Monday, January 31, 2011

Monday Poems: "Butterfly Dream" - Jenni Fallein

(for Carolee)

You float up from your body
a paper-doll cloud of yourself
translucent blue
breaking up
like windshield glass
into perfect shapes
all butterflies

I have hear of this before
how butterflies
hordes of them
really came
to the funeral
of the young man
with pancreatic cancer
or hovered inside the bathroom
when Marina's lover
hung himself
or how the Auschwitz children
drew them
on the walls of gas changers

It is only a dream
still, we get
your grandson's letter
thank you for the transformer
in first grade block print
and his drawing
just for you
a plump red butterfly

*    *     *
Jenni Fallein is a writer and painter based in Dillon, Montana. She is a member of the Bentgrass Poetry Troupe, and teaches poetry workshops at the Elkhorn Correctional Facility for women. "Butterfly Dream" was published in her collection, If Beauty Were A Spy.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

ON WRITING IN MONTANA, by Craig Lancaster

Some months ago, I flipped through an issue of The Montana Quarterly and came across an interview with Walter Kirn, the author of “Up in the Air." Of particular interest was his take on being a writer in Montana vs. being a writer of Montana:

“Montana for me is a place to write, not a place to write about. There’s a lot of Montana writers whose subject is Montana, but frankly I don’t yet know enough about the place to feel comfortable writing about it; maybe I will in five years.”

I grew nervous. Just a few pages over in that very magazine was a complimentary review of my first novel, 600 Hours of Edward. By this time, the book had been selected as a 2009 Montana Honor Book and would go on to win a High Plains Book Award. Though perhaps not a typical Montana novel – if such a thing even exists – it is set here and was intended to be a faithful representation of a time and place in Billings, the state’s largest city.

Ratcheting my nervousness further was the fact that my second novel, The Summer Son, which was released last week, was finished and soon to be shipped to the publisher. It, too, is set largely in Montana, as are my current project and most of the ideas I have queued up behind that.

I’ve lived in Montana for four and a half years. If two decades of being here isn’t enough to write about Montana, as Kirn contended, what kind of charlatan must I be? A fine psychological line divides writing with abandon and seizing up in insecurity, and for a while there, I was in danger of falling on the wrong side of it. The simple fact is that I don’t know the state as well as I should. I haven’t put in the time in its cities and small towns, its churches and bars, on its mountains and prairies. I’m not hardwired into Montana in the way that I recognize and envy in many of my friends. I carry too many of the influences I rubbed up against in two decades of job-hopping – from Texas, where I was reared, to Alaska, back to Texas, to Kentucky, to Ohio, back to Alaska, to California, back to Texas, to Washington, back to California and, finally, to Montana.

I dreamed of this place as a young man; I read Ivan Doig and yearned for a place in the Two Medicine Country. In my late teens and early twenties, I carried my keys on a Montana ring. In my youth, I knew it as a destination for family vacations, a place where I would visit cousins and aunts and uncles and my grandmother, and I recognized even then that the rugged landscapes and wide-open spaces called out to me in a way that the cramped suburbs of my home region never could.

But there’s a family connection, too: My mom and dad, years before my birth, met at a party on the Rims above Billings, which makes for a nice introductory story when I meet folks here, if nothing else. My father was born in Conrad and raised on a dairy farm on the Fairfield Bench, but until I took him there more than a year ago, it had been nearly fifty years since he’d been back. Montana is part of us, but it doesn’t define us, because the preponderance of our lives has been meted out elsewhere. Consequently, there’s no part of the state I can make come alive the way Kevin Canty conjures Missoula, or Richard Hugo distills the small towns of the state, or Mandy Broaddus Smoker evokes its native people. I would be foolish to even try.

Instead, the characters I’ve drawn – Edward Stanton in 600 Hours, Mitch Quillen in The Summer Son – come at Montana with a sensibility that I can get my arms around. Edward, who has Asperger syndrome, knows his hometown of Billings as a series of facts; he knows where the streets go and a basic history of the city, and those are things readily accessible even by a newbie like me. Mitch, who comes to Billings to reconcile a long-held grudge against his father, knows it as the place where he lived until he was three years old. He feels a connection to the city without having any concrete memories of it. It’s a feeling I know well. In Mills, Wyoming, sits a house that I lived in until a similar age. Whenever I’m in that town, I swing by and take a look and think not of time spent there – because I don’t remember it – but of what my life might have been like had I stayed.

In other words, I’m the outsider who lives on the inside, and thus far, my characters have occupied a similar realm. That’s the Montana I’m qualified to write, until such time as I’ve burrowed deeply enough into this place to really be a part of it. I’m all in, for however long that might take.


