Utah Arts Festival 2019: Thatch Elmer, 15, heralds new generation of cowboy poetry


Cowboy poets, a unique tradition in the American West literary scene, have a sizable presence at this year’s Wordfest literary arts program for the Utah Arts Festival.

They include well-known veterans including C. R. Wood, from Delta, Utah whose business card reads simply, “auctioneer,” and Sam DeLeeuw, who is a rancher with her husband.

However, the next generation’s standard bearer for this special art form likely is to be Thatch Elmer, 15, from Harrisville, Utah. A Wyoming native, Elmer is passionate about the work and art that have encompassed several generations of his family, including Howard Peterson, his great-grandfather in Uinta County who shared the stories of his long life as a cowboy.

Thatch Elmer.

While he is busy this summer with duties at the Pheasant Run Ranch near Ogden, Elmer also has been busy in performing his poetry at gatherings and other events, between 30 and 40 events a year. “I grew up in cowboy poetry and I always have loved it,” he says in an interview with The Utah Review.

Elmer will read his work on The Big Mouth Stage June 23 at 4:30 p.m., as the youngest performer on the Wordfest program.

The teen has skyrocketed to fame in his niche during the last six years. At 9, he recited his first poem in his class – Goldbuckle Dreams, representing his passion for rodeos. Soon, audiences were captivated by how such a young performer eased so steadily into an art form dominated by peers two or more generations older than him. Five years ago, he received a scholarship award at the National Cowboy Poetry gathering in Elko, Nevada. A year later, at the same event, he shared his work in several sessions and yet a year later, he was billed as a featured entertainment. His work has been published at Cowboypoetry.com and has been featured in several books and recorded compilations. And, the art form has drawn audiences, especially from outside the United States, including Australia and Europe.

Thatch Elmer.

Elmer’s talent has emerged as naturally as a gifted musician, athlete or young artist. Being immersed in the life and rhythm of a ranching tradition has sparked his passion for celebrating and keeping a Western way of life. It is an authentic expression that requires no romanticizing or embellishing. Elmer’s appeal certainly lies in the purity of his voice and work. For example, one of his early poems is titled The Two-Headed Calf, which was published at CowboyPoetry.com. He recalled the inspiration for it: “I had always heard about the famous two-headed calf from long ago, and then one day this early summer my Grandpa took me to Kemmerer, Wyoming, and we went to the museum. And there it was, hanging on the wall in the museum, a two-headed calf. I told Dad about it and he said he had heard stories too and told me some stories he had heard. So after a few stories and seeing that stuffed head on the wall, I come up with this poem.”

Besides his family, he considers Bruce Kiskaddon (1878-1950) to be his inspirational muse. Often called the founding cowboy poet laureate, Kiskaddon’s legacy was rejuvenated several decades after his death, as cowboy poetry emerged once again as a literary platform in the West.

Thatch Elmer.

As a young cowboy and rancher in the 21st century, Elmer also believes in keeping the foundations of the cowboy tradition in mind and spirit, which is why he was drawn immediately to cowboy poetry. Indeed, Elmer’s presence in the field also has inspired peers of his generation to try their hand at cowboy poetry.

For more information about all events, see the Utah Arts Festival website. Ticket information can be found here.

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Les Roka
I am a native of Toledo, Ohio, having received my Ph.D. in journalism and mass communication from Ohio University's Scripps School of Journalism in 2002. In addition to teaching at Utah State University and the University of Utah, I have worked extensively in public relations for a variety of organizations including a major metropolitan university, college of osteopathic medicine, and community college. When it comes to intellectual curiosity, I venture into as many areas as possible, whether it’s about music criticism, the history of journalism, the practice of public relations in a Web 2.0 world and the soon-to-arrive Web 3.0 landscape, or how public debates are formed about many issues especially in the political arena. As a Salt Lake City resident, I currently write and edit a blog called The Selective Echo that provides an entertaining, informative, and provocative look at Salt Lake City and its cosmopolitan best. I also have been the U.S. editorial advisor for an online publication Art Design Publicity based in The Netherlands. And, I use social media tools such as Twitter for blogging, networking with journalists and experts, and staying current on the latest trends in culture and news. I also have been a regular monthly contributor to a Utah business magazine, and I have recently conducted a variety of editing projects involving authors and researchers throughout the country and the world, including Dubai, Saudi Arabia, Canada, Lebanon, Cyprus, the United Kingdom, France, and Japan. I’m also a classically trained musician who spent more than 15 years in a string quartet, being involved in more than 400 performances.

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