The Write Question

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


Mar 31, 2014

Five first crocuses burst into bird-brilliant bloom
and suddenly everything flies: behind a car
ascraps of paper rise, two from a flock, startled dumb.
Some lives begin in abstraction; others end there.
If I find the child's fist this universe bloomed from
I will close it again as my own five fingers,
say worlds as one sentence, fit them into a name
for gold overwhelming finches, feather by feather.
With leaves returned, we still hear birds bu see them now
only when they fly. It's hard to see anything,

Kim Fu talks about and reads from her debut novel, For Today I Am A Boy.

About the book:

Peter Huang and his sisters—elegant Adele, shrewd Helen, and Bonnie the bon vivant— grow up in a house of many secrets, then escape the confines of small-town Ontario and spread from Montreal to California to Berlin. Peter’s own journey is obstructed by playground bullies, masochistic lovers, Christian ex-gays, and the ever-present shadow of his Chinese father.

"Birds of a Feather"

Mar 24, 2014

Each spring the hummingbirds hover
over the same place on my patio
Where twenty-four years ago hung
a red plastic feeder filled with sugar water

Four or five fowl generations later
through some unfathomable feat
these offspring flutter wings over
empty air in worship of this sacred spot

And I wonder if my great grandparents
fed off the magnificence of the Rio Grande
Where it divides New Mexican high desert
Blood of Christ Mountains on one side
and burnt amber sunset on the other

Bryce Andrews talks about his decision to move to a cattle ranch in Montana and about the memoir he wrote about his experiences there, Badluck Way. He also reads two passages from the book.

About the Book:


Mar 17, 2014

Unbidden, a green memory
sprang forth, so overwhelming
in its clarity, it leapt across
three quarters of a century:
I stood before a counter-top
of jewelry, eye height, beside
my father who had brought me to
that "five and dime" store in the Bronx.
          Among the many rings displayed,
one gleaming emerald shone there
surpassing all the rest, and, firmly set
within a silver band, it was on sale
just for one dollar that my father
told the saleslady I'd saved.
          I bought the ring to give my mother

During this program Julie Cajune — an American Indian storyteller, educator, and actress — talks about writing the stories in her one-woman play titled “Belief.” She also describes the process of collaborating with writer and poet Jennifer Finley and stage director Linda Grinde

"Belief" is a multidimensional performance, a unique mixture of interconnected Salish women’s stories, poetry, and live music.

The music in this program was written and performed by John Floridis.

"Love Letters"

Mar 10, 2014

was written in the dust
on the beside table.

The dawn and I blushed together
as your spurs
around the kitchen
as you started the fire.

I stretched full length
on the cool smoothness
of the sheets,

a kept woman
a woment longer.

Within an hour's time
we'll be ahorseback
in a long trot
to some distant blue mountain
hunting cows.

I'll carry your message
knowing there will come a day
I would give a year of my life
for that...

During this program Chérie Newman talks with Billings, Montana, author Blythe Woolston about her new novel for young adult readers, Black Helicopters. First question:  "Why was terrorism an idea you wanted to explore with your writing?"

From the publisher:

During this program, Josh Slotnick talks about the art of farming, pigs, and his new poetry collection, FarmHome. He also reads a few poems.

About the book:

David James Duncan called Slotnick "a Wendell-Berry-style 'mad farmer'" and said, "The bracing bittersweetness lacing this free-verse report from the frontlines of a post-corporate agricultural renaissance is all the sweetness we need. HomeFarm is one of the most responsible books of poetry I've ever read."

"A Cold Night"

Feb 24, 2014

Heavy with ancient memories of grace
and the ghosts of a thousand riders,
the solitary horse moves slowly down from the canyon
of deep winter shadows
towards a moon trapped in river ice.

Diamonds sift down from a cottonwood
onto quivering yellow-white haunches;
a cold night for crossing frozen water,
a cold night for an old dreaming gypsy horse
to step over the moon.


Historian, teacher, and poet Joseph McGeshick talks about Montana’s Native American poets and about what’s happening on the Fort Peck Indian Reservation. He also read a few of his poems.

"Birds of a Feather"

Feb 17, 2014

(For Marylor)

A woman I love, my ex-wife
with our infant granddaughter
rounded an aisle
in the new Safeway
where we were shopping.

"There's a sparrow flying overhead,"

she said, when she saw me.
We both looked upwards.
I wanted so badly
to tell her something
she could cherish, so she
would know

that I love her, like her even,
more than I hate her, but all
I could think of was a bird
I once saw shredded
by an exhaust fan.

Feathers floating willy nilly.

During this program, Scott Elliott talks with TWQ producer Chérie Newman about his novel Temple Grove, which includes environmental, mythological, and American Indian themes. He also reads a passage from the book.

About the novel:

"Still Alive"

Feb 10, 2014

Grain from farms along the Highline
fills the hold of Nordic Monarch.
Madrona sheds its bark like skin and
the surface of the sea is more
sensitive than skin. Somewhere
my noble fir breathes in
a million cells of air.

Marjane Ambler talks about and reads from 'Yellowstone Has Teeth: A memoir of living year-round in the world's first national park.'

About the book:

When Marjane Ambler and her husband, Terry Wehrman, lived in Yellowstone from 1984 until 1993, storytelling was still the favorite community pastime. A journalist by training, Marjane could not resist chronicling those stories of life on a modern frontier.

