Montana Poet Laureate
I was born into a family that didn't read books. When I was very young I found a collection of Dorothy Parker's short stories, and I read it again and again, having discovered a door to another world, one without fighting and alcoholism and distress. I became an avid reader and read everything I could get my hands on. Then, in fifth grade, a teacher remarked that someday I could be a published author. This idea changed my life entirely. Now I saw myself as a writer, a part of the literary dialogue of our culture. I re-wrote my own identity, beyond anything my family had ever dreamed of. I published poems at age seventeen, my first book at age thirty, and since then I've published four books and been widely anthologized.
More importantly, however, is I realized that a few words from an adult can shape a child's idea of who they are and who they can become. After working in the most dangerous neighborhoods in New York City, teaching children how to write poetry and how to love writing poetry, I relocated to Montana twenty-five years ago and founded a poets in the schools program, based on the successful model 1 learned in New York working for Teachers & Writers Collaborative. My program, The Missoula Writing Collaborative, is now working in a dozen schools, including title one schools and reservation schools as well as in a small village in Alaska. We have affected the lives of children that numbers into the ten thousands.
During this time I wrote the following books of poetry: The Ghost Openings, which won the William Stafford Prize for poetry, and a textbook that is widely used nationally, Poetry Everywhere. Most recently I published As Is.
Now I'm developing curriculum to use in the schools of Montana utilizing Indian Education For All funding, insuring that those dollars go toward educating students about American Indian literature, exposing them to the many wonderful Native writers, and then bringing those writers into the classrooms to read their work, discuss their lives and culture, and break stereotypes. This program has been approved with OPI Indian Education For All, and more schools are requesting it.
I believe poetry is essential to a happy life, and my mission in life, besides writing the best poetry I'm capable of, is to give children the chance at creating their future through imagination and literacy. The work I do is the best work in the world, sharing the vast possibilities of language with children and awakening them to their own inner lives, esteem, and the self awareness and introspection so essential to writing.
My mission and my life's work are what the position of Poet Laureate fulfills: spreading the good word, involving everyone in the pleasure of writing, and a focus on children discovering they have the ability to find their own literary voice. I would have the opportunity to reach out to diverse populations and involve them in the joy and magic of writing poetry.