Some years ago I was involved in a poetry event called Even Cowgirls Listen to Poetry which included a line-dancing display.  To me it seemed perfectly logical to put the two together. Everyone in Brighton was learning how to do the Tush Push then. OK, nearly everyone. Line dancing had started as a gay craze (often the way) and spread everywhere. Country and Western music (with its working class American songs) was suddenly all the rage here. I knew some likely gals adept at dancing and so they did a little show alongside the poetry (Jill Gardiner and myself) with singer songwriter Carol Prior. Some of the audience loved the combo, some remained bemused…but I need to back-track.

Romantic ideas about the Wild West predate the line-dancing craze of course. Musical hall artistes were dressing as cowboys and girls in the early 20th century as postcards below from an Into the Lime Light collection show.

Reproduced by kind permission of http://www.intothelimelight.org

 

 

 

Reproduced by kind permission of http://www.intothelimelight.org

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Growing up (though I adored the Lucy Show) there weren’t many (any?) female role models I could identify with. Instead there was the Lone Ranger.  The Lone Ranger was a justice-seeking, chivalrous Robin Hood sort of cowboy protecting poor, defenceless people from ruthless and extreme macho bandits. He had a ‘trustworthy’ Native American companion (sidekick really) called Tonto, who despite being a skilled tracker was portrayed in ridiculously stereotypical fashion. As recently as 2013 the film was remade with Johnny Depp playing Tonto… so the fascination, along with a good portion of racism, remains. If you don’t remember the original you have to imagine that the Lone Ranger was trying to avenge the death of his brother – murdered by white men. He didn’t get drunk or kill people. Crucially for me as a child, he wore a white Stetson and black mask and gloves and he rode a horse named Silver…

All too often the Western films we watched back then, (‘Cowboys and Indians’ films) portrayed white men as heroes and either glossed over the repeated genocide of Native Americans or justified it by portraying them as menacing savages. It’s now estimated about a quarter of cattle herding cowboys were in fact Black, much of the language cowboys used derives from Mexican Spanish. Luckily too, imaginative interpretations of the Western trope abound, from Ed Dorn’s trippy Gunslinger to Brokeback Mountain, Ondaatje’s Billy the Kid to Patrick Gale’s Canadian pioneers.  The work of Native American authors  – Jo Harjo, Paula Gunn Allen, Natalie Diaz, among many others – enriches and rebalances both this narrative and the North American canon. For better or worse there were also women sharpshooters like Annie Oakley, women who fought for prohibition as well as activists like Helen Hunt Jackson who exposed the federal mistreatment of Native Americans.

At their best the legends about cowboys appealed in Europe owing to the ruggedness and vastness of the American landscape, with its prairies and mountains, and spirit of quest and exploration, a freedom from the confines of European society perhaps, America being the new world for Europeans. A good part of my childhood was spent riding my imaginary horse, looking tough, rescuing folk and seeing off the bad guys instead of doing whatever it was I was supposed to be doing. No wonder attempts to transform me into a young lady failed. What chance did they possibly have?

Reproduced with kind permission from http://www.intothelimelight.org

 

 

 

Polish political poster for Solidarity from late 1980’s using cowboy imagery

 

Reproduced by kind permission of http://www.intothelimelight.org.

A few years ago I started writing a new book almost by accident. I’d written a few lines about the lazy heat (not set in the U.K obviously) of high noon – a Western cliché as it happens, only instead of a horse and rider a mysterious truck appeared on the dusty road. I was going to discard these lines as they seemed to be going nowhere but suddenly found I needed to set other projects aside instead and focus on the story – or stories – unfolding before me.

It takes place in what a friend described as a spaghetti Western setting, more Hispanic than my usual Anglo-Polish landscapes though for my money you can take the girl/author out of Poland but…the usual themes are still there war and love, love and war. Are there cowboys or girls in it? Or are they characters who may have fallen under a cowboygirl spell sometime? There are certainly two women and they fall in love and go on a quest and one of them wears a cowboy hat. And it is all true. It says so on the cover.

The True Story of Cowboy Hat and Ingénue by Maria Jastrzębska

will be published by Liquorice Fish/Cinammon Press in October 2018.

For more information see:

https://www.cinnamonpress.com/index.php/blog/entry/maria-jastrzebska-on-the-true-story-of-cowboy-hat-and-ingenue

 

 

 

 

 

 

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