CRUISIN’ THE MUSES: Cowboy poetry in Gardner’s blood

Ken Gardner, after retiring from his day job, decided to try his hand and vocal chords at a poetic pursuit evocative of the Old West.The Genoa resident, a retired physician who spent much of his career in academic medicine, has enjoyed cowboy poetry since his youth. He is a practitioner these days, both writing and presenting it. Gardner recalls a day in 2000 at Elko’s National Cowboy Poetry Gathering when Baxter Black, famous in the genre, heard Gardner during a small open mic performance. Black persuaded him to open Black’s big afternoon show before an audience of nearly 900. “Therefore, I started my public exposure in retirement at the top and I’ve been slowly trickling down ever since,” he said. A man of dry humor and measured pace, Gardner sounds similar sardonic notes in poems.For example, he once got inspiration and used it after spotting a request for poetry submissions in an AARP magazine. The request sought poems on autumn leaves.His wasn’t published but he still likes it, presumably for its brevity, clarity and said sardonic approach. It goes this way:“Each year Winter comes; ... Autumn leaves.”The internist-turned-poet, who grew up in San Francisco, initially heard cowboy poetry before turning age 10. His folks took him to the Hunewell Guest Ranch in Bridgeport, Calif., a community he enjoys to this day. The grandson of the man who founded the ranch recited such poetry to entertain guests. Gardner said it was good poetic fare memorized from published works in the Los Angeles Union Stockyard News.Many were written by Bruce Kisskadon, a former cowboy with a sixth-grade education, who retired in LA and became a hotel elevator operator. “He was just writing what he had experienced,” said Gardner. “He was prodigious and his poetry was fantastic.”Gardner believes cowpokes on 19th Century cattle drives got the genre going in part to entertain themselves and cowboy colleagues before bedding down under the stars.“Poetry was quite fashionable in Victorian times,” he said. “Cowboy poetry was no exception.”The Old West genre still is popular in many places, among them Elko and Genoa.And you can catch Gardner reciting his poems next May at the Genoa Cowboy Festival, perhaps sooner if you get to the Elko gathering in January.• John Barrette covers the arts, senior issues and health care. If you have a story or upcoming event that you want the public to know about, email him at or call 775-881-1213.


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