‘Quieter than a mouse sewing’: Montana kids describe their town in poetry | Arts & Theater

“Drummond is where you can know everyone,” the poem goes.

“Drummond is 15 trains a day,” and it’s “always going to smell like dried grass.”

No, this isn’t Richard Hugo. These young writers are fond of their hometowns. By their reckoning, “Drummond is like a scoop of ice cream,” and “where my family moved because it is perfect.”

Each line in this poem was written by a Drummond fourth or fifth grader with the guidance of April Cypher, their poet/instructor from the Missoula Writing Collaborative.

The nonprofit group, which places writers in schools around western Montana, produced a new kids’ poetry poster project that pulls together the students’ descriptions of their towns, with contributions from more than 30 classes or schools. They each wrote a poem, or a single line. The methods varied, but then they’d combine them into a collage-like portrait of their community with colorful insights.

“It’s a great way to get students to look, as an observer, at the place they live,” said Caroline Patterson, the collaborative’s executive director.

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They have a “strong contingent of working writers,” she said, many of whom are well-known authors like Mark Gibbons and Chris La Tray.

They introduce classes to the poetic form of anaphora, where each line begins with the same phrase. Then each student writes one, encouraged to talk about “different seasons, the sensory experiences of their town, so what it smells like, looks like, and sounded like and tasted like.”

They’re told to think about how they’d describe it from a distance, or another planet, or how they’d relate it to someone who lives far away.

Historical facts are welcome, too, or things their home is famous for. One example that stuck with Patterson: “Lolo is Lewis and Clark not spelling mosquito right over 16 times.”

Regardless of a writer’s age level, she said that it’s “detail that drives your poem,” and focusing on specifics will “create a whole image of place” that doesn’t fall into cliches or shorthand.

The towns include Missoula, the Bitterroot (Lolo, Florence), the Flathead Indian Reservation (Arlee, Dixon, St. Ignatius, Ronan, Pablo), Drummond, Lincoln, Seeley Lake, Ovando, Potomac, and a Hi-line outlier, Havre .

The kids get specific enough that they’re not interchangeable. Ronan, for instance, “is the Pizza Cafe and also living in the woods.”

Since this is Montana, the weather is always a subject for discussion. “Havre is as hot as a hot dog in summer.” What about the winter? “Florence is colder than cold colors blooming like a sunset” and “Lincoln is getting colder and colder as the moon rises.” The time of day, sometimes metaphorically, enters the imagery.“Missoula is a place not far from the dawn,” one says, or “Ovando is the highway slowly awakening.” Others tap into the feeling of a place, such as this line: “Missoula is the feeling after you beat the best team in any sport.”

One of the collaborative’s writers, Emily Freeman, did a project like this for Dixon years ago, and Patterson kept the poster on her wall so long they decided to revive it last fall.

The schools and kids get completed posters and they’ve held some readings. They’re also on view at the Allez! alleyway gallery and the Missoula Art Museum (see “on view” box).

“People really love hearing a kids-eye view of their place,” Patterson said.

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