CLEARFIELD — Yvonne Hollenbeck said she remains surprised at the meteoric rise of her life as a cowgirl poet.

You might say, there’s no rhyme or reason.

However, there’s no arguing Hollenbeck’s success as the top award-winning cowgirl poet in America. In addition to numerous awards by the Academy of Western Artists, her peers in the Western Music Association selected her as the Female Poet of the year in 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2010.

The Clearfield woman recently performed as the opening act for country music star Suzy Bogguss at the WJ Ranch south of Yankton. Looking ahead, Hollenbeck will perform at the 2013 National Cowboy Poet Gathering in Elko, Nev.

Hollenbeck’s connection with cowgirl poetry began early in life.

“I always dabbled in poetry. You might say I was a ‘closet poet’,” she said. “Both my grandmothers wrote poetry, and I heard a lot of poems versus bedtime stories when I was small.”

Hollenbeck’s poetry career was secretly launched by an outside source.

“A friend, who was a freelance writer, asked for a copy of a poem I wrote,” she said. “It ended up in an article in a Cattleman’s Magazine, and you might say that was when I was exposed.”

She received another unexpected boost while trying to promote other poets.

“Twenty-one years ago, I helped organize the first Nebraska Cowboy Poetry Gathering and rallied a few friends to help. In retaliation, they made me do some of my poetry at the gathering,” she said.

“I was scared to death. However, several well-known cowboy poets that were in the audience encouraged me to continue. From that performance, I was invited to perform at the Dakota Cowboy Poetry Gathering at Medora, North Dakota — and from word-of-mouth, I was invited to perform at more, and the rest is history.”

While cowgirl poets are fairly common, very few are invited to perform often, Hollenbeck said. She approaches it slightly differently than her male counterparts but shares their lifestyle.

“I’m not a cowboy. However, I married one and write about my life as a cattle rancher/cowboy’s wife,” she said. “I often write humorous poetry about things that were not very humorous when they happened.”

Hollenbeck doesn’t believe in merely performing another poet’s work.

“I write all of my own work,” she said. “I don’t feel you can call yourself a poet when you don’t write your own poetry. That would be called a ‘reciter.’”

Hollenbeck has taken her work on the road, entertaining audiences throughout North America.

“I have performed at nearly every cowboy poetry gathering in the United States and Canada, as well as many civic events,” she said. “I guess what gives me the greatest satisfaction is the positive comments and encouragement from others, whether they be my peers or from someone in the audience.”

More than just words on paper, her poetry has generated an emotional response.

“Occasionally, I will be asked for permission to use one of my poems in a funeral folder or for a special occasion,” she said.

“That’s a great feeling to know something I wrote touched someone in a special way.”

Hollenbeck has drawn some special and well-known fans in their own right.

“I have had some of my work recorded by Michael Martin Murphey and Red Steagall, both quite famous entertainers in their field, and that is quite rewarding,” she said. “I guess you might say that my greatest satisfaction is touching others with my poetry.”

Hollenbeck has performed at many venues, but her appearances at the WJ Ranch remains special moments for her. Greg and Jan Schiferl have converted their horse arena into a setting for some of the nation’s classic country-western acts and poets.

“The Schiferl ranch is a unique and fun experience. Folks really seem to enjoy going there and taking in the concerts they present each year,” Hollenbeck said.

“To take a horse-training barn and turn it into a concert hall is unique. And what a fun time everyone seems to have, which is evident from the great attendance and responsive audiences they attract.”

Hollenbeck has opened for several shows at the WJ Ranch, and she points to the arena’s acoustics as a special feature.

“I love it,” she said. “The sound man is excellent, so the sound is perfect. It offers a real western atmosphere and a real nice place to perform.”

Opening for the Suzy Bogguss concert, which set an attendance record at the WJ Ranch, will go down as a memorable moment, Hollenbeck said.

“I really enjoyed opening for Suzy as she, to me, is one outstanding entertainer,” she said. “It was just plain fun.”

The recent concert wasn’t the first time that Hollenbeck has met Bogguss.

“I had met Suzy a year ago at the Heber City (Utah) Cowboy Festival, where we both performed,” the cowgirl poet said. “She is a delight — a very nice, warm personality and not one ounce of ego. She’s very humble and easy to visit with, and a person that fits in perfectly with country folks.”

Hollenbeck continues to remain active with her poetry. She is focusing on the 2013 National Cowboy Poetry Gathering, slated for Jan. 30-Feb. 2 in Elko, Nev.

“I have been fortunate to have been invited to perform at the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering on numerous occasions. Since 2002, I have been invited nearly every year,” she said.

“I suppose you would say it is like a competition to be invited to the National Gathering. Everyone has to submit. They have a panel of three — one poet, one musician, and one folklorist — plus some of the staff at the National Western Folklife Center, that make up a selection panel. They listen to every submission and select a few to be invited.”

A certain camaraderie exists among performers, even during a “competition,” Hollenbeck said.

“We’re like a big family and, for the most part, everyone helps one another and gets along very well,” she said. “There are always one or two bad apples, but the vast majority are wonderful, talented folks that work well together.”

Hollenbeck considers the national festival to be a reunion that she continues to enjoy.

“You always get to work with old friends, and it is so good to see them again,” she said. “Then, you meet new ones, and of course, there’s the fans and the folks you meet that come to listen and enjoy the festival.”

Hollenbeck has used her poetry to educate as well as entertain her audiences.

“Basically, I write poetry about my life on a cattle ranch here in South Dakota,” she said. “Hopefully, it brings interesting information about this area and the wonderful life out here to others around the country. I try to promote agriculture through my work.”

Hollenbeck also uses her poetry to promote other aspects of her life.

“I am also a traditional quilter and have a program that is quite popular, called ‘Patchwork of the Prairie,’” she said. “I show quilts made by five generations of my family, mostly made on the prairies of South Dakota and Nebraska. Some were made in sod houses. I interject poetry about quilts and quilters.”

Both the quilting program and her cowgirl poetry are on the roster for both the South Dakota and Nebraska Humanities Council. In turn, it enables functions to have Hollenbeck perform through the Humanities Department.

For instance, she will perform both programs at the 125th anniversary celebration at Rosholt, S.D., in 2013.

When she performs her poetry, Hollenbeck finds some people in other regions of the United States are totally unfamiliar with her home state.

“It’s amazing how, when I perform in places like California or Georgia, some folks don’t even know where South Dakota is,” she said. “But when I mention Sturgis, they all know about Sturgis (and the motorcycle rally). I have a humorous poem about a ranch couple going to the rally, and that usually goes over very well.”

Some audience members even put South Dakota in the wrong part of the nation, she said.

“One lady came up to me at the national gathering in Elko and asked, ‘Now, where are you from?’ I told her, ‘South Dakota.’ She said, ‘I thought you were from the South...I could tell by your accent!’

“I’m sure I had a blank look on my face after that comment.

Obviously, she didn’t have a clue where South Dakota was. I guess I need to write a poem about that!”

For more information about Hollenbeck, visit online at She can be contacted at (605) 557-3559 or by email at