Amy Hale Auker describes herself primarily as an essayist, who lives the life she writes about. She has been a National Cowboy Poetry Gathering performer since 2002.
“I am one of the cowboy poetry rebels,” Auker said. “While I appreciate and admire traditional poetic forms, I have had to cultivate my own voice.
“Some of my poems rhyme, but usually it is because I wrote them when I was horseback, behind slow-moving cows. Many of my pieces are prose poems, or even a little bit of slam poetry ... I want to bring an authentic story to the stage.
“I cowboy for my paycheck by helping manage a herd of cattle.” Auker said, “I grow food. That story, that agrarian story, is ancient. I hope to bring an old story of intimacy with the land to the stage in a fresh way.”
Auker has missed only one gathering since 2002, when she started bringing her young son Oscar to perform. She was amazed meeting so many people with similar lifestyles, “bringing their lives from the ranches up onto the stage, sharing the work of growing food with a broad audience.”
She could relate to what she heard.
“They wrote about funny experiences,” Auker said, “heartbreaking losses, simple everyday beauty, and the normal mundane chores of a life I knew. I began writing and reciting poetry because I was already a part of the cowboy poetry and music world and this family is inclusive to a fault.”
When asked about how the Cowboy Poetry Gathering has changed over the years, Auker said, “Personally, I miss the big jam sessions that used to be upstairs at the Stockmen’s until all hours of the night. The performers were less polished. Just in the last few years, the gathering has made an effort to bring in fresh voices, younger performers.
“For me, and I think for many of us,” Auker continued, “the gatherings, this one especially, means a family reunion. It is a family of heart. We gather because we love it, we love each other, we love our work all year growing food, we love the audiences, we love sharing our harvest of words just as we appreciate the harvest from the land.”
After Auker released her first book of essays, a couple gatherings started asking her to attend. She asked her husband Gail Steiger for advice. “He said, 'If I were you, I’d get busy and write some poems.'” Auker said.
“I was horrible on stage the first few times,” Auker said, “But by developing my own style and being faithful to my true voice, I have become more comfortable, and even come to enjoy lifting the words off the flat page and giving them wings.”