I first met Doris Daley at the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko, NV, 2007. For me, she sets the gold standard for entertainers: poised, beautifully spoken, gracious, professional, funny and highly entertaining. To see Doris perform is to know that she embodies a bright magic. I am proud to call her friend.
Doris Daley-Poet, Speaker, Traveler
Do the three words following your name, above, accurately describe you? If not, what three words would you choose?
Poet, Speaker, Traveler–all hit the nail on the head. As do Writer, Entertainer, Friend, Sojourner.
What is your background as a writer?
I wrote my first poem at age 8. I wrote short stories, plays and Nancy Drew sequels all through elementary school. I studied Journalism at college. I worked for 15 years as a writer/communicator for a Fair Trade non-profit organization. I am afflicted with an insidious virus that makes everyday punctuation and grammar mistakes burn scars into my eyeballs.
What led you to cowboy poetry?
I love a good snappy waltz and smooth swing tune. I went to my first cowboy poetry gathering in the early 1990s not knowing who would be there or what a cowboy poetry festival would be like, but only because I heard that there was a great western band playing. Anyone who wrote and recited a poem was rewarded with a complimentary barbeque and dance ticket. I said, “Sign me up.”
You make your living as a poet. What kinds of work does a poet do, besides writing and reciting poetry? Does some of your work fall outside the cowboy poetry genre?
I do anything to keep from getting a real job. I want to be free to say Yes to any poetry job that comes my way, so an orthodox Monday-Friday, 9-5 job doesn’t work for me. I work four shifts a week at our beautiful library…a library that punches well above its weight for creative programming and community involvement. I am extremely grateful that my colleagues “release” me to travel whenever I have an extended road trip. I play piano/organ for funerals or weddings. I work as a freelance editor. All those extra jobs help pay the bills.
What many people don’t realize is how much work goes into writing and reciting poetry and trying to make it pay. Every 30 minutes on stage represents hours of work that is invisible to readers and fans. Applying for grants (I’m a Canadian after all), submitting bios, distributing posters, writing the Daley News for fans, producing books and/or CDs, updating my website (which I do faithfully at least twice a year), email correspondence with clients, filling out forms, booking travel and air tickets, trying to find extra gigs…and that’s just what I did this morning.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of being a poet in Canada, as compared to being a poet in the USA?
Canada is a big place with not many people. Our west is huge geographically but small when it comes to performing opportunities. There aren’t as many performance venues up here as there are throughout the US. I’m lucky that I live near Calgary, Canada’s urban heart of the west and home to the Calgary Stampede. I notice a difference between American audiences (gregarious, outgoing, exuberant, demonstrative) and Canadian audiences (less of all those adjectives). After the show, Canadians are quick and sincere in their affirmation. During a show, not so much. Maybe it’s because we are a northern people and we mostly go through life trying to keep our hands warm in our pockets. There are $$ for Canadian artists through the Canadian Council for the Arts. Every little bit helps keep storytellers, poets, artists and musicians spinning through life.
I once saw an advertisement that referred to you as “the Julie Andrews of cowboy poetry.” What does it take to successfully market yourself as a cowboy poet?
All you need is a magic umbrella with a parrot on the handle and a bottomless carpet bag. If you don’t have the umbrella, or don’t have a carpet bag, then all you need is hard work, professionalism, a willingness to learn business smarts, a genuine love for the west, perseverance, a handshake that says, “I’ll show up on time with my material memorized,” a cheerful heart, a team player attitude and an iPad.
Tell us about your new book, Poems from the Million Star Resort.
I’m proud of my brand new effort, Poems from the Million Star Resort, named after the poem of that title. Many readers have said they appreciate the little two-line introductions to each poem. Others have said, “Wow, I didn’t know you wrote free verse and/or non-western poetry.” (There’s some of each in the new book.) Read these poems to your calves and watch them gain weight.
You’ve done a lot of traveling, including a trip to Ireland for the filming of the documentary “I Found My Tribe.” How have your travels influenced your poetry?
I traveled extensively before I tumbled into Cowboy Poetry Land. A business trip in my 15-year non-profit communications career might be to Thailand, Honduras, Indonesia, Kenya or India. The Ireland trip was as rich as the froth on a pint of Guinness. Poetry gigs take me all over the west. I’m a professional eavesdropper and pay attention to local expressions and use of language. So my travels have influenced the tools in my tool kit (words, metaphors, syntax, imagery) but travel also influences my world view. Happiness wears many different clothes. The West isn’t the only great place to live in the world. Being a good neighbour is universal. Building walls doesn’t seem to be the best way to bring people together. A good laugh is the best medicine even if you haven’t got a clue what’s going on. Everybody loves their homeland, not just cowboys. Traveling makes you a good guest (or it should). Home is nothing to take for granted.
In 2014 you gave a TED talk. What impact has this experience had on you?
My experience as a TED talk speaker paid off in three ways:
- I got to spend the day listening to brilliant, funny, articulate leaders in professions I knew little about.
- I really had to focus on the subject (Truth) What are the truths of a 21st century western poet trying to make a living in the arts?
- 16 minutes for a TED talk does not mean 17 minutes.
What mentors and/or poets have inspired you?
Robert Service inspired me at age 12. That’s when I fell in love with rhyme, meter and rollicking language.
Billy Collins inspires me for beautiful language and because he captures contemporary American (and Canadian) life one moment/anecdote at a time.
Australian bush poets inspire me to aim for perfect meter and internal rhyme.
Henry Herbert Knibbs inspires me for his ability to take me to the place where the ponies come to drink.
Barbara Kingsolver inspires me for her unvarnished and revealing honesty.
Vess Quinlan absolutely inspires me as a contemporary free verse cowboy poet.
Elizabeth Ebert inspires me any time she puts a pencil to paper.
DW Groethe inspires me for his use of vocabulary, his great depth and his adroit, nimble use of many styles (and because he listens to CBC radio).
What do you read for pleasure?
Right now I’m on a Canadian kick: Louise Penny, Richard Wagamese, Will Ferguson and I have Teresa Jordan’s The Year of Living Virtuously on hold at the library.
Do you prefer reading print books or e-books?
What are e-books?
Where can people find your books, CDs and performance schedule?
At Chinook Honey gift shop outside of Okotoks, at Blue Rock Gallery in Black Diamond, at the Western Folklife Centre in Elko, in a battered suitcase in the back of the Rav, and at www.dorisdaley.com
Anything you’d like to share that isn’t covered in the previous questions?
Read good poetry. No-one wants a steady diet of poetry. But no-one wants a steady diet of brussels sprouts either. The trick is to find a recipe that makes you love them and want more. If you want to write good poetry, you should maybe think about reading what other poets write from time to time.
Thank you, Doris Daley, and happy Cowboy Poetry Week!
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