Craig Lancaster is the author of 600 Hours of Edward (2010 High Plains Book Award winner; 2009 Montana Honor Book) and The Summer Son, now available from your independent book seller or AmazonEncore.

Visit the following spots on the Web to delve deeper into the mysterious world of Craig Lancaster.
Web site:

Thursday, January 27, 2011

An Introduction to The Write Question

Kathleen Dean Moore

After she lost several loved ones within a few months, Kathleen Dean Moore sought solace and comfort in ancient forests, remote deserts. wild rivers, and windswept islands. She wanted to learn what the natural word could teach her about sorrow and gladness. Wild Comfort: The Solace of Nature is a record of those experiences, a collection of carefully observed moments in her life and a profound meditation on the healing power of nature.

Hear Kathleen Dean Moore talk about Wild Comfort with TWQ producer Chérie Newman Thursday, January 27, at 6:30 p.m. ( or 7:30 ( Moore will also read a few passages from the book and talk about her latest project, editing Moral Ground: Ethical Action for a Planet In Peril, in which more than 80 visionaries write about our ethical obligation to the future and why it's wrong to wreck the world.

Get more information about Kathleen Dean Moore, listen to the program, and/or subscribe to The Write Question podcast.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Monday Poems: "Eclipsed: 2004" - by Mark Gibbons

Last week the old man in the moon
went Coppertone, got Indian muddy,
and lost his blonde halo completely
when Earth rolled in front of the sun,

beauty swallowed by the beast.
Which vacant eyes & screaming
mouth would you recognize: Van Gogh's oil
weeping or a gaping holocaust corpse?

Its lunar voice stifled by space & time,
dumbed down, numbed by political lies,
call it: Crazy Horse, Osama, Ho Chi Minh,
VooDoo Witch, the black shadow in your room.

If you listen hard you can hear credit card
transactions and taste the dust kicked up
by jack boots tromping across Whitman's bridge
to stomp a queer from the Bronx unconscious.

Friends, democratic republicans, lend me
your fears, your freedoms, your kids. Dark times
call for smart bombs & collateral damage. We must
destroy all dark things that stand in our light.

in memory of Hunter S. Thompson

*     *     *

Mark Gibbons is a poet and a lifelong resident of Montana. When he isn't teaching for the Missoula Writing Collaborative or the Montana Arts Council, he's driving truck, moving furniture, or writing a poem. His work has appeared in numerous journals. "Eclipsed: 2004" was published in War, Madness, & Love.

Friday, January 21, 2011

The Character of Montana, a reader response by Dylan Barbash

In Jeff Hull’s novel, Pale Morning Done, a rancher/fishing guide in Montana has to work with the land to create his ideal fly fishing resort. Marshall Tate channels a spring on his ranch and carves out a stream to make a habitat for trout. He works tirelessly with and against the land in a never ending effort to make his dream come true.

The setting of Montana is a character that cannot be overlooked in this novel. Marshall’s desire to build his resort also comes from his passion of reclaiming the land from the toils of ranching to its natural state. When he witnesses a sunset over the Scapegoat Mountains or watches the trout feed on a summer float through the Bitterroot River's crystal clear water, it is easy to understand his love for nature and the land that he lives in. Montana’s beauty and splendor influence the characters of this novel with its own magnificent character. Its charming character is seen in the towering ponderosa pines, the big blue sky that never ends, and the mountains that sing in their silent power.

But Montana’s character also contains a darker side. Montana is a wild place, coming from East Coast suburbia I had to recognize this early on in order to approach this massive being that is Montana with the care that it calls for. Within the beautiful scenery of Montana lurk powers that should not be trifled with. Whether it is lumbering through the woods into a grizzly bear or getting caught on a mountain top in a lightning storm these forces can overwhelm and possibly be the end of you.

With all of these different elements put together Montana has to be recognized as a sentient being. Its mountains speak of time that no one else has seen, its waters run through the land with secrets from the high country, its landscape creates unpredictable and temperamental weather, and its wildlife moves at a rhythmic heart beat set by its nature.

Dylan Barbash is a junior at the University of Montana pursuing a double major in Environmental Studies and Philosophy. His hometown is right outside of Washington D.C., Bethesda, MD.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

C.J. Box, author of Nowhere to Run

Joe Pickett's in his last week as the temporary game warden in the isolated town of Baggs, Wyoming, but there have been strange things going on in the surrounding mountains, and his conscience won't let him leave without checking them out: reports of camps looted, tents slashed, elk butchered. What awaits him is like nothing he's ever dealt with, like something out of an old story, except this is all too real and all too deadly.

