2017-08-04 / Neighbors

Cowboy poet takes the reins

Contest set for Aug. 12 at Ventura County Fair
By Melissa Simon

FROM CONTESTANT TO HOST—P.W. Conway will serve as the host of the cowboy poetry contest Sat., Aug. 12 at this year’s Ventura County Fair. Conway first competed in the contest in 2012, taking first place. Photo courtesy of P.W. Conway FROM CONTESTANT TO HOST—P.W. Conway will serve as the host of the cowboy poetry contest Sat., Aug. 12 at this year’s Ventura County Fair. Conway first competed in the contest in 2012, taking first place. Photo courtesy of P.W. Conway Wanda Jean was a testy old horse who needed love and care, two things she found with P.W. Conway.

But 11 years after rescuing and caring for Wanda Jean, the time came to let the 28-year-old horse go. And that’s the tale a heartbroken Conway tells in “Wanda Jean and Me,” his first cowboy-themed poem written in 2012.

That year, at the urging of his wife, Maria, the Simi Valley author reluctantly shared the poem at the Ventura County Fair.

“I remember being terrified because I was this 66-year-old man among all these young guys who really lived that cowboy life. But I actually ended up coming in first ( place),” Conway said, recalling the reading. “I never thought a poem about my grief over losing Wanda Jean would affect so many people because for me, it was just a way to process her loss. But poetry is all about expression, and it was so much fun that I kept writing and competing at the fair’s cowboy poetry contest.”

Now, the 72-year-old is hosting the contest at the 142nd annual Ventura County Fair, which started Wednesday and runs through Sun., Aug. 13 at the Ventura County Fairgrounds.

Besides the poetry contest on Aug., 12, the 12-day fair will feature music performances, carnival rides and a variety of exhibits on agriculture, art, gems and minerals, and photography. There will also be horse shows, a rodeo and fireworks over the ocean.

‘Full circle’

Conway said the cowboy poetry contest is the fair event that is nearest and dearest to his heart.

“Cowboy poetry has been around for 150 years or so, and it all started when folks were sitting out around the campfires telling stories and tall tales while out on cattle drives,” he said.

Conway has won the contest four of the last five years he has competed.

And when friend and former contest host Tom Crocker decided to step aside, he took the opportunity to step in.

“I’ve known Tom for years, and I keep my horse at his ranch in Moorpark. When I told him I’d step in as host, he was tickled to death,” the poet said. “This year’s fair is really special to me because I’ve officially come full circle, from being terrified to read a poem to hosting the very event that helped me find something I love.”

For those interested in trying their hand at cowboy poetry, Conway said, there are two youth categories, ages 7 to 12 and 13 to 18, as well as an adult division.

To compete, participants must write a 36-line poem inspired by western life and heritage, focusing on ranching, animals, land, the environment, family or friends. The creations can be serious, inspirational or comical. The top three winners will receive a cash prize—$50 for first place, $35 for second and $20 for third, Conway said.

“This is the perfect venue for anyone to try their hand at cowboy poetry and just have fun. It’s an opportunity to explore your cowboy spirit,” he said.

Traveling poet

When Conway is not traveling to cowboy poetry contests across the nation and in Canada, he works full time for a hospice company as a chaplain and family counselor for Alzheimer’s patients and their families. He also volunteers as a docent at Strathearn Historical Park.

Such meaningful work, he said, is what inspires him to write new poems.

“I have some friends who can go clean out the barn and write a poem about it, but not me. I need something that really motivates me or gives me a great idea,” he said.

To date, Conway has compiled 22 poems in two books: “Buckaroo Poetry: Cowboy Poems for Young and Old” and “Buckaroo Poetry: Welcome to My Campfire,” which were released in January 2013 and December 2016, respectively.

Both are available through Amazon.

IN A NUTSHELL

Gates for the 142nd annual Ventura County Fair, “Rooted in Tradition,” are open from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily through Sun., Aug. 13 at the fairgrounds, 10 W. Harbor Blvd., in Ventura. Admission is $12 for those 13 to 64 years old; $9 for kids 6 to 12 years and seniors 65 and older; and free for children under 5 and seniors 100 years and older. For information, visit the website www.venturacountyfair.org or call (805) 648-3376.

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