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A Poet Talks Politics

Article by Marcia Darnell

Local Artist – July 1994 – Colorado Central Magazine

There are no trees around Peggy Godfrey’s ranch house. No shrubs or flower beds adorn the wood-and-glass home. But what it lacks in foliage it makes up in fauna. Ewes and their lambs crowd the fence nearest the house, hoping for a glimpse of the woman who calls them “my babies.”

Godfrey, 47, raises animals and writes poetry on 200 acres near Moffat in Saguache County. She also hires out part-time to other Wagner Ranches when they need help, and serves on the Moffat School Board.

“I had my last baby (lamb) last Thursday night at 10:30,” she said last spring, mixing ginger ale and grape juice. “I have 54 mothers in the sheep department, 84 babies, 17 adult cows, three new babies and a corral of yearlings.” Godfrey also has two sons, Danny, 17, and David, 23.

In the literary department, she is gaining renown as one of that celebrated breed called “cowboys poets.” She gives many readings of her work every year in Colorado, Arizona, and Nevada, and she’s been published in magazines such as Chaos, Dry Crik Review, and Timberlines. Her poems have been in several books, including Cattle, Horses, Sky, and Grass (1994, Northland Publishing Co.) and The Cowgirl Companion (1993, Hyperion). She has a book of her own as well, Write ‘Em Cowboy (1993 Peter Carlyle Elliott Publishing).

Locally, she has performed at the annual Cabin Fever Revue in Crestone, as well as before a meeting of the Salida Rotary.

Godfrey was born in Louisiana and moved to Taos with her first husband in her mid-20s. She came to Saguache County and the ranching life six years ago. One of the things she loves most about life in Colorado, she says, as she heats tamales, is “it’s a thousand miles from Louisiana.”

Now thoroughly a Westerner, she enjoys the debate over use of the West by those in the East, and sees growing resistance to that annexation. “Westerners are starting to say ‘This is our home, this is our community and we don’t want money here in place of the life that we have.’ People who equate dollar value with prosperity say, ‘Hey, this is going to be good for your community,’ and people here say, ‘We have a good community.’

“That dichotomy between people’s attitudes about wealth is what differentiates East from West.”

Godfrey is quick to point out that her characterizations of Easterners and Westerners are generalized. “But people who live in cities can spend a lot of time talking about environmental issues and never spend one moment personally involved in the environment,” she says. “People who live on the land spend all of their time involved in their environment and frequently are misrepresented.”

Godfrey sees that representation improving, though, as ranchers and others connected to the land learn to mix politics with planting. “It started three years ago, when Larry Brown of the (CSU) Cooperative Extension in Alamosa had, at the annual meeting, a leadership seminar, teaching us skills that we need to represent ourselves in groups, rather than just reacting to what those groups do.

“Many people who normally would not become political,” she continues, “people like cowboy poets and others who are involved in leadership jobs, are using the positions they have and the opportunities they have to make political statements or to help educate people about the kind of life that they have so there’s not a misunderstanding.”

She sees many cowboy poets as representatives of the West, using their art to educate others about their lives. “I came to realize that people love this. They love hearing about what I do every day, how I feel, what I see — the eagles and the hawks.

“People want to reconnect (to the land), and I think the reconnection of people to one another, of people’s values to one another is the solution to the misunderstandings.”

Marcia Darnell lives in Alamosa and enjoys visiting Peggy Godfrey’s ranch and getting sheep dung on her shoes.