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Montana poet laureate joins lyrical forces at WMPAC

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By Maria Wyllie
Explore Big Sky Staff Writer

As Montana’s poet laureate, Tami Haaland is under oath to do all she can to promote poetry throughout the state.

Humanities Montana, an independent, nonprofit affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities, provides Haaland financial support for travel expenses when giving poetry readings and lectures and leading discussions in various communities around Montana. She’s also agreed to meet with people to discuss how they can implement literary projects in their own communities.

“It’s fairly commonplace for people to say they can’t understand or don’t like [poetry], but it’s one of our most ancient art forms,” Haaland said. “It’s probably as old as humanity…our desire to respond to our environment and the things we encounter in life – love, loss, death – and poetry has always done that really well.”

Haaland, who also teaches English at Montana State University-Billings, is working to dispel the idea that poetry is difficult to understand, and says part of this assumption is simply a lack of exposure. By bringing in as many talented poets around the state as possible to rural communities, this can change, she says.

“I think its sort of like circulation,” Haaland said. “It’s good for any of us in our communities to bring in people from the outside and see what those voices can tell us.”

One of the places she’s visiting is Big Sky’s Warren Miller Performing Arts Center on March 8, per Artistic Director John Zirkle’s request.

Haaland will join Colorado Poet Laureate David Mason; Henry Real Bird, a cowboy poet from the Crow Nation and former poet laureate of Montana; Linds Sanders, a young Slam Poet from Missoula; Dave Caserio, a performance poet from Billings; and singer-songwriter Martha Scanlan.

Although Scanlan won’t be playing during the poetry readings, Haaland has collaborated with musicians and dancers in the past, matching their art to her poetry readings and creating a mood through the arc of the sounds and movement.

“The surface of poetry is very musical, and the two often melt well together,” she said. “It’s really a lot of fun for artists in different disciplines to come together and work in this way.”

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