbit carcasses in their shed.

The wife braved the stench and loaded the rabbits into the truck. When it came time to unload, the husband didn’t have the stomach. Defiantly, the wife grabbed an animal and threw it just as the husband rose from the ground where he had been vomiting. Smack.

Ebert calls Thunder Hawk, South Dakota, home. She has two poem books, “Prairie Life” and “Crazy.”

In another poem, Heuchan told a story of a calamitous experience in a posh hotel, where she was invited to stay as a horse judge. In the end, she learned, she could be taken out of the country, but the country couldn’t be taken out of her.

The evening was packed with side-splitters, but Heuchan closed out her last turn at the mic with a poem titled “Best Laid Plans” that reflected on her life as a poet, but more so on being a rancher and a woman who loves horses.

For a less formal taste of cowboy poetry, attendees can sit in on an open mic session, such as Friday morning’s “Anything Goes No. 5.”

Early arrivers signed up to take the stage, then one by one they recited or read a few poems, some original; others old classics.

Tanner Lauman, a youth, recited three cover poems that ranged in tone, including one – “Pearl of them all” – solemnly delivered. The story is about a cowboy putting down a beloved horse with an injured leg. As Tanner finished the poem, at least two members of the audience dabbed their eyes.

Many of the open mic participants explained the poems’ back stories.

Today is the last day to catch shows, such as these or others, for the year.

For ticket information, visit westernfolklife.org, or call the Western Folklife Center at 738-7508.

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