Introducing Montana’s New Poets Laureate

A few months ago, Melissa Kwasny and M.L. Smoker were named co-poets laureate for Montana. Since then, Humanities Montana staff has been talking to them about their goals and dreams for their tenure in this role. A theme that has continuously come up is that of hope. For people who feel marginalized, isolated, or unheard, poetry can give voice, build bridges, and nurture connections.

Here is an excerpt from one of Kwasny’s poems, “Common Blue”:

We speak of our souls with such
surface ease. But who will take such care for us?
You bend and bend to the scrappy blue sea,
your back turned to the moon fluttering above you.
I have been thinking so much of strength
this week, yours and mine, I mean,
the field of attention that can be strengthened.

In our oversaturated, busy lives, attention is a precious commodity and self-care is a way to sell yoga apps. I think about the emails, notifications, ringing phones, click bait, and advertisements—all the things disrupting real connections and incrementally amplifying loneliness and dissatisfaction. Kwasny’s poem seems to recognize this hammering at our core selves and then wonders at the strength it takes to focus on the people we value, not the things that clamor loudest.

Last week I started a presentation to teachers at the Montana Educators Conference with one of M.L. Smoker’s poems, “Another Attempt at Rescue”:

The time is important here—not because this
has been a long winter or because it is my first
at home since childhood—but because there is so much
else to be unsure of. We are on the brink of an invasion.
At a time like this how is it that when I left only a week ago
there was three feet of snow on the ground,
and now there is none, not even a single patch
in the shadow of the fence-line.  

She captures a feeling of uncertainty when even home and winter are inconstant. Smoker goes on to tell a story of the near death of two Indian boys and the too-many cases like them. There’s a feeling that our problems are unfixable, but then she talks about speaking out and recognizing small bits of hope and continuing to do what we can, even in the darkness. Hope.

I shared this poem with those teachers, and this writing with you to say, none of us are alone. There’s a pair of us! And the pair of Melissa Kwasny and M.L. Smoker as poets laureate are especially impressive and moving.

Through Humanities Montana’s program Montana Conversations, these two poets travel the state sharing their poetry, creative processes, and how poetry can provide a source of understanding and hope. Through their presentations, they demonstrate how poetry speaks to issues of diversity and inclusion, landscape and the environment, and culture and history. You can find out more about bringing them to your community here.

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