Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Philip J. Burgess, poet and storyteller

After growing up on a ranch on the far east side of Montana, Philip J. Burgess graduated from college, served in Vietnam, and then spent a decade traveling the world - alone. 

Philip J. Burgess's collection of poetry, Badlands Child, contains poems influenced by his childhood in the Fairview/Sidney area of eastern Montana, as well as the Vietnam War and ten years of wandering the world by himself.

After returning to Montana and earning a Master’s degree in Guidance and Counseling from the University of Montana, Missoula, Burgess spent 13 years working as a Vietnam veteran’s rights advocate and therapist. During this week's program, Burgess talks about all that, reads a few poems from Badlands Child, and describes a new book about penny postcards that he's working on.

Tune in to Yellowstone Public Radio Thursday evening at 6:30, or to Montana Public Radio Thursday evening at 7:30. You can also listen online or subscribe to The Write Question podcast.

Find out more about Philip J. Burgess and The Write Question.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Monday Poems: "Spring" - by H. L. Hix

Five first crocuses burst into bird-brilliant bloom
and suddenly everything flies: behind a car
scraps of paper rise, two from a flock, startled dumb.
Some lives begin in abstraction; others end there.
If I find the child's fist this universe bloomed from
I will close it again as my own five fingers,
say worlds as one sentence, fit them into a name
for gold overwhelming finches, feather by feather.
With leaves returned, we still hear birds but see them now
only when they fly. It's hard to see anything,
even when we hear it sing, even though we know
it's there, even if we feel it filling our lungs.
Forsythia insists all that is is yellow.
None of this had to happen, but it had to be sung.

*     *     *     *     *     *

H. L. Hix teaches in the MFA program at the University of Wyoming and lives in Laramie, where every year he marvels at how late in the summer it is before hummingbirds arrive at 7,200 feet and at how hardy pocket gophers are. He is author of seven collections of poems, one of which, Chromatic, was a finalist for the National Book Award. "Spring" was published in New Poets of the American West.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Ruth McLaughlin, author of 'Bound Like Grass'

Stories that unfurl in remote corners of eastern Montana tend to be heartbreaking, and Bound Like Grass, by Ruth McLaughlin, is no exception. But McLaughlin does not wallow. Rather, she explores the influences that made her family what it turned out to be and comes to conclusions that can illuminate the emotional landscape of any family.

Bound Like Grass is an engaging story that encompasses three generations: the idealistic homesteader grandparents, the hard-working parents, and the children who grew up, moved away and never returned. Mary Clearman Blew, author of Bone Deep in Landscape: Writing, Reading, and Place has this to say about McLaughlin's memoir:

"In this beautifully written but stark account of one ranching family's ties to the land, Ruth McLaughlin refutes the romantic myths that have distorted our view of the agrarian past. I wept as I read Bound Like Grass, out of sympathy but also in admiration of the strength and clarity of vision Ruth brings to these pages."

Tune in Thursday, April 21, for The Write Question, at 6:30 (Yellowstone Public Radio) or 7:30 (Montana Public Radio) to hear Ruth McLaughlin talk about her family and her book. She'll also read from one of the chapters.

Get more information about Ruth McLaughlin and listen online.


Monday, April 18, 2011

Monday Poems: "Toast" - by John Holbrook

The night I tore out the kitchen sink,
the old counter board
and musty flour bins,
the framing studs,
lath and plaster,
I found stuck against the wall
a two cent stamp,
grocery receipts,
razors in thin paper,
a magazine snipping
showing a school boy facing
a plate full of toast.
A caption read: "Put
the toast in his notebook."

I mosey among stars on my break,
confident under the crisp
magnificent indifference.
In counter tops
I like butcher board veneer.
I like cupboard doors
with a natural wood finish.
I like my bread swathed
with apricot jam.
Though I'm prone to dally,
the caption was too bizarre to ignore.
The sink works. The notebook is filling.
Stars are spotless and abundant ...
this is where the toast pops up.