C.J. Box is the author of ten Joe Pickett novels and two stand-alones, and has won the Edgar, Anthony, Macavity, Gumshoe, and Barry awards, as well as the French Prix Calibre .38 and the French Elle magazine literary award. His books have been translated into 22 languages. He lives in Wyoming.

Hear C.J. Box talk about and read from NOWHERE TO RUN during The Write Question this evening at 6:30 ( or 7:30 (

Listen to the program online, get more information about C.J. Box, and subscribe to The Write Question podcast.

Monday, January 17, 2011

A Monday Poem by Sheryl Noethe: "Winter, Minneapolis, 1988"

The night the brakes went out
we had to veer into the side of a church
to stop. There is a dent in Simpson Methodist.
The parish came running out to see if God
was knocking, and kindly pushed the car
back onto the street.

I got out and walked back
to my apartment in the snow.
The kind that melts just after it lands.
Followed by another. And another.

My hair looked like I'd been swimming.
I sat down and opened a book. He'd nearly
killed us both in that beater car.

Soon I would hear him trudge unhappily
up the steps, damp and broke and out of cigarettes,
wearing the look of a boy who has become a man
by accident.

Sheryl Noethe lives in Missoula and is the director of the Missoula Writing Collaborative. She has been awarded The McKnight Prize for Literature, a National Endowment for the Arts in Literature, A Montana State Arts Council Fellowship, The Hugo Prize from the University of Montana, and was chosen for the Pudding House Press Greatest Hits. Her collection, The Ghost Openings, won the William Stafford Award for Poetry as well as the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association Prize for Poetry. "Winter, Minneapolis, 1988" was published in As Is.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Sarahlee Lawrence, author of River House: A Memoir

Sarahlee Lawrence grew up in remote central Oregon and spent her days dreaming about leaving her small town for adventure. By the age of twenty-one, Lawrence had rafted some of the world's most dangerous rivers as an accomplished river guide. But living her dream, riding and cleaning the arteries of the world, let her back to the place that she least expected to end up -- her dusty beginnings and her family's ranch. During this program, Lawrence reads from River House and talks about why she wanted to build a home for herself on her family's land.

Sarahlee Lawrence was born and raised on her family's ranch near Terrebonne, Oregon. After a decade of travel and study, including earning an MS in environmental science and writing from the University of Montana, Missoula, she returned to the ranch where she owns and operates an organic vegetable farm.

About River House, William Kittredge writes: "River House is about rediscovering family and working through the compromises involved in finding your life, the people and days you actually love. It's tough, smart, and eloquently told, a dead-on beauty. Enjoy. I surely did."

Hear Sarahlee Lawrence talk about and read from her memoir River House during The Write Question this evening at 6:30 ( or 7:30 (

Listen to the program online and get more information about Sarahlee Lawrence.

Monday, January 10, 2011

A Monday Poem by Lowell Jaeger: "let us now praise"

the old woman whose old country soups
steamed under gas flames
in the dim luncheonette
near the low-rent office building where in the old days
we hung our hats, sat at our desks
until some un-nameable hunger
drove us to her. Not so much for lunch
but more for the way she touched our hands,
patted our wrists as if we were born for her
to serve us. As if those knuckles, swollen
into arthritic fists years after the Nazis
had starved her homeland, above all
longed to scoop and spill broad spoons
of steamy potatoes, droopy cabbage, juicy chunks
of fat. In exchange for mere pocketfuls of change
she could boil such luxuries loose from bones. And fill
our cups with her glad battered face,
so that when we left her we strode
back into our workday brimming
with the lasting taste of compassion.
With hope that this sad old world
might dish something good for us all.

*     *     *

Lowell Jaeger teaches creative writing at Flathead Valley Community College (Kalispell, Montana) where he is also founding editor of Many Voices Press. He is the recipient of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Montana Arts Council, author of three previous books of poems, and editor of New Poets of the American West, an anthology of Western poets. He lives with his family in Yellow Bay, Montana, on Flathead Lake. "let us now praise" is from Jaeger's latest collection, WE.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Buzzy Jackson writes about looking for her ancestors

This week's program features Buzzy Jackson talking about searching for her ancestors: why she did it, where she started, how a DNA sample helped, and why she decided to go on a Caribbean cruise. Her genealogy adventures are chronicled in her new book, Shaking The Family Tree: Blue Bloods, Black Sheep, and Other Obsessions of an Accidental Genealogist.

Jackson used her prodigious research skills to trace her roots back more than 250 years. In the process, she connected to distant relatives and discovered the true meaning of family.

During this program, Jackson talks about her long search for her people (Jackson is the 20th most common American surname) and gives some helpful tips hints to beginning genealogists.

