Montana Poets Laureate
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Montana Poets Laureate

Melissa Kwasny and M.L. Smoker share title and responsibilities

Melissa Kwasny and M.L. Smoker were appointed by Gov. Steve Bullock in July as Montana’s next poets laureate – and the first to share the position since it was established in 2005. 

“The Montana Arts Council is inspired by this innovative approach and encouraged by Gov. Bullock’s selection,” said MAC Executive Director Tatiana Gant.  “We look forward to seeing how Ms. Smoker and Ms. Kwasny will build on the work of past poets laureate to promote poetry.”

The MonMelissa Kwasny and M.L. Smoker were appointed by Gov. Steve Bullock in July as Montana’s next poets laureate – and the first to share the position since it was established in 2005. 

“The Montana Arts Council is inspired by this innovative approach and encouraged by Gov. Bullock’s selection,” said MAC Executive Director Tatiana Gant.  “We look forward to seeing how Ms. Smoker and Ms. Kwasny will build on the work of past poets laureate to promote poetry.”

The Montana Poet Laureate is a two-year honorary position created by the state legislature in 2005 and administered by the Montana Arts Council. Kwasny and Smoker take over from outgoing Poet Laureate Lowell Jaeger, and serve through Aug. 1, 2021.

As co-poets laureate and women from marginalized communities, Kwasny and Smoker “aim to celebrate poetry as an art that fosters connection, relationships and bridge building.” 

During their tenure, they aspire to share their poetry and their creative processes with communities across Montana, highlighting issues of diversity and inclusion, landscape and the environment, and culture and history. Kwasny and Smoker say they believe in creative collaboration and wish to use their shared title to demonstrate the value of working together.

“As life-long educators, we are also committed to working with teachers and at-risk youth to demonstrate how poetry can provide a source of understanding and hope,” writes Kwasny.

 This won’t be the poets’ first shared endeavor. They also were joint editors of the anthology I Go to the Ruined Place: Contemporary Poets in Defense of Global Human Rights, published by Lost Horse Press.

tana Poet Laureate is a two-year honorary position created by the state legislature in 2005 and administered by the Montana Arts Council. Kwasny and Smoker take over from outgoing Poet Laureate Lowell Jaeger, and serve through Aug. 1, 2021.

As co-poets laureate and women from marginalized communities, Kwasny and Smoker “aim to celebrate poetry as an art that fosters connection, relationships and bridge building.” 

During their tenure, they aspire to share their poetry and their creative processes with communities across Montana, highlighting issues of diversity and inclusion, landscape and the environment, and culture and history. Kwasny and Smoker say they believe in creative collaboration and wish to use their shared title to demonstrate the value of working together.

“As life-long educators, we are also committed to working with teachers and at-risk youth to demonstrate how poetry can provide a source of understanding and hope,” writes Kwasny.

 This won’t be the poets’ first shared endeavor. They also were joint editors of the anthology I Go to the Ruined Place: Contemporary Poets in Defense of Global Human Rights, published by Lost Horse Press.

 

Melissa Kwasny

Kwasny is the author of six books of poetry, most recently Where Outside the Body is the Soul Today and Pictograph, as well as a collection of prose writings, Earth Recitals: Essays on Image and Vision. She is the editor of Toward the Open Field: Poets on the Art of Poetry 1800–1950, and her first book of investigative nonfiction, Putting on the Dog: The Animal Origins of What We Wear, was recently published by Trinity University Press.

Thistle was the Silver Meadow winner of ForeWord magazine’s 2007 Book of the Year Award for Poetry and won the Idaho Prize. Christopher Howell, judging for the Idaho Prize, found Thistle to be in “the great tradition of meditative poetry.” Reading Novalis in Montana was picked by Anis Shivani of the Huffington Post as one the top 10 books of 2009.

Her work is widely published in journals, including Willow Springs, Threepenny Review, Ploughshares, American Poetry Review, Orion and Kenyon Review, and her poems and essays have appeared in the anthologies The Arcadia Project: North American Postmodern Pastoral, Montana Women Writers: A Geography of the Heart, Poems Across the Big Sky, New Poets of the American West, and West of 98: Living and Writing the American West.

She received the Poetry Society of America’s Cecil Hemley Award and Alice Fay di Castognola Award for a work in progress, the Montana Art Council’s Artist’s Innovation Award, and has participated in several artist residencies. Kwasny has taught as visiting writer at both the undergraduate and graduate level, including MFA programs at the University of Wyoming, Eastern Washington University/Inland Pacific Center for Writers, and the University of Montana.

She lives near Jefferson City in the Elkhorn Mountains.

 

M.L. Smoker

M.L. Smoker, a member of the Assiniboine and Sioux tribes of the Fort Peck Reservation, is the author of a collection titled Another Attempt at Rescue. Her poems have appeared in the anthology Poems Across the Big Sky, and the literary magazines Shenendoah and South Dakota Review. Her work has been translated for Acoma, an Italian literary journal published by the University of Rome.

Smoker is a graduate of Pepperdine University and the University of Montana, where she was the recipient of the Richard Hugo Fellowship. She attended the University of California at Los Angeles and the University of Colorado.

She won a regional Emmy Award for her work as a producer on the PBS documentary, “Indian Relay.”

Smoker currently works for Education Northwest as a practice expert in Indian Education, focusing on equity and inclusion for Native education in the Pacific Northwest. She was formerly the director of Indian Education for the Montana Office of Public Instruction where she oversaw statewide efforts related to closing the achievement gap and fostering Indian Education for All, curriculum aimed at recognizing the distinct cultural heritage of Montana’s Native people.

She was named the Indian Educator of Year by the National Indian Education Association in 2015 and was appointed to the National Advisory Council on Indian Education by President Barack Obama.

Smoker has worked as a school administrator in a rural public school in her home community of Frazer and taught courses at Fort Peck Community College and the University of Montana. 

 

The Montana Poet Laureate selection process was overseen by Montana Arts Council members Arlene Parisot and Renée Westlake, and chaired by Sean Chandler. Montana poet and educator Heather Cahoon, former Montana Poet Laureate Henry Real Bird, and Barbara Theroux, former owner of the Missoula bookstore Fact and Fiction, provided additional review assistance.

For more information about the program, visit art.mt.gov/poet_laureate.

 

Photo: Poets Laureate Melissa Kwasny and M.L. Smoker  (Photo by Barbara Weissberger)

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