Carving cowboy poetry from the heart
Grand Junction Correspondent
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
GRAND JUNCTION, Colorado ” Nona Kelley Carver started writing poetry by accident ” literally.
Along with her husband, Alfred, and their two sons, Carver ranched and ran a dairy farm in Mesa for many years.
Carver was operating a big diesel tractor one day when she jumped off the tractor and tore the ligaments in her left ankle. Then in 1994, she stepped on an uneven place in the sidewalk and broke an artery in her foot. She was forced to recline with her foot elevated for six weeks.
“I was in such pain, and I don’t do well with pain medications,” Carver said. “During that time I started to get bits of poetry in my mind.
“I really felt it was God’s gift to help me through the hard time.”
By the end of her recovery Carver had written enough poems to publish a book titled “The Tarnish on the Golden Years.”
A year later one of Carver’s neighbors suggested she read some of her poetry during an open session at a cowboy poetry event in Grand Junction at Two Rivers Convention Center.
“I really enjoyed hearing the other performers, and I realized I needed to memorize my poetry” and be expressive to entertain the audience, Carver said.
She’d never written much poetry before the accident, but she grew up around storytelling.
Carver, 72, was raised in a log cabin, learned to read by the light of a kerosene lamp and rode a horse to school.
“My dad was a storyteller. Seeing how people enjoyed his stories was an encouragement to me when I began to write,” Carver said.
Carver writes from her experiences ranching and farming, working with horses and cattle.
“I’d written maybe a half-dozen poems before my injury,” Carver said. “I never worked with it. There was no time to write poetry on the dairy farm.”
Carver kept writing and in 1995 published “Cowboys, Cookstoves, and Catastrophes,” which was followed by “Carver Country Cowboys” in 1997. Her latest book is called “Spoken Songs from my Soul.”
After that Grand Junction performance Carver began receiving invitations to perform at cowboy poetry gatherings around the West.
“I’ve worked from Cheyenne to the border of Mexico,” Carver said.
Twice she was invited to the national Cowboy Poetry and Music Symposium and Celebration in Lubbock, Texas ” a weekend event that is attended by about 20,000 people from around the country.
Carver has also performed poetry for family gatherings, weddings and memorial services.
One of her favorite events, she said, is the Cochise Cowboy Poetry and Music Gathering in Sierra Vista, Ariz. ” an event she’s been invited back to for the past 12 years.
At one of those gatherings, she knew 60 of the 66 poets in attendance from previous reunions.
“It’s like a family,” Carver said.
The cowboy poets start off the Arizona events by performing Friday in the schools.
The poets are treated to a big buffet breakfast before cowboy church Sunday morning.
“Most gatherings have cowboy church on Sunday morning,” Carver said. “Many performers will not attend a gathering that does not have cowboy church.”
Some cowboy churches have pastors, but most of the time the service is an impromptu gathering of cowboy poets from around the country who sign up to recite poems of faith, sing hymns or perform music they have written, Carver said.
“No one knows what the next one is going to be performing,” Carver said. “And it fits together like a plan.”
Carver said she’s a “hometown girl,” but she was once recognized while riding in a cable car up Sandia Mountain outside of Albuquerque. A fellow passenger turned to her and said, “You’re her! I heard your voice.” The woman had attended a poetry gathering in Albuquerque where Carver had performed the night before.
Carver appreciates her husband for going with her to poetry events.
“I could not do this without his assistance, accompanying me to the gatherings,” she said.
Fifty-six years ago she married her high school sweetheart. The two met in Mesa in a classroom with eight students from three different grades.
After they sold their Mesa ranch years ago, Carver gave her husband an introductory flying lesson for his birthday because he’d always wanted to fly. Alfred Carver earned his pilot’s license in 1987, and the couple purchased a small Cessna 172 airplane.
Nona Kelley Carver also trained and became her husband’s copilot.
“We had some grand adventures flying in the Rocky Mountains,” Carver said, until they sold the plane three years later.
“It’s a pretty pricey hobby,” Carver said.
Carver has also released her poetry through greeting cards which are sold along with her latest book of poetry at the Treasure House in Mesa, Arts and Antiques of Palisade and Mountain Valley Floral in Colbran.
Her work has also been published in the Beacon newspaper, magazines and anthologies, and with the national library of poetry.
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