  • Start with yourself: Write down everything you already know and can verify about your family history. Interview siblings and other family members.
  • Interview as many living relatives as possible.
  • Ask to see family mementos such as Bibles, photographs, journals, even quilts.
  • Collect relevant records: birth, death, and marriage certificates; military, employment, census, city directory records.
  • Ask for help from librarians, members of historical organizations, other genealogists.
  • DNA tests and visits to locations where your ancestors lived help you dig deeper.
  • Stay organized: be methodical in your research, write everything down, keep notes about what you've done and what's left to do. Invest in a computer program if that helps.
Tune in to hear Buzzy Jackson on The Write Question Thursday evening, January 6, at 6:30 ( or 7:30 (

Find more information about Buzzy Jackson and listen online.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Response to "Equilibrium," a poem by Mandy Smoker

by Chelsea Niewald

In her poem, “Equilibrium,” Mandy Smoker contemplates and describes one of many challenges that people on Indian reservations face daily. Although the poem is dedicated to Mandy’s nephew, who passed away, many readers, especially Native American readers can relate. The raw truth and brutal reality of loss leaves a reader contemplating the meaning of life.

Growing up on the Colville Indian Reservation in Washington, I find myself missing home and the reservation more than I thought I ever would. Mandy’s poem leaves me missing the atmosphere of the reservation, even with the heart wrenching reality. Mandy’s poem exemplifies the connection a person can have with a place they call “home.” Although the experiences in the poem are about loss and the strife people often experience on the reservation, I find myself able to connect with the words, and more importantly, the meanings behind them.

Having lost countless friends and family members due to suicide, accidents, and drug overdoses, I have a tainted heart when it comes to death on reservations.

An excerpt from “Equilibrium” brought me back to an internal place I have not visited in quite some time: “And what of all the other warnings, of all the family lost because their hearts were too heavy for them to carry?” I was forced to revisit emotions of watching my younger sister lose her best friend due to what some believe was suicide, but what the people on the reservation said was an accident. Having witnessed countless warning signs, the people of the reservation were blind to see a young heart screaming out for help. The cold, stone-hard words and images of a lonely, death-stricken town bring back memories of resenting the place I call “home.”

Mandy creates visual descriptions of the emotional baggage she and others carry while they try and make sense of such a cruel reality. I find myself pleading for those who have left my life to return to me, but after reading Mandy’s poem I find myself unable to be angry with what people describe as a “higher power.” Having found a sense of closure with the amount of losses I have experienced, I am able to encourage others to seek help before it is too late.

I encourage everyone to read Mandy Smoker’s work, people of any race or background, because the fact is: we have all experienced, or known someone who has had to deal with, the loss of a loved one. Mandy’s work brings closure and healing through her words and visual descriptions.

Chelsea Niewald is a freshman at the University of Montana, Missoula, pursuing a double major in Psychology and Native American Studies. Her hometown is Keller, Washington, on the Colville Indian Reservation.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Monday Poems: "Still Life: The Disorder of Beginning" - D.S. Butterworth

The lazy man watches snowfall flake from the sky
and loses count of the ways he could begin his life.

Clouds invest his yard with possibilities,
the several bleak postures of expectant canvas.

He could describe his discovery: the series of silk-screens
whose rotations sift the flurry of brushstrokes

off surfaces of air to the ground.
Or he could remember the future as he saw it when a boy:

glass panes connected like collapsing folds of accordion,
frosted doors fanned out into pages of a book standing on end——

how he himself was only visible through the fish-
flesh translucency as a bright, opaque halo.

The first words are the hardest, too——first forgotten,
least believed, as soon distorted as

rehearsed——so beginning and ending to him are all in all.
East and West dithering over datelines? Imagine.

So an oak is the printout of a code——are seeds
wholly unrevised by wind and rain?

Roanoke's dissolute first unsettling: his every project
reads the same. Continents of failure, the inert available.

He applies a coat of gesso just so, and reviews.
Were he to compose the lines of the future,

to render the individual apple and pear,
particular hair, table wall, or ear,

it would bear little consequence for his still life.
Tomorrow he will study endings.

Today his refusal has the air of a beginning.
It has taken all winter. It began when he left home

this morning. It began when he confessed to knowing nothing
even as he assembled objects for his painting. It began when he

decided to measure moments according to the returns of waxwings.
He starts now, as he divests an acorn of its plaid beret.

* * *

D.S. Butterworth grew up in Seattle and went to college at Western Washington University in Bellingham. He earned an M.A. and Ph.D. in English literature at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He taught as a lecturer at Chapel Hill and spent four years teaching at Morehead State University in eastern Kentucky. He currently teaches literature and creative writing at Gonzaga University in Spokane, Washington. "Still Life: The Disorder of Beginning" was published in Butterworth's collection, The Radium Watch Dial Painters.