The Write Question

A weekly literary program from Montana Public Radio that features writers from the western United States.

Carol Bradley, author of Last Chain on Billie: How One Extraordinary Elephant Escaped the Big Top, talks about the cruel lives of circus elephants and what we can do to stop it.

About the book:

"Want Song"

Jul 13, 2015

Two musics washing over me, and morning asks,   
which loneliness comes closest to the inky
chromatics inside you?
How can I answer?   
The cricket in the tarantula’s cage
chirrs the next world.
Meanwhile, scraps of Chopin float
up the stairs on my wife’s trilling fingers
which played me whole
worlds ago, last night, when I was buried in weThe Write Question blog

The Happy Campers

Jul 6, 2015

"Si jeunessa sav ait..."

Leaning into the truck,
grinning into the camera,
they camp out in their adolescence
and my front yard
with the insolent charm
of young colts,
sleek with knowing,
wobbly with experience.

The moment I shoot them
I know this is it:
for grace of limb,
studied slouch
the matching dew rags,
rakish hat I wish I could wear.

After the click
they come back to life as if
the magic just goes on.
The truck jolts into gear and,
with careless wave of hands,
they're gone.

Macy took a sip of her coffee and sank down farther in the seat. Since leaving home, she’d been plagued by the beginnings of a headache. She blamed the third glass of red wine she’d had last night instead of dinner. She’d been nibbling on a bagel for a couple hours, but really needed something more substantial if she was going to make it through the day. The first telephone call from the head of the state police had come at around two in the morning.

About the book:

After trying to help Benjamin Pearl, an undernourished, nearly feral eleven-year-old boy living in the Montana wilderness, social worker Pete Snow comes face-to-face with the boy’s profoundly disturbed father, Jeremiah. With courage and caution, Pete slowly earns a measure of trust from this paranoid survivalist itching for a final conflict that will signal the coming End Times.

Too little? There's no such thing! Featuring die-cut holes, There's No Such Thing as Little is a heartwarming picture book from author and illustrator LeUyen Pham. This book will encourage readers of all ages to think about what being "little" really means. With each turn of the page, a very big idea emerges, with cleverly placed cutouts on each page that help to dispel the readers' perception of which ideas or images are important.

"Is The Ouzel Stupid?"

Jun 29, 2015

Though you've spent
your life practicing,
you still don't seem
to understand
how water works.
You aren't supposed
to bounce
that clear pool
then hop the gravel
bottom of the
fastest current
like a robin on
a courthouse lawn—
or flit back
to your rock
and dip like a fat
boxer at a shadow
without arms.
Birds don't work
that way.
Jesus, nothing works
that way.
I'd sooner believe
a small gray
had paddled
the Mississippi to
the Continental Divide.

From the Wind River Range to the Canadian border, the northern Rocky Mountain West is an outsized land of stunning dimensions and emotive power. In Visions of the Big Sky, Dan Flores revisits the Northern Rockies artistic tradition to explore its diversity and richness. In his essays about the artists, photographers, and thematic historical imagery of the region, he blends art and cultural history with personal reflection to assess the formation of the region’s character.

From the Wind River Range to the Canadian border, the northern Rocky Mountain West is an outsized land of stunning dimensions and emotive power. In Visions of the Big Sky, Dan Flores revisits the Northern Rockies artistic tradition to explore its diversity and richness. In his essays about the artists, photographers, and thematic historical imagery of the region, he blends art and cultural history with personal reflection to assess the formation of the region’s character.

Review of 'I Don't Want to Be a Frog'

Jun 16, 2015

I Don't Want to Be a Frog by first-time author Dev Petty and Canadian illustrator Mike Boldt chronicles a frog's journey of self-discovery, who thinks life would be much better if he were a cat or a rabbit. Kids and parents alike will appreciate and relate to the frog's banter with his matter-of-fact father about the little frog's desire to be something different.

Jake Lukin has an incredible power he's been hiding his whole life...but one (big) mess-up later, and the U.S. government knows all about it. Suddenly he's juggling high school, tennis tryouts, flirting with Rachel Watkins, and work as a government asset, complete with 24-hour bodyguards. When his family is threatened, Jake has to make a terrible choice.

Niko Pettersen

I hit the town
the way some stranger
steps off a bus...collar up,
head down, feet first.
I said what I could
under my breath,
saw a star hang it up
above the street,
pushed my way past the thought of coffee
(three way clapboard post office,
bus stop, and cafe)
and straight into Lib's Bar.

Four shots later
(my nerves on ice—
head back, collar down,
sacked on my feet)
this cowpoke,
an 8th grader,
lip of snoose,
silver dollar chuckle,
called his shot on cue,
three-banked the eight,

The stories in Antonya Nelson's collection Funny Once are clear-eyed, hard-edged, beautifully formed. In the title story, "Funny Once," a couple held together by bad behavior fall into a lie with their more responsible friends. In "The Village," a woman visits her father at a nursing home, recalling his equanimity at her teenage misdeeds and gaining a new understanding of his own past indiscretions.

Review of 'Western Butterflies for Young Explorers'

Jun 2, 2015

Sharon Lamar is the author of Western Butterflies for Young Explorers: An A to Z Guide, written to encourage children to go out and explore the natural world. Using watercolors to illustrate different butterflies, this guide will help children identify twenty-six different species, one for each letter in the alphabet from the Anise Swallowtail to the Zerene Fritillary.

