Sunday, December 21, 2008

A Poetic Bit of Holiday Cheer

So as to be sure to be the one this holiday season who gives the gift to your friends who will listen, or the one who throws it in the face of your more-conceded ones, remember this name: Chris Dombrowski. I ask, “were there ever more fulfilling proclamations in the English language than, ‘I told you so!’ or ‘I knew him before he was him!’?” And being an advocate of chest-puffing via other writers’ work myself, I can assure you Chris’ is surely one to remember.

Already a well-known poet throughout the Missoula and greater Montana writing community, I ran into his poetry through a class specifically focused on current Montana writers. Although I’ve enjoyed the class, it has tended toward more regionalist writings, a style I’ve never been too highly fond of, and so, from Chris, I wasn’t expecting much more than another few elk poems outside of Dillon or stanzas comparing the Gallatin and Clark Fork — but what I discovered was something far greater.

Writing in the same poetic styling as Billy Collins, Chris takes his local knowledge, his precise eye for detail, both in nature and in his home, and is able to uncover that in it which takes on the full spectrum of human emotion: the confusion, mystery, and beauty that are all interlaced aspects of the human condition. And yet, what I love most about Chris’ poetry is not necessarily their applicable content, but the means by which this relevance is achieved, the completely fresh, unique, and often startling way he is able to contrast and relate these interwoven facets of human life. In his poem “Get Up, John”, a piece on the struggle of growing older, and a new personal favorite, Chris sharply compares himself to his young son in the lines:

“But the yearling child
reaching into the lineaments of sun
lancing between his crib bars—how might
this shame us, that they seem
to seem graspable to him?”

And in other poems, including “Fragments with Dusk in Them”, the title poem of his recently-published chapbook, and “Landscape with Scavenger and Bonelight”, another new personal favorite, Chris is able to achieve this same universal sentiment through his poignantly harrowing descriptions of the otherwise simple and often mundane scenes around him. It’s simple to say that, speaking as a student, to know his name would be a great benefit in any dinner-table conversation on current literature, but speaking more-prominently as a writer myself, I’d say that beyond knowing his name, knowing Chris’ poetry is a gift any poet-enthusiast would love to receive this holiday season.

Jacob Kahn is currently a sophomore at the University of Montana in Missoula. He is studying Creative Writing, and loves nothing more than a good book of poetry and prose.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Murder and Mayhem in the Montana Mountains

When Neil McMahon walks on stage to give a reading he does not necessarily look like one would expect a Montana cowboy to look. In fact he is a carpenter who writes or more accurately a writer who does carpentry in Missoula. When he starts to read, his characters jump off the page and come alive.

It is not much different when reading one of his books. His characters are well rounded and are always doing things, getting into one jam after another. McMahon does not fill the pages with flowery descriptive prose of landscape and people but with punchy lines that get to the heart of the story and allow the reader to instantly sympathize with the character in a too real landscape.

In the first twenty pages of Lone Creek, the protagonist, a mature Hugh Davoren, is employed at his boyhood stomping grounds: the Pettyjohn Ranch in the Rocky Mountains northwest of Helena, Montana. During his weekly Saturday trip to the dump with the construction debris, he discovers two thoroughbred horses who have been savagely murdered. He has a run in with the foreman and the owner then lands in jail. The surroundings remind him of the girl he had a crush on who died when they were both teenagers.

What could be better to curl up with on a cold Montana afternoon when the North wind is tapping at the windows than a murder mystery that is so real it makes you afraid to walk out your back door?

But as a word of warning, once the last page of Neil McMahon’s Lone Creek is turned, you won’t want to let the Davoren go. Fortunately, you won’t have to because he reappears as the protagonist in McMahon’s latest novel Dead Silver.

Title: Lone Creek
Author: Neil McMahon
Number of Pages: 328
Cover Price: Hardcover $24.95
Trade paperback: $14.95
Publisher: HarperCollins
Released: April 2007

Jullie Hoen is a nontraditional student at the University of Montana, Missoula. She will graduate in spring 2009 with a BA in English with Literature and Creative Writing options. When not in school she makes her home in Great Falls with her husband and dog.