Monday, June 4, 2012

Monday Muse: Montana's Poet Laureate

Poetry is to speak the unspeakable. It's to say
what's not to be said. In that sense, it's sacred.
~ Sheryl Noethe*

Montana's fourth Poet Laureate is Sheryl Noethe, successor to Henry Real Bird. Noethe was appointed in August 2011 and will serve through the summer of 2013. 

A brief overview of the honorary two-year position and a list of resources are provided in my earlier post on Real Bird. Additional information is here.

On her appointment, Noethe stated that her mission and 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."**

* * * * *
You can't create when you're working from your survival brain.
You have to be safe to express the truth. I don't think poetry is
playing with language, or Technicolor acrobatics with sentences.
I believe poetry is where you can say the things society does 
not give you a place to say anywhere else.
~ Sheryl Noethe***

Sheryl Noethe, who published her first poem at age 17, is the author of four poetry collections: As Is (Lost Horse Press, 2011), Greatest Hits Archival Series, 1990-2007 (Pudding House Publications, 2008), The Ghost Openings (Grace Court Press, 2000), which received a 2001 Pacific Northwest Bookseller's Award; and her debut The Descent of Heaven Over the Lake (Minnesota Voices Project, New Rivers Press, 1984). Noethe also is co-author, with poet and essayist Jack Collom, of the textbook Poetry Everywhere: Teaching Poetry Writing in School and in the Community (Teachers & Writers, 1994; 2nd Ed, 2007).

Everyone deserves to be a poet. It's nobody's job
to tell someone to stop trying. It's a waste of imagination.
We need poetry. It provides solace, deep understanding of the self,
deep perspective on a crazy world and the affirmation of beauty.****

In her poems Noethe writes of rural life, childhood suffering (she grew up in an impoverished, abusive family) and relationships, love, loss, brokenness, place (Noethe has traveled extensively), writing, people on buses, quantum physics. . . what's familiar and what's not.

In her beautifully crafted poems, Noethe employs detail with the skill of a highly effective storyteller; observant, direct, honest, and unfussy, she creates both intimacy and immediacy. Her imagery is evocative and can be sensual; she writes out of someplace deep, where she's unafraid to feel.

These two excerpts give only the most abbreviated sense of Noethe's enormous talent:

[. . .]


I sit at a table with an old lover and two women.
As dusk approaches the women pull long black scarves over their hair
& then the sky, too, is black. I awaken, saying, I will get a scarf.
In one gesture I will pull the sky across my hair. [. . .]
~ from "Asleep, Paris" in The Ghost Openings

[. . .]

Her red paper-thin sari folds along her black hair and down 
      my shoulder.
I am next the suicide bomber, then his adoring younger brother.
I can not lift my hands. I weep as terribly as I've ever wept
Until it wakes my husband. He pulls me from the dreams of blood.
[. . .]
~ from "The Sir Lanken's Golden Book of Death" in Greatest Hits

Poems by Noethe have appeared in Berkeley Review, Cutbank, Iowa Review, NeoOhio Review, Whitefish Review, and other literary journals and periodicals.

Noethe, who is anthologized in I Go to the Ruined Place: Contemporary Poems in Defense of Global Human Rights (Lost Horse Press, 2009), Poems Across the Big Sky, and Montana Women Writers: A Geography of the Heart, is the recipient of an American Academy of Poets Award, a New Rivers Press Emerging Voices Award, a William Stafford Poetry Prize (for The Ghost Openings), a Northwest Publisher's Best Book Award (for The Ghost Openings), and the CutBank Hugo Prize in Poetry. She also has been awarded a McKnight Prize in literature, a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, and a Montana Arts Council Literature Fellowship.

Currently, Noethe, who once worked as a mime, is artistic director of the Missoula Writing Collaborative, which she co-founded in 1994. (See video below.)


Photo Credit: Montana Arts Council

All Poetry Quotations © Sheryl Noethe

* Quoted from Jamie Kelly, "Missoula Writer Sheryl Noethe Named Montana Poet Laureate", Missoulian, August 6, 2011 (Video)

** Quoted from Sheryl Noethe's Acceptance Statement at Montana Poet Laureate

*** Quoted from Erika Fredrickson, "Love What You've Got: Poet Laureate Sheryl Noethe Finds Words to Live By", Missoula Independent, August 18, 2011

**** Quoted from "' Language organizes thought'" at True West

Lyle Daggett, "The weight of dreams", A Burning Patience, August 8, 2006

Mary Pickett, "Poet: Write Every Day, Montana Poet Laureate Tells Students", Billings Gazette, September 28, 2011

Kristi Niemeyer, "Sheryl Noethe Named New Montana Poet Laureate", Lively Times, Septembr 26, 2011

Sheryl Noethe Poetry Online: "No Exchange of Livestock", "After Culture, Fire", "Grant's Tomb", "Poetry Class", and "Mirage", All at Sheryl Noethe Website; "The Cougar Pizza", "Rural Poetry Workshop", "Her white hair", "Old Poet by the Road", "A Shimmering Absence", "9 hours", and "Reservation School", All at Montana Arts Council; "Goodwill Thrift Store, Missoula" at A Day in the Life, United States of Poetry (also on Tumblr); "Winter, Minneapolis 1988" at Shakespeare and Co. Booksellers; Greatest Hits ("Fjords", "No Exchange of Livestock", "The Sri Lanken's Golden Book of Death", "Ringfinger") on GoogleBooks (Preview); "Slow Dancing with Billy"; "Asleep, Paris" at Elenabella: The Poetics of Daily Life

Sheryl Noethe Interviews at KUFM, Montana Public Radio, PNBA  

Sheryl Noethe on FaceBook

Review of As Is at Neo, Issue 10 (pdf download)

Lost Horse Press

New Rivers Press

Pudding House Publications

Below is Notes from a Poet and a One Eyed Cat, a short, insightful, and inspiring documentary about Sheryl Noethe by Mackenzie Enich:


Hannah Stephenson said...

I love learning about these poets, Maureen. Especially ones who seem driven to help others.

Anonymous said...

thanks for this! you gave more coverage than my own hometown newspaper in montana.