Monday, February 26, 2007

Money and Poetry

Money, Montana and Poetry. Could there be a trio that in which each more completely repels the others? Poetry and Money - Montana and Money - Montana and Poetry - are each of these mutually exclusive? Montana's Poet Laureate Sandra Alcosser, near the end of her tenure and having worked her butt off in a non-compensated position, testified at the legislature in favor of a bill which would have provided a small measure of expense reimbursement for travel for her successor. Not only did the out-going Poet Laureate not get paid for her time in this honorary position, she had to take donations, stay in people's houses, and catch rides to get to the far-flung Montana communities who asked her to come. The bill would have authorized $4,000 for defray travel costs - not an amount approaching full reimbursement. And the legislature said "No." Here's a sample quote from an ultra-conservative legislator: “It doesn’t do anything for the state of Montana.”

Poetry doesn't do anything for the state of Montana? Here's one part of one person's story:

When I was 11 or 12 and tortured by the politics of Middle School, I didn't think I was worth much. The Arts Council sponsored a poet to come in and do a workshop with the pizza faced hormonal inmates. I scribbled something on paper in response to a prompt. She came around and talked to each of us in turn, suggesting ideas to some, trying like hell to get others (future legislators?) to even take the act of writing seriously. When she got to my desk, she changed my life. I don't remember much of what she said. All I remember is that she said my work had worth -- value, and the promise of more. She fed an inner light that's flickered but not to date gone out.

The value inherent in bringing self-expression through poetry to people wherever and however they are, whether geeks in the middle school or retirees on the High-Line, people living in the colonies or the reservations or ranches and in the good and bad parts of every town, can't be understated. We need it. We need the people who illuminate every place they are allowed (or enabled) to go.

Thank you, anonymous poet. Thank you, Sandra Alcosser, and thank you to the next Poet Laureate, whoever you turn out to be, for enriching Montana with this vital gift.