One of Governor Bullock’s assistants called me on the July 22 to ask if I was still interested in becoming the next poet laureate of Montana. I said yes, and I agreed to keep it quiet until the first of August when the news was due to surface.
Once it became public, good wishes came in, many more than I expected. I thought maybe no one would notice, but people notice, and then there were a few local interviews, and I signed an oath of office to promote poetry in the state of Montana for the next two years. Previous Laureates were Sandra Alcosser (2005-07), Greg Pape (2007-09), Henry Real Bird (2009-11), and Sheryl Noethe (2011-13).
Since there is no salary associated with the job, Humanities Montana supports
travel and will offer me a small stipend through its Speakers' Bureau, a great outreach program that allows scholars, writers, and
performers to share their presentations with people across the state. Montana Arts Council sponsors the laureateship
and maintains the offical web page.
The state is large in terms of driving, and our population is only about one million, so anyone’s capacity to provide outreach is complicated by time and distance between communities. I am especially happy to be traveling during the next two years, but I also know that one person can only do so much.
For this reason I’m interested in working with existing programs and investigating ways to develop resources. It would be great if writers had more contact with communities around the state. Obviously this will take some planning and the skill of many, but I’ve begun by starting conversations with individuals and organizations who I think will be helpful.
In the meantime, here is just a small sample of organizations and groups that promote poetry and literature in Montana.
- Aerie International is a youth literary magazine at Missoula Big Sky High School. It wins national awards and receives submissions from across the globe. Guided by teacher, Lorilee Evans-Lynn, Aerie is also a great training ground for the next generation.
- Arts without Boundaries coordinates with school districts to bring professional musicians, writers and artists into classrooms and to offer music and art lessons to students in Billings, Bozeman, and other locations.
- Billings YMCA Writers’ Voice is one of the first Writers’ Voice programs in the country. It sponsors the High Plains BookFest each year and hosts readings in Billings and surrounding areas.
- Big Sky Writing Workshops is a new organization of professional writers who provide community workshops in Billings.
- High Plains Book Awards are sponsored by the Billings Public Library
- Many Voices Press, located at Flathead Valley Community College, has published Poems Across the Big Sky, New Poets of the American West, and other volumes.
- Missoula Writing Collaborative is a well-established and very successful organization that offers writing instruction in Missoula schools and beyond.
- Montana Book Award celebrates literary excellence with annual awards.
- The Montana Office of Public Instruction has just published Birthright: Born to Poetry—A Collection of Montana Indian Poetry, which is designed for high school students.
- Reflections West is “a little radio program about the literature, history, and culture of the West.”
- These Living Songs: Reading Montana Poetry is forthcoming from University of Montana Press. Edited by Brady Harrison and Lisa Simon, it will be available in early 2014. I wish I could show you the beautiful cover.
- The Write Question, hosted by Cherie Newman, is a long-standing series of author interviews on Montana Public Radio and Yellowstone Public Radio.
This is just the beginning. I hope that in two years I will know much more about the state and the talented people who live here.