Blackfoot Valley Dispatch - The Blackfoot Valley's News Source Since 1980

By Kate Radford

Montana Poet Laureates to draw inspiration from BPSW, work with Lincoln students


September 2, 2021

Melissa Kwasny and M.L. Smoker

Each September, Blackfoot Pathways: Sculpture in the Wild invites artists, composers, musicians, and other creators to Lincoln as part of the Artist in Residency program. This year, Montana's 2019-2021 Poets Laureate, Melissa Kwasny and M.L. Smoker, are scheduled to speak and engage with students and the community Sept. 16.

Kwasny and Smoker earned a shared $50,000 fellowship from the Academy of American Poets to "partner with seven Montana art and historical museums, selecting individual works, writing ekphrastic poems in response, and holding workshops on site at the museums for area youth to learn to write their own ekphrastic poems," according to fellowship announcement.

"An ekphrastic poem is a poem inspired by a work of art," Annette Gardner, BPSW's education program coordinator, shared in an email. BPSW is one of the locations the poets laureate selected for this project, and high school students and fifth and sixth grade students will get to work with the poets.

"We're going there early, visiting the site, taking our notes, things like that, then we're meeting with two groups of students at the site. They can go around and select which sculpture they'd like to write about," said Kwasny, noting, "We're trying to find ways they can share those poems with us when they're finished with them."

In the evening, Kwasny and Smoker are scheduled to read at the Lincoln Community Hall beginning at 7:30 p.m.

"I suppose it's important to know that we won't be reading poems in response to [Sculpture in the Wild]," said Kwasny. She added, "Poems take us a long time to write, and we want to make sure they're worthy of their subject. We will be bringing in work of our own and work of others that we feel are inspirational. We'll be talking about poetry."

This event will be one of the first in-person events the poets have been able to participate in as part of their tenure as poets laureate.

"This is our first work with the schools," said Kwasny, adding that they hope to visit the Museum of the Beartooths in Columbus, Yellowstone, the WaterWorks Art Museum in Miles City, and Browning.

"Part of the project is that we're doing workshops at each place with young people, hopefully on site. It's a great honor, that fellowship. They give us money to do the project, but also just to work on our own poems. It's been wonderful to work with Mandy. It's nice to have another year that we're collaborating," Kwasny said.

Kwasny and Smoker's fellowship project grew out of an experience the poets had working with the Missoula Art Museum on the "Love Letters To The Collection Project," an exhibit that engaged students, poets, and the public in interacting with the museums Contemporary Indian Art Collection.

The poets will work with Humanities Montana to collect the ekphrastic poems they write for their fellowship into a final project that will be available for educators.

"At the end of the project, we're making a webinar of all the museums and poems and photos of the art projects as a kind of tool for museum educators and teachers in helping students engage more directly and deeply with works of art by writing poetry about them. We're hoping that as we go along we'll be able to give visibility to some student poems throughout the year," said Kwasny. One idea for the project will be creating posters with the objects and poems they inspire, she said.

The poets are looking forward to visiting BPSW and working with the students, said Kwasny.

"I just think it's a phenomenal place and to have that kind of quality of work in Lincoln. It's what art should be doing, made available to local people and to have people come from all over. It changes lives. Those students live are being changed, having that kind of access to art," Kwasny said.


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