"Children of Snow"

Feb 3, 2014

                                       for my Children

I try to stay snow that my children wish
would come hard in Missoula, come hard
in me. There is fun in me like children
of fox and geese, sleds without tracks,
without worry. Yet this winter weighs heavy
as wet snow as I visit Welch and ramble
wishing for right time for ripe snow.

Sing a song for all children
who know that snow is holy,
falls holy on us, we, who should rejoice
in this time of work, of play, of holy
laughter that rings at crisp stars.

During this program, YA author Charlie Price talks about and reads from his fifth novel Dead Girl Moon. He also shares information about his teaching career, which included working with troubled teens.

About The Book:

"Study for the Ridgeline Blue in Winter"

Jan 27, 2014

Throbs up from the darkening draws, eluding
dusk's clutch. Calls out and the owl
calls back, answering with her own ample koan.
When the world was flat we thought darkness
fell. Now we know it rises firelike from earth,
spindling up the oaks' trunks, engulfing
ridge and canopy.
                      The resulting smoke, then—
hue of a breath exhaled by a late-arriving disciple
come to examine the charred chaos of day
(such a staunch monk!) igniting itself again—
the odorless remains.
                       Then. The hanging

San Francisco Bay-area photographer Sue Reynolds and American Indian poet Victor Charlo talk about their book, Still Here: Not Living in Tipis.

In this first collaborative photo-poetry book between a white urban photographer and a reservation Indian, Sue Reynolds' images and Salish poet Victor Charlo's poems tell a story of resurrection in the face of long odds. The book includes forty-five color photos and five Salish poems. A percentage of sales goes to American Indian College Fund.

"Dreaming Winter"

Jan 20, 2014

Don't ask me if these knives are real.
I could paint a king or show a map
the way home—to go like this:
Wobble me back to a tiger's dream
a dream of knives and bones too common
to be exposed. My secrets are ignored.

Here comes the man I love. His coat is wet
and his face is falling like the leaves,
tobacco stains on his Polish teeth.
I could tell jokes about him—one up
for the man who brags a lot, laughs
a little and hangs his name on the nearest knob.
Don't ask me. I know it's only hunger.

During this program, Christine Byl talks about her memoir, Dirt Work: An Education in the Woods, which describes her experiences working on trail crews in national parks in Montana and Alaska.


Jan 13, 2014

An artist places the intangible
              and tangible objects on the table together:
drift of diamond light from the Sky of the Mind
with the Asian poppy, the plate of wild seedling plums.

The direction is set, sun caught in eastern branches
when our empty hands have their other side of fullness.
              Still life: morning star. Moon.
Dawn. The sun (who is A Bird Singing in the Moonlight).

Andrew R. Graybill talks about and reads from The Red and The White: A Family Saga of the American West, in which he writes about Malcolm Clarke and the Blackfoot Nation of Montana.

About the book:

"Indian Brother"

Jan 6, 2014

April 1945

He came to us wrapped in Mother's blue sweater,
his crippled sister, Mary Jane,
murdered by a drunk.
Three days old, Clarence was his name.
"A sissy name," said Mama. "His name is Joey."

She made him a red bunting with white fur.
His hair, shiny black, stood straight
as beaver points on a Hudson Bay blanket.

His serious, brown self seemed lost
in the fancy wicker cradle that could never
be a cradleboard.

Jamie Ford (Great Falls, Montana) talks about and reads from his second novel, Songs of Willow Frost. He also talks about west coast Chinese culture in the early 20th century.

About the book:

"January in Montana"

Dec 30, 2013

Light from the sky is precious like sips
of hot tea, a luxury, elite. On my drive
to work, I pass through wetlands filled
with Canadia geese and hawks.
Morning frost drapes the hood
of my car in wet velvet. Fog lifts from
ponds: a lace shawl hugging
curves of the water's edge.

Dead weeds in fields join mounds
of stone sugared under hoarfrost.
Snowflakes fluttering,
inexhaustible lovers waltzing.

During this program, Wyoming author Alyson Hagy talks about and reads from her novel Boleto. She also tells the story behind the story, which involves a young man she met seven years before writing the book.

About the Book:

"Solstice Poem 2005"

Dec 23, 2013

                                      -- for my friends, especially Ken Brewer

Today I glimpsed
a short-eared owl above
a rise just south
of Little Mountain.
Gone, when I looked again.

Of course this is metaphor
for the beauty and brevity
of life and for tragedy.
The owl will kill,
the owl will die.

At home, at dusk, in snow,
I hauled cut flood-wood
from the other side
of the river then
stacked logs by the willows

Brandon Schrand talks about the influence reading literature had on his early life, when he was a boy growing up in Soda Springs, Idaho, and during the seven years he spent muddling his way through college (the first person in his family to go to college). He also reads several passages from his second memoir, Works Cited:  An Alphabetical Odyssey of Mayhem and Misbehavior.

About the Book:

Even as bones they were sublime, the sky-
scraping brachyo- an brontosauri,
tree-boned haunches, handfuls of arm-length claws,
T. Rex with teeth uncountable as stars.
In my mind, they were fleshed, they ripped and gnawed.
Crossing Central Park at dusk, I'd see
the giants grazing still, the swaying treetops
hiding some great nibbling head, and hear
them in the ground-juddering thunder
as our subway shot like progress from the dark.
Then swallowed us, like some great whale or ark.