*     *     *     *     *     *

John Holbrook's poems have appeared in numerous magazines and anthologies, including: Antacus, the Carolina Quarterly, Comstock Review, Cutbank, and the Southern Poetry Review. He lives and writes in Missoula, Montana. "Toast" was published in his 2010 collection, A Clear Blue Sky in Royal Oak.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Public Radio Week

This week we're raising money for Montana Public Radio, to fund station operations and locally-produced programs like The Write Question. You can make a contribution by calling 800-325-1565 or 243-6400, or listen and pledge online at

The Write Question is supported by listeners like you, and by Humanities Montana and Montana's Cultural Trust.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Monday Poems: "Root" - Cedar Brant

A low cloud of grackles
a ruin of laundry
horses stand still in the field.
I plant seeds like ash
dark beds full
of the roots of weeds.

Dropping in
furrows my fingers pulled
the grass already growing around me
in desperation.
The giant willow
laid out
in the last shudder of wind.

There is a bird box without swallows
a bed without peas
a small tree thinking about its buds.
Spring itself
knowing it will soon die back again
so afraid of winter
it has no courage to bloom

to carry the weight of itself through that lolling
fruiting season.

you innocent and penetrating
grower between split and crack
building a temple of cells
grains like trust settle into your toe roots
telling them - this is the right way to grow -

*     *     *     *     *
Cedar Brant is a poet, writer, and biologist. Her poetry and essays have appeared in Camas, and Poems Across the Big Sky. She's also a member of Bentgrass, a troupe that tours Montana performing poetry and music, and hosting writing workshops. "Root" was published in Brant's 2010 collection Like Any Other Dream Will Do.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Richard O. Moore, 90 years old and publishing

The poems in his collection Writing the Silences represent more than 60 years of Richard O. Moore’s work as a poet. Selected from seven full-length manuscripts written between 1946 and 2008, these poems reflect not only Moore’s place in literary history — he is the last of his generation of the legendary group of San Francisco Renaissance poets — but also his reemergence into today’s literary world after an important career as a filmmaker and producer in public radio and television. Writing the Silences reflects Moore’s commitment to freedom of form, his interest in language itself, and his dedication to issues of social justice and ecology.

This week (tonight) on The Write Question, Richard Moore will read several of his poems, in his wonderful mellifluous voice. He'll also talk about the early days of KPFA, the first community radio station in the United States, and what it was like to be a part of the San Franciscio poets' scene in the 1940s.

Listen online, or tune in this evening at 6:30 (Yellowstone Public Radio) or 7:30 (Montana Public Radio) to hear Richard Moore.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Recent Books by Writers in the West

West of Here, by Jonathan Evison

Here's what Publishers Weekly has to say about the book:

Starred Review. A century after the late–19th-century settlers of Olympic Peninsula to the west of Seattle set out to build a dam, their descendants want to demolish it to bring back fish runs, providing one of the many plots in this satisfyingly meaty work from Evison (All About Lulu). The scenes of the early settlers track an expedition into the Olympic wilderness and the evolving relations between settlers and the Klallam tribe, provide insights into early feminism, and outline an entrepreneur's dream to build the all-important dam. By comparison, the contemporary stories are chock-full of modern woe and malaise, including a Bigfoot watcher and seafood plant worker who wishes to relive his glory days as a high school basketball star; an ex-convict who sets out into the wilderness to live off the land; and an environmental scientist who is hit with an unexpected development. Evison does a terrific job at creating a sense of place as he skips back and forth across the century, cutting between short chapters to sustain a propulsive momentum while juggling a sprawling network of plots and a massive cast of characters real enough to walk off the page. A big novel about the discovery and rediscovery of nature, starting over, and the sometimes piercing reverberations of history, this is a damn fine book. (Feb.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

The Ringer, by Jenny Shank

 Kirkus Reviews:

