Michele Glazer checks in from Missoula!

Notes from Michele in Missoula....

(Michele is serving as the visiting writer in the 'Richard Hugo Chair in Poetry' at the University of Montana this year. Your WEGO coordinator mistakenly referred to this as a sabbatical, which it isn't. WC's mistake-- not Michele's.)

early February:

The first thing people ask me about is the weather. They want to know if it’s snowing (yes, periodically), if it’s cold (not cold enough long enough for enough snow to stick to suit me). Weather’s curious: what is it?

Out my back window -- the foothills of the Bitterroots. The window’s filled by the mountain’s flank; no sky. In the foreground is a golf course (no golfers). There is only the occasional walker, and a few oily-feathered black birds pecking holes in the dirt; if they catch any movement through the window, off they go. One blue-gray perfectly funnel-shaped perfectly still fir is unexpectedly animated by snowfall. It seems to quicken. Of the buffalo-hide hills, I can discern what’s not there now by what is. Lengths of deciduous trees running steep diagonal lines announce the presence of what I assume is, or will be, water. On the foothills around I can see the former beach lines representing ancient Lake Missoula’s lake level over hundreds and hundreds of years.

early March:

I have two classes; the first, a workshop. Most of the students are in their second year and thus focused on their theses. They are a very smart and creative bunch, with a wonderful camaraderie. The second is a special topics class in collaboration and creative influence, in which students do independent research on a historical or contemporary incidence of collaboration/creative influence, present that to the class, include a class writing exercise extrapolated from what they researched, and, finally, engage in an act of collaboration themselves. We’re scheduled this week for a visit by a professor in the forest ecology department who has done decades of research on old-growth forests of the Tongass, and who in looking at old growth, thinks about time and space. “Creative writers” think about those things too and I’m eager for the differences and penetrations.

We're heading towards spring break, and I'm looking forward to exploring further afield. Butte beckons. And Philipsburg. Livingston, etcetera. Missoula feels like the West in a way that the Willamette Valley does not, and I want to experience more of it. The first buttercups have presented, but I've not yet seen them. So everything is hearsay and rumor and I believe all of it.

Here’s Richard Hugo’s famous poem, “Degrees of Gray in Philipsburg”

Degrees of Gray in Philipsburg

You might come here Sunday on a whim.
Say your life broke down. The last good kiss
you had was years ago. You walk these streets
laid out by the insane, past hotels
that didn't last, bars that did, the tortured try
of local drivers to accelerate their lives.
Only churches are kept up. The jail
turned 70 this year. The only prisoner
is always in, not knowing what he's done.

The principal supporting business now
is rage. Hatred of the various grays
the mountain sends, hatred of the mill,
The Silver Bill repeal, the best liked girls
who leave each year for Butte. One good
restaurant and bars can't wipe the boredom out.
The 1907 boom, eight going silver mines,
a dance floor built on springs--
all memory resolves itself in gaze,
in panoramic green you know the cattle eat
or two stacks high above the town,
two dead kilns, the huge mill in collapse
for fifty years that won't fall finally down.

Isn't this your life? That ancient kiss
still burning out your eyes? Isn't this defeat
so accurate, the church bell simply seems
a pure announcement: ring and no one comes?

Don't empty houses ring? Are magnesium
and scorn sufficient to support a town,
not just Philipsburg, but towns
of towering blondes, good jazz and booze
the world will never let you have
until the town you came from dies inside?

Say no to yourself. The old man, twenty
when the jail was built, still laughs
although his lips collapse. Someday soon,
he says, I'll go to sleep and not wake up.
You tell him no. You're talking to yourself.
The car that brought you here still runs.
The money you buy lunch with,
no matter where it's mined, is silver
and the girl who serves your food
is slender and her red hair lights the wall.

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