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Same as rural folks, it’s been challenging for Medicine Hat Cowboy Poetry Foundation

Posted on 21 October 2021 by Anna Smith, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Jen Zollner, President of the Medicine Hat Cowboy Poetry Foundation

While the third annual Medicine Hat Cowboy Poetry Foundation’s Cowboy Poetry and Live Music event in Kin Coulee Bandshell was cancelled, the society itself is still going strong to help connect those interested in stories of country living.

For the last four years, MHCP President Jen Zollner has been hard at work collecting stories from those in Medicine Hat and surrounding area to poetry, highlighting local history and the “rural way of life.”

“I feel that cowboy poetry and authentic Western music is very wholesome entertainment. It’s a means by which country people can connect with each other, it’s about country people. It is family friendly, it is creative in that everybody has a story. And it’s about stories and I guess, putting stories to poetry,” said Zollner.

“We’ve started calling it country stories because it’s not always about it’s not always about cowboys per se and horses and towns, but it’s about country life, and the everyday poetry is really about what happens on an everyday basis,” said Zollner. “So and and I guess I always am interested in local history so one of our main missions or our number one mission is to promote and preserve and perform poetry and Western music in the Medicine Hat area. But our second one almost seems like it has taken precedence, maybe because of COVID, maybe because I’m interested in local history, but our second mission is to highlight the lifestyle and the history of the rural way of life.”

The MHCP boast only about a dozen official members, but Zollner says that the traffic on their website tells a different story, of how many people are interested in learning about the history of the area, with nearly 500 views in the month of September. 

The society has done about two events, though they were only formally incorporated in January of this year. The event in Kin Coulee was to be the third, but was cancelled due to poor weather and an inability to host inside due to COVID-19

They do a lot of work to help keep connected despite the current pandemic, said Zollner, both with each other and their communities. A particular focus for this connection is with seniors, some of whom have been very isolated due to the pandemic.

“We have various things that we do. We do a newsletter every three months. And the newsletter always focuses on community so I kind of like to highlight a community because that’s another way that we know about each other and know things that are interesting. It’s a way of connecting rural people to other rural people, you know, small towns around,” said Zollner. “At the very beginning of COVID, as a board, we’re hearing stories, and imagining what it’s like for various folks, especially for seniors. I think about that, because those are the folks that I was connecting with through music. So, you know, the suggestion was, well, we should phone them, that’s another way of connecting. They have stories, and it’s a means by which they would not, rather than focusing on what’s happening around them; the isolation, the illness, the fears, all of that, they’d be focusing on their story on life the way it used to be, and you know, what they remember. So I talked to them, and then in the process of talking I, you know, get a biography, and I find a story, and I write a poem about it. And so after I’ve written the poem, I’m in touch with them again, check on the accuracy, but it’s a means by which to continuously, you know, connect with various seniors.”

These stories are presented on the website both in print and video form thanks to a videographer based out of Calgary that’s among the membership, but the foundation does print and sell collections of the poems in booklets for those who would want them in a physical format. 

While the loss of their third event was a blow, the MHCP is already planning how to move forward with an in person meeting already in the works, and Zollner is confident that they will be fine as a group.

“It’s not as bad as a lot of other things could be. I think that we’ll weather it’s just fine. Once we lick our wounds, that is,” said Zollner.

Jen Zollner, President of the Medicine Hat Cowboy Poetry Foundation

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