"Salvador Santillano dies on the shabby bedroom floor of a suspected drug lair, shot by Ed O'Fallon, a police officer: a by-the-book SWAT raid at the wrong address.
More died that day than an innocent man. Gone is reconciliation between the hardworking Santillano and his dedicated wife, Patricia, a nurse. Patricia has been dismayed by Salvador's unbending attachment to his family in Mexico, and his refusal to stop sending money there. The shooting also may have killed O'Fallon's career. It certainly wounded his emotional stability and his family life. And then there is the city of Denver, with Hispanic activists suspecting the shooting was racially motivated. Shank gets into the head of the hard-charging police officer and uncovers his anxieties, and she draws Patricia as a proud woman fearful that her pride contributed to Salvador's death. That death and its aftermath are the bricks of the story, but the game of baseball drives the narrative. Both families are involved in youth leagues. Ed has been relegated to girl's T-ball because he grew too intense coaching boys. However, his sons, Jesse and E.J., play on a championship team, and Salvador's son, Ray, is a coveted pitching prodigy. As the season progresses, Ray, using his mother's maiden name, ends up pitching as a "ringer" for the O'Fallon boys' team in state and regional games. Patricia realizes early that the O'Fallons are involved, but she realizes too that baseball, Salvador's passion and Ray's love, might save her son from being seduced into street-gang life. Ray's precarious hold on his own emotions falters when he discovers the man who killed his father watching from the bleachers. While some may think O'Fallon deserved one more chapter, considering the depth of his transformation, the author carries her novel to a believable conclusion, with skillful tightening of the emotional tension along the way.

Shank's first at-bat as a novelist is a hit."

The Story of Brutus: My Life With Brutus the Bear and the Grizzlies of North America, by Casey Anderson

 Casey Anderson, the host of National Geographic's Expedition Grizzly, met a month-old bear cub in a wildlife preserve in 2002, whom he affectionately named Brutus. Little Brutus was destined to remain in captivity or, more likely, even euthanized due to overpopulation at the preserve. Anderson, already an expert in animal rescue and rehabilitation, just could not let that happen to Brutus, who looked like a "fuzzy Twinkie." From the beginning it was clear something special existed between the two. And so, Anderson built the Montana grizzly encounter in Bozeman, Montana, especially for Brutus, so that he, and others like him, could grow up "being a bear." And so the love story began.

When together, Anderson and Brutus will wrestle, swim, play, and continue to act as advocates for grizzly protection and education, be it through documentaries like Expedition Grizzly, appearances on Oprah or Good Morning America, or in this inspiring book, which promises to be an intimate look into Anderson's relationship with Brutus and a call to action to protect these glorious animals and the natural world they live in.

Crossing the Heart of Africa, by Julian Smith

The amazing true story of Julian Smith, who retraced the journey of legendary British explorer Ewart "The Leopard" Grogan, the first man to cross the length of Africa, in hopes of also winning the heart of the woman he loved.
In 1898, the dashing young British explorer Ewart “the Leopard” Grogan was in love. In order to prove his mettle to his beloved—and her aristocratic stepfather—he set out on a quest to become the first person to walk across Africa, “a feat hitherto thought by many explorers to be impossible” (New York Times, 1900).

In 2007, thirty-five-year-old American journalist Julian Smith faced a similar problem with his girlfriend of six years . . . and decided to address it in the same way Grogan had more than a hundred years before: he was going to retrace the Leopard’s 4,500-mile journey for love and glory through the lakes, volcanoes, savannas, and crowded modern cities of Africa.
Smith interweaves both adventures into a seamless narrative in Crossing the Heart of Africa: the story of two explorers, a century apart, who both traversed the length of Africa to prove themselves . . . and came back changed men.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Monday Poems: "Uneasy with Montana" - by Victor Charlo

I should follow buffalo on this aimless
Monday in Missoula. We finally find them
in U.C. Bookstore, along with others waiting in arm.

I look for different ways to be as I hunt truth
over other shoulders, knowing I'm not right,
my life, an excuse of bow and scrape.
Go back.

My best bet is to go back where bitterroot used
to sing food for Salish, yet Anapolis and I are
such an easy connection, parking by fir
and animal so I can walk through Hugo's old
home again: the kitchen sink between two Datsun
pick-ups, the worried lawn still not growing, even
though he had it cut one summer. Afraid to defrost
the refrigerator. Call it a dramatic moment, call it
coincidence, call it luck, it does seem right.
May in Missoula with threat of rain all day seems
right. This scene, no borrowed buffalo,
as the river runs full for us
like ancient root.

*     *     *     *     *     *
Victor Charlo is a member of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes. He is a direct descendant of the chiefs who signed the Hellgate Treaty. Charlo writes poems about reservation life and people, his family, and his journeys to visit the polar bears. He earned degrees from the University of Montana and Gonzaga University. "Uneasy with Montana" was published in his 2008 collection, Put Seý (Good Enough).