Liz’s Weekly Poetry Series: Montana Gothic
Local poet Mark Gibbons turned me on to a little jagged piece of the Missoula literary scene that flashed from 1974-1977, called Montana Gothic. This short-lived publication of poetry, literature and graphics (edited by Peter Rutledge Koch) is now available in a complete edition. For more information, you can check out peterkochprinters.com.
Not knowing much about this project, I started reading some of the essays. If I was a poet during this time in Missoula, this is the kind of publication I would gravitate to. Though I love the poetry of Richard Hugo, I find the well-articulated opposition to what Hugo represents—a regional writer who built the foundation of a dominant western-aesthetic drunk on landscape that has become the darling of eastern literary elitists—to be compelling. Here is an excerpt from Peter Koch’s declaration, Deadstart:
We have here in Montana a sterling example of the repression of the imagination by what can fairly be judged an unconscious agent, the Writing Program at the University of Montana. The program, a state supported nursery under the direction of Richard Hugo, turns out writers by a licensing process that achieves a predictable degree of success as measured by standards previously established by other schools. Examining What Thou Lovest Well Remains American, a book of poems by Hugo, one can discern a distinct aversion to nearly all forms of the imagination, an unfortunate example largely accepted by his students. Hugo’s poetry elevates defeat, despair & self-pity to an aesthetic level—an aesthetic infestation wherein all that is base in teh “American” character finds an eloquent voice; eloquent as tabloid journalism which exploits paranoia by describing, in lurid fashion, just what you are afraid of. The impression that I get from Hugo and the school that he has created is that they have established a right-wing phalanx of anti-oeneric poetry to complement their inverted cowboy-realism. The state supports writers who express desire and dissatisfaction within a christian framework of good and evil that any Zane Grey novel will acquaint you with: GOOD (writ large) is found in traditional company (the Missoula Mercantile the Episcopal Church for instance) while EVIL is approached only with a bottle of whiskey in an obscure tavern. The season of the drunken poet whining about loneliness and persecution evolves predictable into a wedding and the “GOOD FAMILY at last” confession. We can also predict that institutionalized writers will eventually earn their measure of the good life if they can suppress their imaginations and obsessions and desire only what is either academically correct or tailored to the criteria of mass consumption.
Beyond the imagination of the academic poets we can envision ourselves, like the Grizzly bear in Yellowstone Park, sitting upon a veritable magma of faultily suppressed potential that once allowed to escape could radically re-organize consciousness and its material attributes. There are and have been in Montana unprecedented extrusions of the marvelous that deserve our attention.
Thank you, Mark, for putting this bug in my ear (and I will drop off a copy of my little book, I’ve got to re-tool it first and print new copies).
I wrote a poem this morning about Missoula, partly with Montana Gothic in mind. Also in mind is this recent story about the fact downtown parking meters apparently speed up time when cold, screwing parking motorists out of money. Will the Parking Commission do something about this? Eventually (there’s currently no money after building the giant new parking garage) but until that happens, nada. It’s the responsibility of each ripped-off Missoulian (or out-of-town visitor, who won’t know any better) to contest the fraudulent tickets.
HOBBING MISSOULA NOB NOSERS
the meters run fast
and the drunks move slow
on the sidewalks of downtown
a gentrified air
from lofts up above
possess particles of high-end
breathe deeply the scent
of designer boot leather
and you will know there is no
exquisite dry flies are flying!
beyond the windows of fine dining!
to protect glossy images
they turn laws into brooms
to sweep the dirt people
into jail cells, hospital rooms,
lean-tos and tents
because it takes deep pockets
to pay rent
and we wonder why the rivers