Chris M. Morris

——Follow Me

I know a place where barb-wire
wreathes the heaped bones of horse.
I know where we can shoulder our bright

rifles and bag a twine string
of rabbits. It's out past the alkali basin,
right in the dark yawn of that sod-roof shack.

——It'll Get You Every Time

See how gravel breathes the river?
How water slows and pools, now begins
to stink? I pull mussels from their nests of mud,


Mila got up from the desk, walked over to the dresser, took the ring box out of the bottom drawer, and then took the ring out of the box. She left the bedroom with the ring, padding softly down the hallway and stopping outside Reid’s bedroom door. There was a faint yellow band of light visible beneath his door, but there were no sounds coming from his room.

American novelist Tim O'Brien is best known for 'The Things They Carried, a critically acclaimed collection of semi-autobiographical, inter-related short-stories inspired by his experiences in the Vietnam War. His other works are:

"in god's world"

May 25, 2015

questioning gods and wars
are acts of treason.
hell is the reqard
for questioners;
prison for not playing
by the rules. not
doing what you're told
can get you killed
in war, and isn't it
more or less always war
in god's world?

don't be deceived
by snakes or moles.
come inside the temple.
the exterminator
will keep you safe
from the vermin
out there who scratch
damp, fecund dirt
and wallow like swin
in their own
sweet pungency.

Called the Global Burden of Disease study, the monumental effort to understand how we live and how we die has at its center the brilliant, controversial economist and physician Christopher Murray, who has developed an entirely new way of discovering and comparing the worldwide toll of both the things that kill us and those that diminish the quality of our lives. His goal: to enable all of us to live longer and better lives.

From Where Roads Will Never Reach: Wilderness and Its Visionaries in the Northern Rockies, by Frederick H. Swanson ($24.95 softcover, ©2015 University of Utah Press)

"Moment: Grand Canyon"

May 18, 2015
Grand Canyon National Park Service

We have just arrived.
We are standing on the south rim
looking down, feeling our bodies slip

and fall away from us past the cliff face
into that deep space below. We feel light
and small now, our equilibrium shaken, as we watch

the raven riding thermals, its sleek black feathers
shining in the sun as it glides just above the rim
then drops down again. Out across the chasm

Shiva's Temple rises above a moat
of mist and seems to float. Someone aims
a camera, someone puts his hand in his pocket

Out of more the 160 submissions, Eric Heidle of Great Falls, Montana, took first place with his story titled “At Jackson Creek.”

"why print books"

May 11, 2015
Sabda Press

why print books he said
who needs books these days
everything's on the web

well i wouldn't know i said
i still enjoy turning pages
in a chair by the fire

still window-shop mainstreet
still relish a big screen matinee
buttered popcorn jujubes and milk duds

still sit and think about how
all last century carriages went horseless
and horses thank god are not extinct

still long for real letters in the post
the effort of someone's penmanship
the dear and sincerely yours

Sara Habein and Tyson Habein / Nouveau Nostalgia

Saif Alsaegh was a young boy living in Baghdad, Iraq, on September 11, 2001. At the time, he and the other members of his family didn't even know where Afghanistan was. But they had been "under the influence of war" for many years. During this program he talks about war and the effects his experiences have had on his art — writing poetry, plays, and films. He also reads from his collection of poetry titled Iraqi Headaches and talks about attending college in Great Falls, Montana.

"Stranded At Noon's"

May 4, 2015

Now that wet street smell
evening rush hour,
and I have a flat tire.
This morning
a dead dog in the ditch
a black roamer who would come in
and leave our yard sniffing.
Now this rain
this stranding at a gas station
this dead dog in the ditch day.

Two bearded house painters
push through the glass doors,
decide out loud not to pay taxes this year.
No forms in the post office
the day before they're due.

Call Me Home has an epic scope in the tradition of Louise Erdrich’s The Plague of Doves or Marilynne Robinson’s Housekeeping and braids the stories of a family in three distinct voices: Amy, who leaves her Texas home at nineteen to start a new life with a man she barely knows, and her two children, Jackson and Lydia, who are rocked by their parents’ abusive relationship. When Amy is forced to bargain for the safety of one child over the other, she must retrace the steps in the life she has chosen.

"Six Women Laughing"

Apr 27, 2015
Sean Dreilinger

Backdrop: spirit mountains,
rustling trees, sounds and scents
of late spring. Evening sun
squanders deepest crimson.
To this we drink and to our lives
come together fleetingly and full.
Birds flash at the feeder, call
of an Eurasian dove, an enormous
bee bumps into the glass.

Known worldwide as the “Richest Hill on Earth,” Butte, Montana, lured immigrants from every part of the world to sweat in the copper mines that powered America in its Gilded Age. Dozens of writers celebrated this “wide-open town” with impassioned novels of the rugged souls who braved the western frontier at the edge of the Continental Divide.


Apr 20, 2015
Paul Sullivan

At the Helena bus depot a deaf man and his sister
wait in a hard, sideways wind.
When the driver asks the man a question,
he points to his ears and shakes his head No.
Raising my eyebrows, I tilt my head,
circle a shape in the air with my hands,
sign language
His face breaks into such a good smile.
Yes! He nods his fist at the wrist, Yes, sign.